SaveSeilSound: purpose, issues, actions and institutional failures of responsibility

The Saveseilsound Campaign Group – focused on regulatory failures around fish farming and markedly evidence-based, rational and determined – has issued am August 2012 ‘Progress report’.

This paper accounts for the campaign group’s existence, summarises the issues concerned and highlights the worry of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency’s (SEPA’s) subjective setting aside of the regulations which govern its conduct.

Local MSP, Michael Russell, has absorbed the situation analysis from the group and has written to Argylll and Bute Council’s CEO expressing the view that ‘before the planning process proceeds, there is a more rigorous investigation of the issue and that local peopple and llocal knowledge is engaged’. (Mike Russell letter 16 August)

The SaveSeilSound’s report is a cool, careful document of substantial importance and we have decided to reproduce it in full.

Progress report at August 2012

We formed ourselves in early 2011 to coordinate opposition to the proposed massive expansion of the industrial fish farm at Ardmaddy and the relocation thereof to Port na Morachd, further South in the main navigable channel leading to Cuan Sound. Shortly after, the company involved, Lakeland Marine Farm Limited, applied for permission to expand one of its other installations in the area, at Pol na Gille, and we became involved in opposition to that as well.

We are entirely funded from our contributors’ own resources and are accordingly beholden to no-one.

This is a report on where the applications in respect of these sites are now at and where we are now at as a group.

In order to operate a fish farm the applicant requires to obtain a lease from the Crown Estate and a number of consents, principally planning consent from the local authority and a CAR licence (discharge consent) from SEPA to permit the dumping of waste and toxic substances in the environment.

We report on the two sites in reverse order, as the situation at Pol na Gille is quite simple.

Pol na Gille

Here the application for planning consent did not involve any change in the location or visibility of the installation that was already there. Plainly the opportunity was lost years ago to prevent the incredibly unsightly and intrusive feeding barge and cages in an area of great beauty and recreational value. Because of this the application did not raise any issues that could properly concern the planning authority and the application was duly granted by an official under the delegation procedure without going before a committee.

To date no application for a CAR licence has appeared and the expansion cannot go ahead without that. We are monitoring the situation and will comment if and when SEPA receive anything.

Port na Morachd

The Planning Process

The application for planning duly went in and attracted about 800 comments, mostly objections, representing a fairly substantial body of opposition both locally and from further afield.

Unlike what sections of the press have stated local opposition has been particularly strong, with numerous comments from local residents and the operators of local businesses. Individual and group objectors from further afield have mainly been regular wildlife and holiday visitors, canoeing and kayaking groups and yachting and boating people. Numerous qualified marine biologists and scientists have also registered comments. The extent of opposition, most of it well-informed intelligent comment, can easily be seen from the Argyll & Bute planning webpages, where we have not yet noticed any comment in support.

We have very good reason to believe that many of our local and national politicians are also in support, being fully aware of the economic and heritage value of this wonderful section of mid-Argyll.

Many of the objections referred to ecological and/or environmental damage, issues which are only indirectly the concern of the planning committee and which fall by law to be handled by government bodies such as SEPA, Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage. Accordingly, to avoid the planning process running into difficulties the chief planning officer suggested that the application be held in abeyance until the CAR licence application process was completed. The applicants agreed to this.

The Planning Issues

These are discussed in great detail on our website here.

The Negative Economic Impact

Placing a large, noisy industrial installation in an area dependant on tourism and leisure businesses would be economically disastrous. Visitors come and residents stay because of the quality of life.

  • Destruction of the Quality of Life
  • Visual intrusion of cages, concrete barges, debris on shores.
  • Constant noise from diesel generators.
  • Underwater lighting destroying the night sky.
  • Danger, noise and unsightly mess from the shooting of seals in the Cuan Sound.
  • Loss of local wildlife – seals, otters, dolphins, porpoises
  • Destruction of the wild salmon and seatrout.

The CAR Licence Application – for consent to dump waste and toxic materials

Subsequently the CAR application went in and our Campaign Group registered detailed and fully researched comments thereon.

Comments were then made by Food Standards Agency, Marine Scotland and SNH as part of the statutory process. It is not clear from the SEPA website if any other comments were received. As of now none has been made public.

This month, having received and considered the comments received, SEPA announced their intention to grant the CAR licence for the site. Under the relevant regulations it is competent for the Scottish Ministers to call-in the application and make the decision themselves. They are required to consider calling-in if they receive a notice from a person, such as our group, objecting to the proposed grant. As we do consider that SEPA have failed properly to assess the issues we have served formal notice requesting that the application be called in.

Procedurally if the matter follows the course normally adopted for other call-ins the Scottish Ministers will first have to decide whether or not to accept our request (and of course the requests from any other interested parties). Such a decision  would in principle be challengeable by way of judicial review in the Court of Session.

