In October, Loch Long Salmon (LLS), the business looking to create Scotland’s first semi-closed salmon farm, submitted the planning application for its proposed farm site at Loch Long near Beinn Reithe in Argyll.

The semi-closed system envisaged includes an inner layer with a conventional net, and another layer that is impermeable and opaque.

The farm will comprise four circular marine farming enclosures, each with an outer diameter of up to 50m and a square harvesting facility with a side length of up to 50m, all being semi-closed containment systems. These enclosures will sit in single file formation in an 80m x 80m mooring grid approximately 300m from the western bank of Loch Long.

Loch Long Salmon is a joint venture between Trimara Services, run by former Dawnfresh trout farming director Stewart Hawthorn, and the Simply Blue group. In May of this year, UK food distributor Goldenacre also became part of the joint venture, investing an undisclosed sum.
Fish Farmer magazine spoke to Hawthorn about the project.

Fish Farmer: Where is Loch Long in the planning process right now?
Stewart Hawthorn: We’re well advanced. We’ve submitted the SEPA CAR [Scottish Environment Protection Agency Controlled Activities Regulations] applications [which are] expected to be determined before the end of the year. Our planning application was submitted to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park on 8 October and it has now verified the application as “complete”.

So now it’s in a formal evaluation process with statutory consultees, and public consultation now open. We expect to be in front of the planning authority in January 2022, with a determination some time in spring early 2022.

FF: Planning applications for fish farms have been tricky recently. Do you think you have addressed the issues?
SH: Our experience has been that there have been very few objections to what we’re proposing compared with conventional salmon farms. The local community response has been very positive.

[This is] because we’re addressing a number of the concerns that community members have, and at the same time we’re bringing stable, well-paid jobs to the area.

I think these people recognise that jobs are very important for local businesses and facilities, for schools, for shops, and for the community as a whole.

We’ve also had a very positive engagement with regulators. I believe they want to see the industry grow and thrive, but they also want to see concerns addressed.

We are offering a genuine solution to issues such as sea lice, waste discharge and seal interactions. Our focus on “prevention rather than cure”, I believe, has been well received.

Stewart Hawthorn, Loch Long Salmon

FF: How do you define a “semi-closed” fish farming system?
SH: In Norway they would call our system a “closed system”. We call it a “semi-closed” system because I think that more accurately reflects what we’re doing.

In our system there’s the net, which a conventional farm has, but we surround that net with an impermeable membrane. And that protects the fish from the external environment. Into that system we are pumping deeper, cleaner water, which is more stable in its chemical makeup, especially during things like rainfall events.

And because we have enclosed the net we can add oxygen to ensure that we’ve got better rearing conditions.

For the pumps, we’ll be purchasing power with a “green tariff” in order to ensure that we’re carbon-neutral.

FF: Isn’t a semi-closed system more expensive than a conventional farm?
SH: Our system has a number of cost advantages. We eliminate sea lice, so there will be no lice chemicals, no wellboats and no treatment costs.

The idea is just to leave the fish alone and let them grow. They will be healthier and they grow faster.

Our system is at worst a similar cost to conventional nets. There is a slightly higher capital cost,  and there is a cost for pumping water and supplying oxygen, but we gain by having better control and reducing risk.

Compared to an on-land RAS [recirculating aquaculture systems] farm there is also less risk, because there are fewer components in our system to go wrong.

Also, seals can’t see in through the membrane, so they can’t worry the fish and we won’t need an ADD [acoustic deterrent device] or anti-predator nets.

We’ll be capturing more than 85% of the waste – salmon faeces and uneaten feed – and bringing that ashore. A big part of our vision is that, rather than discharging that into the sea, we’re using it as a resource, as a base for fertiliser or for anaerobic digestion, for energy production.

FF: What were the reasons for choosing Loch Long as a site?
SH: It’s a very sheltered location so there’s almost no risk of storm damage, and there are not many strong currents. But those things – lack of current, lack of wave action – would make it less attractive for a conventional farm.

It’s got lovely deep water, it’s isolated from other conventional marine fish farms, and it’s got a nice, reasonable flat area adjacent to it for a shore base, so we have got all these advantages.

FF: Who will be supplying the cages for the proposed Loch Long farm?
We’re talking to FiiZK and we’re talking to Ecomerden. We haven’t made a final choice yet, so we have designed our planning application to be suitable for either.

Other suppliers – for example, for smolts or feed – are also yet to be determined.

FF: Will your fish be marketed specifically as Loch Long salmon?
Like any company producing high-quality, premium products, I’m sure that we will want to tell our story. And I think we’ve got a great, genuine story to tell.

FF: Do you see enough demand for salmon to soak up extra production?
SH: The short answer is yes! There has been a consistent and growing demand for healthy seafood, and for salmon in particular, over the last few decades.

The question is: where does the supply come from? For Scotland, we should be playing to our strengths, which is our sheltered coastal ribbon, for raising salmon.

For me, it’s about producing salmon in a responsible way.

FF: Would you expect to see established salmon farmers
starting to adopt a semi-closed approach?
We want to change salmon farming in Scotland for good, through leadership and by showing what’s possible.

We know that the world is consuming more fish every year. I think there will be more solutions looked for – on land, further out in the ocean and semi-closed – and we believe that for Scotland semi-closed is a fantastic solution.

FF: So is Loch Long on track?
SH: Yes, very much so. We had always envisaged getting planning permission in the spring of next year, and getting smolt into the water by the summer of 2023.

So everything is on track, and we are confident about the future.

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