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Salmon farm row            9/3/12

A bid to defer the go-ahead to an extension of a controversial salmon farm was defeated at Western Isles Council at its final meeting on Thursday night.

Island campaigners are threatening to take the local authority to court saying the sea farm will create pollution at important fishing grounds at Plocrapol in East Loch Tarbert on Harris.

Councillors voted against deferring the proposal and ratified permission for Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) to install an extra large 150 tonne feed barge and extend the seabed moorings’ area for 14 large cages despite "new evidence" from a professional seabed survey commissioned by villagers which discovered uncharted sandbanks and rocks as well as horse mussel beds - a protected species - in the vicinity.

It appears that 150 year-old data was used when the original development was passed in 2008. The information had been gathered by Victorian nautical chart makers by the old leadline method in 1857.

Critics say they support suitably sited salmon farms but point out the sea loch is shallower than charted and trapped pollution risks sterilising vital shellfish grounds.

Cllr Donald John Macsween said the villagers’’survey disclosed important new information.  He stressed the matter should be discussed properly at the planning committee rather than an instant decision at the full council.

He criticised the lenghty verbal relay of the planning chiefs’ views “at the last minute” which was “not good enough - the proper forum is the planning committee.”

Cllr Murdo Macleod agreed. He highlighted the local authority always complains of "not getting a fair hearing" from outside bodies yet was imposing precisely the same thing on the Harris community.

He said the large feed barge was to cut down the number of fish farm jobs.

He insisted: “We have a duty to listen to the community. It is absolutely essential we should consider that before a final decision.

“If there is a legal challenge then we woudl be on a sticky wicket.”

But Ken Murray, vice-chair of the planning committee stressed it is the responsibility of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pollution concerns while Marine Scotland and the Northern Lighthouse Board covered any navigational issues.

Only five councillors supported Mr Macsween’s motion.

The SSC said most fishermen had echo sounders and would be aware of localised seabed conditions while an underwater survey was not required for this planning application.

But local fisherman claims the salmon farm impedes safe fishing and hazardous navigation which could create a "high risk to human life" and they will lose £50,000 of annual catches.

The Western Isles Fishermen’s Association said it is "morally wrong" to force small scale low impact shellfish creel fishermen away from fishing grounds that they have harvested sustainably for over 30 years to be replaced by large scale industrial salmon farming that will sterilise the seabed that has been providing long term sustainable employment to the fragile coastal communities of Scalpay and Harris."

It highlighted "the economic loss to the 10 vessels that fish in this area is estimated at £50,000 based on current prices for lobster, velvet and brown crab, lobster, scallops and white fish taken in that specific area."