Colonsay votes 60%-40% in favour of proposed Marine Harvest salmon farm

In an almost 91% turnout for the vote, the majority decision by the islanders of Colonsay is incontrovertible in its 60%-40% support for global salmon farmer, Marine Harvest, in its proposal to establish a fish farm off the cast of the island.

110 of the 121 eligible votes cast saw 67 cast in favour and 43 against, respectively 60.9% and 39.1% of the vote.

Marine Harvest currently operate 10 freshwater sites and 30 seawater sites in Scotland, producing in excess of 50,000 tonnes pa, although a serious disease problem lost them around 15,000 tonnes in the last quarter of 2012, bringing them a drop on estimated profits.

The site proposed for Colonsay is 1.5-1.8 km offshore to the Northeast. It would be serviced by a catamaran operating from a shore base on the island and by a 30m long feeder barge.

The farm proposed for Colonsay would be the biggest allowed by SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency), with 2,500 tonnes of fish.

The carrots offered to attract support were

  • 6 jobs – a manager @ £47,000 pa, an assistant manager @ £35,000 pa and  four technicians @ £23,000pa;
  • 2 seasonal technician jobs;
  • a written contract between Marine Harvest and the community of Colonsay;
  • £10,000 pa to the Community Amenity Fund;
  • a £50,000 one-off donation to the community;
  • 20 tonnes of salmon pa at production cost to any islander interested in setting up a salmon smokery.

The risks, which are equally if less immediately impactful, include:

  • chemical pollution in Colonsay’s clean waters – farmed salmon are periodically given chemical drenches to combat the endemic problem of sea lice;
  • toxic sea bed sludge from faecal deposits and excess food;
  • the risk of sea lice and disease infecting migrating wild salmon;
  • the shooting of seals – the usual and cheaper solution to predation than investing in good anti-predator nets;
  • the physical and visual scale of the proposed farm – at 300m long and 80m wide;
  • the risk to staff of physical accident ;
  • foreign ownership, which means profits going out of Scotland;
  • a potential negative impact on tourism – important to the island economy.

The money won.

But in a fragile island economy, who can blame the islanders of Colonsay. The important 20th century German playwright, Bertolt Brecht said: ‘Food comes first, morals follow on.’

Nevertheless, it is unpleasant to hear of the less than subtle manipulation of the islanders, with a representative of Marine Harvest telling a crucial residents’ meeting that, if they refused to support the proposal, Marine Harvest would simply look elsewhere.

The right answer to a stunt like this is to conduct them to the ferry slip and wish them well elsewhere – but this is not the style of the gentler folk of the island; and the promises overcame the risks.

But this is a dirty industry, with passive acceptance of its dubious animal welfare and environmental protection practices bought more cheaply than responsible practice would cost.

Did anyone even ask where the dead salmon will go – that are an everyday part of the practice of intensive salmon farming?

On hearing the result of the vote, local MSP, Michael Russell said: ‘The people of the island have given their view and  now it will be over to the planners. I am predisposed to giving people a say on the future of their island and this result has  produced a majority in favour of the development. People are keen to see new jobs generated and the islands economy enhanced. Clearly there was a body of opposition to the proposal and it will be for Marine Harvest to allay any fears or concerns that they may have had if the development gets the green light. The important thing is that following a well conducted ballot and robust debate that the community can move forward positively to the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead’.

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18 Responses to Colonsay votes 60%-40% in favour of proposed Marine Harvest salmon farm

