See all stories
19 Aug 2019

Canna fish farm proposals – why we can’t support them

Written by Stuart Brooks, Head of Conservation & Policy
Canna seen from the sea on a calm sunny day. The island is reflected in the smooth water.
The Trust is opposing proposals for a large-scale open pen fish farm in the Sound of Canna.

As you may have seen in the media, the Trust has now announced its opposition to proposals by MOWI (formerly Marine Harvest) to site a large-scale open pen fish farm in the Sound of Canna, in the Inner Hebrides.

We assessed a ‘scoping document’ submitted by MOWI to the Highland Council and we concluded that not only are there ‘deficiencies’ in the information provided but that the threat posed to the marine environment and tourism economy of the Isle of Canna is unacceptable.

We set out our concerns in a letter of response we lodged with Highland Council on Monday 19 August.

The key issues for us were:

  • The level of risk posed to the marine environment within a new and untested regulatory framework
  • The proposed location of the fish farm in what is biologically ‘the richest part of the Small Isles Marine Protected Area’, as well as two Special Protection Areas, representing ‘the worst location that could have been chosen in this respect’
  • The potential impact on protected and extremely rare marine wildlife
  • A projected biomass of 2,500 tonnes of salmon in open pens that would produce organic waste (mainly faeces) – on a par with a town of 33,000 people (for contrast, Oban’s winter population is 8,500 and in the summer is 25,000)
  • The inadequacy of MOWI’s assessment to accurately determine the effects and spread of this waste
  • The potential of rats being reintroduced to the Isle of Canna by associated shipping, thereby threatening important seabird populations
  • The proximity of a protected seal haul-out site and MOWI’s proposition that they would potentially have to shoot seals to protect their stock
  • Despite MOWI’s assurances that ‘Organic principles’ would govern the running of their facility, current certification given by the Soil Association would permit therapeutic anti-sealice chemicals that have ‘seriously detrimental impacts on marine wildlife’ to be used up to twice a year
  • The potential threat posed by elevated numbers of sealice to wild salmon and sea trout up to a 35km radius as well as migrating past the proposed farm site
  • The potential major landscape impacts on the onshore setting of the island of Canna by associated buildings and industrial structures
  • MOWI’s misleading underestimate of the number of boats and cruise ships which call into Canna and on which the tourism economy depends – the presence of pens and infrastructure would impede sea access and prevent larger ships from anchoring and manoeuvring
  • The potential longer-term impact on a visitor economy that is dependent on the island’s natural beauty, beaches and peacefulness.
“The protection of the cultural and natural heritage of Canna on behalf of the nation is our responsibility.”
Stuart Brooks, Head of Conservation & Policy
A close-up head and shoulders photo of a smiling man wearing a navy National Trust for Scotland soft shell jacket. Trees are in the background.

Based on the information provided by MOWI so far about their fish farm proposals, we have no confidence that their plans would not undermine, if not destroy, the
very things that make Canna so important.

In all conscience, we cannot support MOWI’s proposals. We would be failing in our core purpose as a conservation charity if we did, as well as betraying the wishes of John Lorne Campbell, who donated Canna and Sanday to our care.

It’s clearly a sensitive matter for the residents of Canna, and our General Manager for the North West and the Islands, Clea Warner, spoke with their representatives last week to share our conclusions.

She told us that the Isle of Canna Community Development Trust will form its own views and communicate when they are ready. Having shared our response with them, we remain committed to working with the Canna community.

Richard Luxmoore, our Senior Conservation Adviser, has pointed out that this is the third time in a decade that MOWI has brought back proposals for a large-scale fish farm at Canna, and we have been consistent in raising concerns about its likely environmental impact.

He also observed that two parliamentary committees have concluded that the environmental impact of fish farms is unacceptable and recommended no further expansion until better controls are in place. Although SEPA has introduced a new framework that seeks to impose tighter standards on the release of toxic chemicals and waste, important controls to prevent the release of damaging quantities of parasitic sealice larvae are not yet in place.

Richard confirmed that, irrespective of the partial improvement in controls, the proposed location at Canna is unacceptable. In addition, we are dismayed by attempts by businesses to establish larger farms in sensitive locations before the new regulatory regime is introduced – and we think the timing of MOWI’s proposal is not unconnected.