Stewart Hawthorn is Managing Director, Loch Long Salmon

WHEN Scotland’s national parks were established, they were to serve as a beacon, not only for environmental preservation but for how natural resources can be used sensitively to benefit local communities and demonstrate that to the rest of the country. They were meant to lead the rest of Scotland.

Yet a project that would drive the transformation of Scotland’s most critical food production sector and of the animal protein with the lowest carbon impact, which ticks every box for being innovation-driven, environmentally-sound and welfare-focused – is facing opposition from the very people that should be leading change.

In 2019, Loch Long Salmon entered into promising early discussions with Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park to establish Scotland’s first semi-closed containment salmon farming site in Loch Long.

This technology is not new, it has been used successfully in Norway, Canada and the Faroe Islands for decades. From the surface it looks like a traditional salmon farm, but underneath the water, the net is surrounded by an impermeable membrane, with water drawn up and circulated from deeper in the loch.

This removes the threat of sea lice and attacks by seals, meaning we won’t ever use sea lice treatments and don’t use acoustic devices that can harm dolphins or other cetaceans. Hundreds of cycles of this technology in other countries have proven these facts, as well as showing no escapes.

More than 88 per cent of fish waste and uneaten food gathers at the bottom of the enclosure, is brought on shore and can be used as the basis for fertiliser or green energy, contributing to the Circular Economy.

Bringing this technology to Scotland for the first time would be a landmark in the evolution of Scotland’s aquaculture sector.

Our application has been supported by bodies such as NatureScot and Sepa and the technology has been endorsed by environmental groups such as the Atlantic Salmon Trust. The local community council has endorsed us. We have public support from the local MP and a cross-party group of MSPs and elected Councillors.

Both the National Park and Scottish Government have described the project as “of national significance.” Despite this, National Park officers have recommended refusal of the application.

We proposed this site to demonstrate what is possible, working with the National Park, academics, researchers and regulators to drive forward a new era of sustainable progress for a critical part of Scotland’s rural economy.

With a decision due at the end of this month, it lies with the board of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park to take a broader, strategic perspective.

By seizing the opportunity to bring Scotland’s first semi-closed containment salmon farm to the National Park, the Board can achieve the National Park’s twin goals of environmental preservation and securing the long-term viability of local communities while addressing “…national priorities and achiev[ing] benefits for Scotland beyond the National Park boundaries”.