Two salmon farms in Scotland with very poor sea-lice records are the centre of confusion as to whether or not they have planning permission to operate.
A request made under freedom of information law has revealed that in 2009, Marine Scotland commissioned an audit of the environmental impact assessment conducted for the Ardessie A and B fish farms in Wester Ross back in 2002 and found it wanting.
The two fish-farms at Ardessie in Little Loch Broom have a very poor record of sea-lice control.
Marine Scotland’s assessment concluded that “planning permission should be withheld” from the two Ardessie fish-farms under the Government’s audit of pre-2007 fish farms.
Extraordinarily, the Highland Council, which has had responsibility for enforcing planning law at all fish-farms since 2007, was not told of the assessment or its outcome.
Marine Scotland has since stated that the Ardessie farms cannot now apply for Scottish Government approval.
In 2008, the Highland Council gave permission for a change in cage configuration only at the Ardessie B fish-farm, but sensibly made that permission conditional upon the Scottish Government later giving approval for Ardessie B, which we now know was declined, and therefore, under the 2008 condition, Ardessie B appears to be operating in breach of planning conditions.
Guy Linley-Adams, solicitor to the S&TA(S) Aquaculture Campaign said:
“The Highland Council has now been called upon to enforce the condition at Ardessie B and inform the operators that they do not have planning permission for that site. The S&TA(S) certainly supports that call.
The Ardessie fish-farms have a lamentable record for sea-lice control and that threatens wild salmon and sea trout, including the salmon population in the nearby Little Gruinard Special Area for Conservation, which is protected under European law.
If a proper environmental impact assessment had ever been carried out at Ardessie, perhaps we would have avoided the awful situation with sea-lice that the wild salmon and sea-trout of Two Brooms have had to endure from Ardessie?
Quite why Marine Scotland did not share its negative audit assessment with the Highland Council is not clear, but we all deserve an explanation on that point.
However, for the protection of wild salmon and sea trout in Little Loch Broom, Ardessie B must now be closed. The track record of very poor sea-lice control at Ardessie, coupled with proximity to important wild salmon and sea trout rivers, means this is not the right place to try to farm salmon in open-net cages.”
At the other Ardessie site, Ardessie A, Wester Ross Fisheries Limited also applied for planning permission to change the cage configuration, this time in 2011. Marine Scotland had already come to its conclusion about the site, but did not tell the Highland Council.
Unsurprisingly, the Highland Council concluded that no full environmental impact assessment was required on the basis that this was just an application for a change in cage configuration, with no increase in biomass over what was already there and so the ‘extra’ impact would be negligible – “the only issue under consideration is the proposed change of equipment configuration” and there were ‘”insufficient grounds to refuse, given the relatively minor nature of the change, i.e. from circular to square cages”.
Guy Linley-Adams added:
“Marine Scotland’s 2011 audit shows that no adequate environmental impact assessment has ever been done for Ardessie A. It is hard to see how this complies with European law. Unless this can be regularised, this farm too must now be closed.
This is not a problem of their own making, but since planning permission for fish-farms now rests with local authorities, we have no choice but to look to the Highland Council, firstly to enforce the planning condition at Ardessie B and shut that farm and, at the very least, to require an immediate retrospective planning application, with full whole-farm environmental impact assessment, at Ardessie A”.