If the request is accepted it is assumed that a Scottish Government Reporter will be appointed to consider the issues and report to the Scottish Ministers. We can expect there to be a public local inquiry in connection with this.

Following receipt of the report the Scottish Ministers would make a decision, granting or refusing the application. This decision would also in principle be challengeable by way of judicial review in the Court of Session.

The Environmental Issues

These are outlined in our submitted comments. The site at Ardmaddy was expanded to accommodate the entire production of another installation in Loch Riddon, which had polluted so much that a lot of the local wildlife had become extinct and there was a public storm of protest.

Computer modelling

Computer modelling was relied upon by SEPA to decide that it was safe to move this problem to Ardmaddy, the site being thought to be suitably flushed by tides. This was proved wrong and once in operation the site polluted beyond acceptable levels. The tidal streams were much stronger than predicted, so that waste was carried beyond the “Allowable Zone of Effects” boundaries, within which farms are allowed to destroy the seabed ecology.

Incredibly SEPA have used computer modelling again, to enable them to say not only that moving the mess a short distance South will resolve the problem but that the site can be expanded from 1300 tonnes to 2500 tonnes, almost double. This is the maximum size that can currently be permitted, equal to 600,000 mature salmon or a human population, in terms of excrement, of 110,000 people.

Even more strange, advice obtained by SEPA in a report from consultants in 2007, confirms that data for the site is inadequate. We argue that computer modelling simply doesn’t work at Ardmaddy. We suspect that even the scientists who devised the program would agree that if the data is suspect the results will be too.

Just read what the official Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum had to say as far back as 2005 and consider it in the context of Ardmaddy:-

  • ‘SEPA considers that there is an inherently higher environmental risk associated with fish farming development within narrow, semi enclosed sea lochs and voes, which have relatively poor dispersion characteristics. Many farms in such areas have reached, or are close to reaching, their maximum sustainable size and their scope for further expansion is very limited.
  • ‘ Accordingly, SEPA will favour the establishment, or expansion, of fish farm sites in more dispersive open-water and off-shore areas rather than those sites in enclosed areas. ‘

The increasing size of fish farm units justifies and can support, more sophisticated pre-development environmental assessment, pollution control strategies and monitoring.

SEPA have not had an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done, despite having an obligation to do so. We’ll return to the lack of this later.

What they have had is an “Appropriate Assessment” considering the possible impact of the expansion on the nearby Firth of Lorn Marine Special Area of Conservation (the “SAC”).

Basically the SAC and the various species of wildlife, both flora and fauna, therein are entitled to protection under the European Habitats Directive. This requires someone proposing a development to show ‘beyond reasonable scientific doubt’ that the proposal will not prejudice the ‘integrity’ of the SAC.

The Appropriate Assessment in this case had been done on the basis of the computer modelling described above, with no outside check, despite the clear evidence that at Ardmaddy it can’t be relied upon.

Scottish Natural Heritage has used the modelling to conclude that the effect of the proposed increase will be to increase the overall quantity of pollutants entering the SAC by 3%.  It is utterly ridiculous to deal with pollution in terms of percentages, rather than considering the actual effects. For example, say there were no existing farm in an area and one very small one were to be proposed. The pollution might be small but it would represent an increase of an infinite amount. A second farm of the same size would increase the existing pollution by 100% and so on.

Three percent of a very large amount is still a large amount. We argue that what matters is the actual effect on the SAC. An assessment of this has not been done and SEPA have failed, both in terms of their statutory duty to protect the environment, but more specifically in terms of the Habitats Directive.

SNH and Marine Scotland have also failed in several other signal respects.

Despite clear evidence that double netting can keep predators out and make it unnecessary to shoot seals the industry, including the applicants here, refuse to meet the cost and produce instead spurious arguments that it isn’t feasible. The SNH and Marine Science have simply ignored this in their consultation responses.

Despite strong advice, in the form of research which the government paid for and conducted in our very area, that acoustic scaring devices damage the hearing and accordingly the survival of protected aquatic mammals such as dolphins, porpoises and whales up to considerable distances the responses are absolutely silent on this issue.

No reference whatsoever is made in the responses to the destruction of wild salmon and sea-trout from the releases of sea-lice that accompany fish farming operations. What is known is that plumes of sealice eggs from Ardmaddy must necessarily be carried via the Cuan Sound into the SAC. We have been informed that wild salmon stocks in the River Euchar, exactly in line from these plumes, are in decline and this has to be investigated.

Evidence is emerging, mainly from Canada, that the pesticides used to treat sea-lice are damaging the health of local crustaceans such as prawns and lobsters. There could have been evidence of that in Scotland too, had SEPA not chosen to destroy samples of damaged prawns that were sent to them for analysis from Loch Shell. It is perfectly logical to suppose that as sea-lice are themselves crustaceans poisons used to kill them will do damage generally, especially as the chemicals and doses used are being increased as they develop immunities.

