A RURAL Scots community has won a council planning dispute over a multi-billion-pound salmon farming giant in a dispute over fish farming.
Locals rallied to successfully block the expansion of the salmon farm on Loch Hourn, Inverness-shire, last month, defeating Norwegian seafood giants Mowi.
The £2.28 billion-a-year company annually produces 2,500 tonnes of salmon on the loch’s Creag an T’Sagairt farm and initially submitted plans to increase production by a further 25%.
Activist group Friends of Loch Hourn (FoLH) told the Northern Planning committee in Dingwall of the dangers salmon farms have on native species.
The group highlighted that increased sea lice populations caused by the farm would not only endanger wild salmon and trout but also vulnerable freshwater pearl mussels.
They also noted that swimmers may also be in danger as the slow flushing loch would struggle to get rid of the chemicals used by the farm to kill lice.
The groups efforts led to the Highland Council committee voting to reject the application request, which would originally have seen an increase of salmon production by 600 tonnes.
Instead, Mowi were unsuccessful with amended plans for a production increase of 10%.
FoLH are hopeful that their campaign to block the expansion on Loch Hourn is a rallying call to coastal communities around the country.
They believe their victory over Mowi is the first time in Scotland that a project has been stopped because of the threat to wild salmon and sea trout.
Speaking today Peter Fletcher, whose family has lived in Arnisdale, Inverness-shire, for many generations said: “At least two main rivers here are now extinct as far as salmon are concerned and a third is teetering on the edge.
“Within living memory Loch Hourn was teeming with salmon and sea trout.
“Now wild populations have dwindled so far that they are under threat. It is an ecological catastrophe.
“While this decision is just vindication of the incredible efforts of our tiny, rural community against the might of a huge corporation, the fight to restore the loch’s habitats and species is only just beginning.”
Mick Simpson, a local fisherman also from Arnisdale said: “We owe thanks to those councillors who made an effort to see what the research says.
“Armed with that information it was clear their consciences would not allow them to vote for this expansion to the fish farm.
“Throughout this process we have doggedly stuck up for the truth by research and by documenting everything we could to show why this expansion would be a disaster for the area.
“We hope 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 super-remote communities like ours.
“As members of the Coastal Community Network, we know many similar groups will be looking at this decision very closely.”
The FoLH will now survey the loch to assess the viability of restoring native oyster and seagrass beds as well as the sharp decline in blue mussel populations.
Stephen MacIntyre, Head of Environment for Mowi Scotland said: “We were disappointed with the decision of the committee given the application received no objections from all statutory science bodies and that the planning officials had recommended the application for approval.
“We are now reviewing the process that led to this decision and considering our options.”