PLANS to install a major fish farm off the coast of Arran close to one of Arran's most treasured holiday destinations have been thrown out as "unacceptable" by Scottish ministers.

The Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) wanted to build a 12-cage site in waters close to Lochranza, and in waters that are home to bottle-nosed whales, dolphins and harbour porpoise.

It has been the focus of protests from groups concerned about the potential growth of fish farming in one of the nation's most environmentally sensitive areas, the Firth of Clyde.

It was facing a 58% rise in the extent of fish farming through seven new and expanded projects which campaigners fear provides a "serious risk" to wild salmon while also acting as blots in a protected area.

The initial SSC proposed plans would have produced 5,000 tonnes of salmon each year at a 240-acre fish farm just 200 metres off the coastline.

Sites of that size are very rare. As of 2019, 26 of the 217 fish farms dotted around Scotland’s coastline are licensed to produce 2,500 tonnes of salmon, with a handful where two 2,500 tonnes sites are close together.

But the SSC, one of the leading Scotland-based producers of fresh Scottish salmon which exports over 60% of its production to 26 countries around the world, cut their Millstone Point plans down to 12 pens – following backlash from the community and concerned wildlife campaigners.

SSC, which employs over 650 staff across 60 sites on the West Coast and in the Hebrides, including seven full time members of staff at its existing Lamlash Bay marine fish farm on the east coast of Arran.

But Allison Coard, a reporter acting for ministers concluded that the plans were an "unacceptable incursion into an isolated, locally and nationally valued area of landscape and seascape".

She added: "Whilst I recognise the benefits of the proposal and that other significant effects would be avoided I do not consider this to be an acceptable location.

HeraldScotland:

"Whilst aquaculture as a whole is a significant and important contributor to the Scottish economy I do not consider this single proposed fish farm is of a scale or nature that could be considered nationally important."

Islanders on Arran had protested against the plans due to fears that the farm would pose a danger to local wildlife and dump faecal waste in the sea.

The Community of Arran Seabed Trust also strongly criticised the plans after tens of thousands of fish died and more escaped from the nearby storm-damaged North Carradale farm last year.

The North Ayrshire Council's planning team had previously unanimously rejected the planning application.

A total of 436 objections were lodged including from the National Trust for Scotland, Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland; Scottish Salmon Watch; Ayrshire Rivers Trust, Bute Community Council; Friends of the Sound of Jura; the Clyde Fishermen's Association, the Scottish Creel Fishermen's Federation and the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST).

NatureScot, in an initial objection raised concern about the environmental impact of the Arran project said the location was "highly sensitive to aquaculture development and does not have the capacity to accommodate the nature or scale of development proposed."

Salmon is Scotland’s and the UK’s largest food export and the Scottish Government has an objective to raise the economic and employment contributions of the sector to £3.6 billion and 18,000 jobs by 2030.

According to a 2019 Scottish Parliamentary briefing, salmon fishing in rivers and at the coast supports 4,300 jobs. But it also has an important ecological and cultural value, having been part of the natural ecosystem for millions of years, and played a part in human society for many millennia.

HeraldScotland:

Salmon as food is also big business for Scotland, with a staggering one million salmon meals eaten in the UK every day.

It is Scotland’s single biggest food export – worth £600 million – and is estimated to support nearly 11,000 jobs many in Scotland’s most fragile rural communities.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) says salmon farming is "vital to the ongoing success of thousands of supply chain businesses across the country".

Agents for the SSC, which appealed the council decision, argued that significant weight should be placed on the socio-economic benefits of the fish farm as a "material consideration".

"The development would generate significant economic gain for the area and relieve pressure on an uncertain tourism industry on which the area is overly dependent," they said.

SSC also argued that the project was in accordance with development plan policies for the area.

"Onshore visibility of the site is limited by topography and offshore visibility decreases rapidly with distance from the site, with significant adverse effects limited to a small onshore and offshore area surrounding the site," they said. "It is submitted that the effects are acceptable, especially when weighed against the policy support for aquaculture development and the benefits of the development.

It said that the North Arran Special Landscape Area and a National Scenic Area designation, "are not significantly adversely affected" and that the fish farm "does not compromise" their overall integrity.

A Scottish Salmon Company spokesman said: “We are understandably disappointed by the decision but it’s pleasing to note that the Reporter for the Scottish Government largely agreed with the environmental assessment that any impacts would have been confined to the landscape and visual impact from the proposed fish farm site.

“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to play a prominent role in the sustainable growth of the aquaculture industry, which is crucial to the country’s economic recovery.

“We take our environmental responsibilities and stewardship extremely seriously and we are working hard on this as a business through our Healthy Living plan, guided by our core values in our goal to become the leading and most sustainable salmon producer in Scotland.

"We are at the forefront of working alongside industry partners and Salmon Scotland to drive up standards and develop the Sustainability Charter, which outlines our commitment to operating in a responsible and sustainable manner.

“We have strong links with Arran stretching back over 30 years and our existing operation there continues to provide long-term employment for people on the island and is a key driver in the local economy.”