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April 18, 2023

Make it meaningful

One of the community voices I referred to in last week’s briefing was a quietly spoken man who’d travelled all the way from Papa Westray, one of the smallest islands of the Orkney archipelago, to describe how his small community has been campaigning against the development of what’s thought to be Scotland largest salmon farm. Ironically, Crown Estate Scotland and Orkney Islands Council have just announced a landmark arrangement which they claim will give communities a greater say in the use of the seabed around them. No point in having a greater say if no one is listening.

Vicky Allan, The Herald

Papa Westray islanders are calling for a referendum on whether more fish farms should be allowed around the island.

It follows a decision by Orkney Island council, last year to approve one of the largest salmon farms in Scotland in the waters to the south of the remote isle, where the Papay Sound already hosts six fish farms.

An opinion poll, conducted anonymously after an open public meeting on the island, found that most of those who participated would welcome a local plebiscite on the matter, and that the majority want Scotland’s Environment Minister, Mairi McAllan to call the East Moclett decision in for further examination.

Wendy Elves, a member of the Save Papay: No East Moclett Fish Farm campaign group, said: “We were not properly heard by Orkney Islands Council and we are continuing our campaign to halt the East Moclett fish farm.

“We already have six farms around us that are inshore and we say, ‘Enough is enough’.”

“Industrial fish farming impacts our quality of life on the island. The people who have taken the time to find out what is going on want a proper vote on this issue. That means a local plebiscite or a referendum. The opinion poll at the meeting was conducted properly and fairly. Until that point, no more fish farms should be allowed.

The group also, last November, sent an open letter to the Environment Minister calling for a moratorium on further fish farm development around Scotland.

The giant farm, planned by Canadian company Cooke Aquaculture will include six cages with a 160-metre circumference and host a biomass of 3,850 tonnes.

The questionnaire was presented at an open meeting hosted by the Save Papay: No East Moclett Salmon Fish Farm campaign group, and of those who answered it, 75 percent agreed that “an island plebiscite or referendum”was needed “on whether new fish farms in coastal water around the island should do ahead.”

Papa Westray has a population of just 85 and twenty people participated in the poll.

In September 2022, Orkney Islands Council approved the East Moclett fish farm but island campaigners maintain they were not properly consulted and that the cumulative impact of the effluence of six other fish farms was ignored, .

95 percent of those polled also agreed that Orkney Islands Council’s decision to approve the farm had “failed to take into account the cumulative impact of industrial fish farming around Papa Westray”.

A spokesperson for Orkney Islands Council said: “A planning application for a fish farm at East Moclett, was reported to a meeting of Planning Committee on 8 September 2022. Objectors were present at the meeting and given time to present their views to the committee, as was the applicant. In line with relevant regulations, Papa Westray Community Council was consulted, and a consultation response was provided. No objections were received from any statutory consultation body, and the application was approved.

A Cooke Aquaculture spokesperson responded: “We have listened to the valid points raised by the Papa Westray Community Council and Papa Westray residents and we will continue to engage with them and ensure that this new farm site is compliant with all appropriate regulations and best practices. As one of the largest employers in Orkney and the Northern Isles, we are an intrinsic part of the coastal and rural communities in which we live, and we take pride in our work.

“East Moclett will be positioned around 3km offshore of the nearest beach on the east coast of Papa Westray. The Orkney Islands Council Planning Committee accepted our updated Waste Management Plan on 13 February 2023 and this is publicly available on their planning website.In September, the Orkney Islands Council Planning Committee accepted and agreed unanimously that the proposed salmon farm was rigorously assessed by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), which raised no issues or objections to the site.”

The Save Papay group also expressed disappointment that they still had received no response, three months on, to their letter calling for a moratorium on fish farm development around Scotland.

Wendy Elves said, “We’re deeply disappointed that the Environment Minister has not had the time or the courtesy to respond to our very serious request for a moratorium, based on the recommendations of a committee of the Scottish Parliament in 2018, chaired by Edward Mountain. MSP.”

“We are prepared to meet her in Edinburgh to explain why the East Moclett plan, which is an onshore fish farm not an offshore one, is so damaging to the environment. This massive industrial complex and its feed barge will be in an area of abundant sea kelp and natural sealife and is idea as a blue carbon sink. Indeed, it should really be considered for Highly Protected Marine Area (HPMA) status given the important seabed ecosystem. We understand that salmon fish farming has become an important export for Scotland, but that does not mean that Ministers, politicians and civil servants in Edinburgh can simply turn a blind eye to the desecration of wonderful places such as Papa Westray.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Primary responsibility for dealing with planning applications and local planning matters rests with the relevant planning authority. The aquaculture sector is an important part of the Scottish economy, and we recognise that it must be delivered and developed sustainably, with appropriate regulatory frameworks that help minimise and address environmental impacts.”

The Minister, the spokesperson said, will shortly respond directly to the group in full.