Outrageous secret plans were leaked this week suggesting that Scotland is contemplating building the world’s largest salmon farm, caging two million fish.

Sneaky Salmon

Credit: Russ Walker

Scotland’s Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has been quietly and mischievously humming and ahhing over a project that would see them smash their own 2,500 tonne limit on Scottish fish farms, by allowing a 6-8,000 tonne farm to be built. However, if other reports are to be believed, scrapping this limit is phase one of expanding Scotland’s fish farming project.

Official statements from SEPA in the past have even gone so far as saying that any large fish farm project would be utterly unsustainable, damage SEPA’s reputation and would only serve the owners of the farm’s pockets.

Why the project has not been squashed already poses some concern for Scottish environmentalists, who are keen to improve the sustainability of salmon and protect Scotland’s rich marine wildlife. As is the case when rich industry figures manage to sway government figures with huge sums of investment, it’s likely to be the environment that suffers.

Something’s a bit fishy here…

Credit: USFWS

Under the Freedom of Information law, SEPA were forced to reveal memos and emails that clearly stated they were in talks about the farm, with potential sites even discussed. The beautiful islands of Orkney and Shetland were the proposed suitors.

While no figures for income were revealed, SEPA’s fish farming specialist Douglas Sinclair revealed in this leaked document that the operator would likely make ‘8 figure £ per 2 year growth cycle’ in profit. What he also states in this report is that the proposed farm would have the pollution equivalent of 4-800,000 people. This is more than the population of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh.

What the proposed site would also have to consider is the welfare of the salmon in a fish farm more than triple the size of its current largest site. In November alone, 175,000 salmon died in an accident which remarkably went under the radar.

Another side to the story?

It may be easy to chastise the project for its obvious environmental dangers and capitalistic nature, but there is another side to the project that it’s important to reflect. In the original proposal, it was stated (link, page 6) that this project would be partially experimental to test the best processes for salmon farming, see below:

“Scotland’s Atlantic salmon farming industry has an opportunity to develop concept site(s) that test the potential for improved efficiency of production in Scottish waters utilising optimal technology and best practice that will minimise potential impacts on the marine environment.”

The whole project seems to go against Scotland’s great reputation as a sustainability powerhouse, but the pursuit of huge international funds is something that can cause a sudden change of heart, as we’ve discussed in Vietnam and Honduras.

Failure to launch, or the beginning of the end?

Fortunately for those concerned, this project is unlikely to ever get off the ground, due to the legislation and sustainability focused officials in Scotland. Douglas Sinclair, quoted earlier, also wrote, in a letter (page 8) to Marine Scotland, his doubts about the possibilities of such a project. After discussing the environmental failures of smaller fish farms, he said:

“These real life results ably demonstrate that a site of the scale of that discussed or even some substantial fraction of that tonnage would likely abjectly fail to meet seabed quality standards. I have no idea what size of farm would be predicted to be sustainable, but establishing a site on a Deploy and Monitor basis with a biomass of 6,000 tonnes when sites around 1,000 tonnes are often seen to fail would make fools of us all but in particular SEPA. What’s important to note is that the environment, not SEPA, is the final arbiter.”

Scotland’s aquaculture industry (a cleaner name for fish farming), revealed in October 2016 that they are looking to double in size, from £1.8bn to £3.6bn by 2030. The question we have is, how much will the environment have to suffer to make that a reality?