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’.