As the country’s leading food export, farm-raised Scottish salmon has helped breathe new life into many of our fragile rural and islands communities.
With more than 200 active farms, the sector has grown steadily since the 1970s to become the economic backbone of some of the country’s most isolated areas.
The sector generates 2,500 professional and high-skilled, low carbon jobs, with many more employed in a diverse supply chain.
This brings in hundreds of millions of pounds for the economy and greatly improves the health of the nation.
At Salmon Scotland, we know that demand for our globally renowned, nutritious product, will continue to grow.
Our members are committed to tapping salmon farming’s full potential with sustainable methods as Scotland fights back from the harsh economic impacts of the Covid pandemic.
But all of this is being undermined by destructive elements exploiting the current, cluttered planning system to delay and frustrate responsible development.
Over the past year, we’ve seen leading producer Organic Sea Harvest lose two protracted battles in Skye, leading to a ripple effect of 20 job losses at aquaculture supplier Gael Force Group.
Now, Mowi has become the latest victim of a vocal and vociferous anti-salmon farming lobby at Loch Hourn.
The narrow rejection of an extension of their existing Loch Hourn site – which has operated responsibly for more than 20 years – marks another corrosive chapter in the failure to put people, their livelihoods, and their wellbeing first.
Neither Skye or Loch Hourn decisions were based on legitimate planning considerations, evidence or science: no statutory objections were received to either of the proposals from Mowi or Organic Sea Harvest. Council planners, too, had initially recommended approval.
This is an unacceptable drag on the local economy and runs counter to Scottish Government assessments underling the jobs created across the county by farm development.
Our members have often found that so-called environmental groups purporting to be in favour of protecting wild salmon or the marine environment are in fact lone wolf activists.
Far from speaking up on behalf of the wider community, some don’t even have a home there and are fundamentally opposed to the salmon farming sector.
Others are second home owners. In possibly the worst example of nimbyism, their objections are based on selfish concerns over the holiday view they’ve splashed out on.
These part-time residents want nothing to change in their rural retreat - against the views of local people who want more work and investment in their areas to tackle the insidious effects of depopulation.
Both Skye and Loch Hourn are in the same part of the north west Highlands - a sought-after refuge for the wealthy that seems to have attracted some of the most vocal anti-salmon campaigners.
It’s striking that in Organic Sea Harvest’s case, visual impact was given a disproportionate significance in the decision-making process.
But this is not the ‘David v Goliath’ that was being touted round the media by expensive Edinburgh PR agencies last week.
Earlier this year, Professor Russel Griggs published an independent review into the system governing aquaculture, which confirmed that the current set-up does not work.
Last month he told Holyrood committee it was “quite clear” that the anti-salmon “voice in some places is very well funded.”
Professor Griggs added: “It’s very well resourced, which perhaps the local voice isn’t… it’s not just the loudest that should get their way, but it should be one that’s based on evidence.
“Some of the people that don’t want it come at if from a very different view which is much more to do with their view of what rural life should be, which interestingly enough may not be the way those that have lived there for decades, etc, will put in place.”
That’s why Salmon Scotland supports his recommendation of a process that respects all stakeholders’ views balanced with the need for vital development.
As we recover from the pandemic it’s never been more critical for local and national government to do everything possible to create and support sustainable jobs.
Rather than spurn millions of pounds of investment from the responsible salmon sector because of the whims of handful of wealthy individuals, local authorities should embrace it.
We desperately need a strong and growing economy to safeguard local jobs and companies, and to fund the improvements in education, health and other increasingly frayed public services.
Aquaculture has been, and continues to be, a force for good for our most fragile coastal communities across the Highlands and islands.
Salmon Scotland wants rural Scotland to thrive and be a place where people want to raise young families with the prospect of well-paid, highly-skilled jobs.
Without support for these developments, these areas risk becoming economically inactive - nothing more than a playground for the rich, with local people priced out.
In 50 countries across the globe, salmon from Scotland is an export success adding more than £640 million to the economy every year.
But our continued success cannot be continually undermined by a handful of vocal campaigners whose only consideration is the view from their holiday homes.
Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of Salmon Scotland
This article first appeared in the Sunday Herald on 17 July 2022