Victory of David against Goliath in the fish farming of a small rural community

Historic victory for residents of Scotland’s ‘last wilderness’ to protect wild salmon

A tiny Highland community in a remote area known as Scotland’s last wilderness has won a resounding victory over a multibillion-pound salmon farming giant.

Now the group says its campaign to block the expansion of salmon farming on Loch Hourn is a rallying call to other coastal communities, marking a crucial first in the battle to protect wild fish populations.

The Friends of Loch Hourn (FoLH) group believe their victory at the planning committee on a knife edge represents the first time in Scotland that such a plan has been canceled due to the threat to wild salmon and trout from sea.

It indicates that David’s victory over Goliath is a watershed moment in recognizing the greatest threat posed by industrial-scale fish farming – how parasites harm wildlife.

Peter Fletcher, whose family has lived for many generations in Arnisdale, said: ‘At least two main rivers here are now dead as far as salmon are concerned and a third teeters on the edge.

“Within living memory, Loch Hourn was teeming with salmon and sea trout. Today, wild populations have declined so much that they are threatened. It is an ecological disaster.

“While this decision is just vindication of the incredible efforts of our small rural community against the power of a huge corporation, the fight to restore the loch’s habitats and species has only just begun.”

Loch Hourn, considered the most fjord-like of the sea lochs on the west coast of Scotland, enjoys a spectacular setting. It lies between the Glenelg peninsula to the north and the inaccessible Knoydart peninsula to the south, and is often called Scotland’s last desert.

The Creag an T’Sagairt salmon farm is owned and operated by Norwegian seafood giant Mowi, which is worth £2.28bn a year and farms 2,500 tonnes of salmon in its open cages. She first asked the Highland Council for permission to increase production by 25% to 3,100 tonnes.

This spurred FoLH to action and, through a combination of grants and private funding, the group commissioned scientific modelling, which showed that increased numbers of sea lice from the farm would not only endanger the wild salmon and trout, but would also affect vulnerable people. Loch Hourn freshwater pearl mussel population.

On top of that, the slow-flushing lake cannot quickly get rid of the chemicals the farm uses to kill lice, which are also toxic to other crustaceans and potentially swimmers.

More and more evidence from around the world has focused on the threat of sea lice. Marine Scotland has summarized this science and made it clear that wild fish closer to Scottish salmon farms have an increased ‘stress-inducing sea lice load’.

On June 15, FoLH’s detailed evidence, supported by individual submissions from the Loch Hourn community and the Skye & Lochalsh Rivers Trust, led to a 7-6 vote by the North Planning Committee in Dingwall to reject the Mowi’s application, although reduced to 2750. tons.

Mick Simpson, a local fisherman in Arnisdale, praised the councilors who took the time to read the FoLH dossier and added: “We have to thank the councilors who made an effort to see what the research says. Armed with this information, it was clear that their conscience would not allow them to vote for this expansion of fish farming.

“Throughout this process, we have stubbornly defended the truth by researching and documenting everything we could to show why this expansion would be a disaster for the region. We hope that Mowi will now respect the planning decision and the feelings of the local community.

“Our hope now is that we can inspire people that this can be done, even for very remote communities like ours. As members of the Coastal Community Network, we know that many like-minded groups will be looking very closely at this decision. »

Despite its victory, FoLH was not created solely to oppose salmon farming. He will now survey the loch to assess the viability of restoring native oysters and seagrass beds, vital habitats for other marine species and important for carbon sequestration and storage, and will also support ongoing research into the cause. of a sharp decline in blue mussel populations.

About Keneth T. Graves

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