Independent salmon farmer Organic Sea Harvest has formally appealed against a local authority planning decision over a proposed new farm site off the coast of Skye.

OSH has applied for permission for a new site in Balmaqueen, Skye, to add to the two that it already operates on the island. Although officers had recommended approval, the Highland Council North Planning Committee turned down the proposal at a meeting on 26 January, by eight votes to six.

The reason given for refusal was that a fish farm would be visually detrimental for north-east Skye’s coastline, which is widely seen as an area of unspoiled beauty and a major tourist attraction.

OSH argues that the farm’s limited impact would be greatly outweighed by the economic benefits the farm would bring to the community, including the direct creation of nine full-time jobs and investment totalling £4m.

The committee’s decision has also been condemned by Stewart Graham, Group Managing Director of aquaculture sector supplier Gael Force, who said that jobs would also be lost in his own company as a result of the farm not going ahead.

The appeal will be decided by a reporter – a legal official – appointed by the Scottish Government. The timescale for the appeal process has not yet been confirmed.

A previous appeal by OSH, over refusal for a previous proposal for a farm at Flodigarry, also on Skye, was turned down in January by the Scottish Government’s planning appeals reporter, Lorna McCallum.

The company believes Balmaqueen would be an ideal location for its organic, sustainable approach to farming salmon. The site has an excellent water exchange rate, thanks to strong currents and tides, resulting in regularly-flowing oxygen and lessening the risk of sea lice.  The carefully-selected, exposed location would, OSH says, create an ideal environment to nurture the fish as they develop from smolts to marketable salmon.

The company was recognised earlier this year as “organic” by the Soil Association, the UK’s leading organic farming certification body.

OSH CEO, Ove Thu, said: “We are committed to supporting the community in north-east Skye and investing in the fragile local economy.  We believe aquaculture will help to support the diversification of Skye’s economy, which relies strongly on tourism, and has struggled greatly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is absolutely no evidence to suggest a salmon farm would deter visitors.  We believe tourism and aquaculture can work hand-in-hand to bolster the local economy.  It presents a chance to showcase Scotland’s economic diversity and traditional reliance on the sea.  Skye has already witnessed a growth in aquaculture, with no evidence that this has impacted visitor numbers.  As producers of organic salmon, we want to show everyone that Skye is a world-class destination for top-quality, locally-sourced food.

“It is hoped that our appeal will be successful as we continue our mission of becoming the leading organic salmon producer in the world and bringing huge economic benefits to the local area.  We are mindful that we must work in harmony with the environment, fish and community to achieve our visions.”

Ove Thu, CEO Organic Sea Harvest

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