These several failures of duty leave the door open for a complaint, or more likely multiple complaints, to the European Commission to the effect that the UK Government through what are its agents for these purposes, the Scottish Government and the governmental bodies referred to, are in breach of their obligations under the Habitats Directive.

The missing Environmental Impact Assessment

SEPA have admitted, in response to our request, that they have never assessed the cumulative effects of pollution from all the fish farms in Seil/Shuna/Melfort. Because of this failure nobody knows the extent to which our local environment and the human and animal populations therein and around it are being damaged by industrial effluent. All we know is that utterly massive quantities of organic carbon and nitrogen and serious amounts of toxic substances and pesticides are being dumped, year on year.  Some of these are cleared up and carried away by the efforts of the local wildlife. Others manifest themselves in the form of organic growth, while still others, such as zinc and other heavy metals simply remain here for the rest of time.

When the production was moved from Loch Riddon to Ardmaddy under the government-sponsored pilot relocation project the latter site was regarded as an “unclassified” stretch of water, as opposed, for example, to Loch Melfort, which was regarded as a sea-loch.

We contend that the entire stretch of water comprising Seil/Shuna/Melfort, consisting of the area North of a line from Ardluing at the South end of Luing to Craignish Point is effectively one sea-loch and should be treated with the sensitivity that a sea-loch deserves. Tidal flushing is quite limited, compared with a stretch of open sea or a true sound. There has been a reliance on traditional nomenclature from the atlas rather than on proper scientific rigour.

Those of our number who live locally, observe, dive, sail over, fish on or walk beside Seil/Shuna/Melfort believe that the stretch is already over-loaded with more fish farms than the environment can cope with.

One does not have to be against all fish-farming to agree with us.  We argue that Ardmaddy is simply the wrong place for the large installations that are now emerging in an industry hungry for growth.

Only a full environmental assessment, based not on computer modelling, but on proper testing of tidal flows, water quality and marine and coastal biology will enable the truth to be discovered. Until this is done SEPA cannot fulfil its duties to protect the environment and the health of all.

We hope that considerations such as these will weigh with the Scottish Ministers in considering the call-in request, so that they can be explored in proper detail at an Inquiry.

Conclusions

We have come a long way and have had reasonable success so far, but are far from achieving the purpose for which we established ourselves. We started with a small team but are recruiting supporters all the time and now have access to expertise in many of the main areas involved, including some specialist legal and scientific experts. We welcome all assistance, so please don’t be afraid to get in touch, or think that your contribution won’t matter.  We can be contacted via www.saveseilsound.org.uk

SaveSeilSound, August 2012

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7 Responses to SaveSeilSound: purpose, issues, actions and institutional failures of responsibility

  1. equal to 600,000 mature salmon or a human population, in terms of excrement, of 110,000 people.

    Good grief . . . is this a real figure? Do five and a half mature farmed salmon really produce as much waste on a daily basis as a human being?

    If that is real it is a truly astounding figure. It would be as if a town larger than Inverness had all its waste discharging raw and untreated at a single spot.

    I find it very difficult to accept that figure . . . surely the whole of Loch Melfort and Loch Shuna would be rendered sterile by such a quantity of excrement.

    Do you have a source for those figures?

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  2. The section in the saveseilsound website discussing this can be accessed here:- http://www.saveseilsound.org.uk/images/sss/otherdocs/matheson_reponse.htm As we say there it’s a very interesting and technical area and open to argument. It’s also curious that substantial sums have been spent installing sewage treatment plants for the human populations at Seil and Kilmelford, while the local fish farms continue to discharge untreated waste.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Ewan,
      I think more definitive figures along these lines would prove helpful to your case, both locally and further afield.

      I realise that salmon sh1t and the human equivalent are not entirely correspondent in toxicity (humans winning on that score as usual) but . . . If the figures for the amount of excrement are even remotely true then it is, as you say, extraordinary that twelve million pounds was spent on Seil to prevent the discharge of raw sewage into the sound from about 300 people yet over a hundred times this quantity of untreated sludge is going to be discharged a couple of miles further down the sound virtually unopposed and unchecked by SEPA.

      I look forward to hearing from ForArgyll’s fish farming correspondent, who will no doubt poo poo these figures :-)

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  3. The approval for Seil Sound is just for starters.

    A massive expansion of Scottish salmon farming is inevitable.

    # China has a growing demand for salmon.
    # China historically sources its salmon from Norway.
    # Norway criticises China for Human Rights abuses.
    # China dumps Norway and approaches Salmond.
    # Salmond gets the pandas as a sweetener.
    # Salmond agrees to massively expand Scotland’s fishfarming capacity for export to China.
    # Seil Sound (and others soon) is approved.
    # Salmond claims praise for increasing fish exports

    We are but insignificant cogs in a huge geopolitical world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. “while still others, such as zinc and other heavy metals simply remain here for the rest of time.”

    Am I missing something here……the heavy metals are coming from where exactly?

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