The salmon grower is keen to explore the biological and technological considerations of farming in considerably deeper, more exposed waters – and, in doing so, measure the potential of such locations to help meet growing demand for Scottish farmed salmon in a sustainable way.
With aquaculture regularly cited by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation as having a crucial role to play in achieving a world without hunger and malnutrition, the focus for every salmon farmer is how best to scale-up to deliver this.
Scottish Sea Farms’ managing director Jim Gallagher said: “We put a great deal of time and care into identifying the best farming locations, both in terms of finding the optimum growing conditions and ensuring that the local marine environment can naturally sustain such activity.
“Over recent years, the scope of this work has widened to include the potential of more exposed locations; locations that could add to the volumes of salmon grown at our existing 42-strong farming estate."
While the company has identified several potentially suitable locations, they would need to speak to the relevant regulatory bodies and local authorities to seek their input before exploring these further.
As Gallagher explains: “For this ambition to be realised, however, we need an engaged, robust and forward-thinking regulatory framework that enables Scotland’s salmon farmers to continue growing in a responsible manner and helps the sector reclaim its competitiveness on the world stage.
“With this in mind, we’re eager to take the next step by opening the dialogue with Marine Scotland, SEPA and local authorities to see if this ambition is matched and if our aspiration of piloting a full-scale ‘ocean farm’ can be realised.”
Providing the multi-million pound investment needed to develop the concept, if given the go-ahead, would be Scottish Sea Farms’ Norwegian owner Norskott Havbruk, which is a 50/50 joint venture between Lerøy Seafood Group and SalMar.
Responding to the news, Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, said: “This is exactly the kind of landmark inward investment opportunity that Scotland needs to thrive and grow, and I am determined that we seize that opportunity.
“The potential benefits of farming in deeper, more exposed locations have been raised many times over recent years, by all sides of the debate. So to see Scottish Sea Farms step forward and commit the time and investment involved in exploring that potential here is hugely welcome news.
“Such a concept, if realised, promises significant advances in fish welfare and environmental protection, not forgetting new jobs and business for Scotland, and as such it is something that the Scottish Government is keen to progress in partnership with the relevant regulatory and local authorities.”
Leif Inge Nordhammer, who is chairman of both Scottish Sea Farms and its Norwegian parent company Norskott Havbruk, commented: “Both Lerøy Seafood Group and SalMar ASA are ready to give their backing to this latest investment and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government and regulators to see whether, together, we can make it happen.”
While SSF would like to progress the project as quickly as possible, a planning application would need to go through the same processes as any other salmon farm in Scotland, which can take a year or longer.
The design is likely to be based on the world’s first offshore fish farm – Ocean Farm 1, which is anchored in the Trøndelag region of central Norway – and was established by SalMar ASA in 2017. Costing £60 million and equipped with sector-leading Norwegian aquaculture and offshore technology, the 110m x 68m farm saw strong first crop results - with high survival rates, high quality fish and consistently low lice levels, which meant that no delousing treatments were necessary.
If the concept is approved, it would be stocked at a level deemed viable by SEPA. Ocean Farm 1 is designed to hold up to 1.25 million fish but, whether something on this scale is granted permission in Scotland depends on the Scottish regulatory approach and assessment of the marine environment.
The proposed ocean farm would be Scottish Sea Farms’ second sizeable capital investment in recent years, following the completion in 2019 of the company’s £58 million Barcaldine RAS hatchery, which aims to produce bigger smolts that are better able to withstand the natural challenges of the environment when transferred to marine pens.