    • Very smart, until local fishing boats gets used by the fish farm or a lorry to get the fish to the ferry etc.
      Where are the staff going to live? On the island… This may mean a couple of families, extra kids at the school, extra trade at the shop and hotel. Look at the bigger picture.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  1. A rather biased report, I feel but only what I have come to expect from For Argyll regarding fish farms.
    What, exactly, did you think Marine Harvest should have done if the proposals were rejected? Off course they were going to “look elsewhere” it’s fairly obvious!
    This could easily have been written as a positive article about the creation of six new jobs in a fragile economy. Good luck to the people of Colonsay with this important and exciting venture.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Since ‘going elsewhere’ is obvious, the only reason to state it in these circumstances is to introduce instictive fear of loss – which, if not quite an overt threat, is manipulative.
      Marine Harvest would not be making this proposal if Colonsay was not their preferred option – therefore the islanders had leverage to bring to bear to get transparency in ongoing public information on the detail of the regulatory compliance of the farm in exchange for their support. The one thing that will make fish farmers clean up their act is having their regulatory compliance performance stats in public view.
      Of course the job creation is good news – but astute negotiation could have retained these opportunities for Colonsay while contributing greatly to the wider public interest.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  2. The pollution aspects of sea cages are well known, but surely a site off Colonsay is going to be in far more exposed waters than many of the sea loch sites that have come in for heavy criticism, and off Colonsay wouldn’t tidal currents and general open seas turbulence tend to disperse pollution?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • Correct.. Sea loch production has had problems for years, that is why MH and other companies are going off shore. more extreme conditions. No wasted feed, that means wasted money, the modern production systems mean that a small amount of feed is wasted per day, that is why cameras are used to monitor feeding activity.
      Strong tides in the area faeces is spread out no build up under the cages, depth of water means no issue with pollution. Currents mean fish are swimming all the time, less sea lice, less inpact. look at other off shore sites. Clare Island Seafarms, or Northern Salmon Co. in Ireland for example.
      MH are menbers of Freedom Foods, who set welfare standards for salmon production. Look it up online.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Just because we do not share the same opinion does not mean that our community is naive or foolish as is inferred here. I’m sure the islanders resent, just as I do, the implication that we are blinded by money and susceptible to manipulation when in fact we have just made a decision that the majority of us feel benefits the island.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Thank goodness the NIMBY’S have not prevailed here.

    The important thing is the viability of the Island(s)not people in Surrey who only visit infrequently and do not have to wrest a living in a hostile environment.

    There are risks in anything in life, like environmentalists driving cars and ignoring the pollution they create.As they say the lunatics are running the asylum as far as environmentalists are concerned, the balance has gone too far in the other direction as far as these people are concerned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Can’t help thinking it’s going to be very vulnerable to storm damage; that’s basically the open Atlantic there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Storms are a risk with any structure, however modern cage technology is based on oil industry technology, tested in extreme conditions. Nets are stronger. The risks are based on previous weather conditions for the area. The fetch is important, this relates to the distance from land to the cages in a prevailing wind direction. This is a factor in the size of waves hitting the site.
      Look up salmon farming in the Faroe Islands, now that the Atlantic.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. What a condesending article. The pros and cons of this development are well understood by the community and have been debated at length. The majority felt that, on balance, the prospect of full time jobs in a fragile and aging population outweighed the potential risks. To imply the community have in some way been manipulated and deceived and won’t keep Marine Harvest to account is both disingenuous and arrogant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. Well hurrah for the enlightened residents of Colonsay, and a big poke in the eye for the nimby naysayers that frequent this blog with its negative and biased drivel. Perhaps the retired solicitors might step back from their rabid ranting and realise that they don’t actually speak for the real people in this country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • As 60% of the vote was in favour you’ve still managed to offend 40% of the people, so the only thing that’s certain is that – however enlightened the residents of Colonsay – your boorish comments are the opposite of enlightened.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

      • How many of the 40% that said no are from Colonsay?
        How many of the 40% that said no have a Scottish ascent?
        How many that said no are actually resident on the island for more than 3 weeks in the summer?
        How many that said no actually contribute to island life, do they go to the dances, support the shop, have kids at school?
        How many that said no, actually understand why so many said yes?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. Marine Harvest aren’t alone in losing a hefty chunk of their production.
    Today it’s reported that the Edrington Group risked a major fire when they lost more than 17,500 litres of whisky in the cask filling plant on Great Western Road through a pipe burst, while Chivas Brothers dumped thousands of litres of whisky down the Dumbarton drains by mistake. Apparently the wastewater treatment plant workers noticed the smell.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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