Scottish Sea Farms, one of Scotland's seven salmon producers, is hoping to trial the country's first open ocean farm.
The multi-million pound concept, which has already been established in Norway, is part of Scottish Sea Farms' focus on minimising environmental footprint while maximising fish health and welfare.
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.
“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 (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) and local authorities to see if this ambition is matched and if our aspiration of piloting a full-scale ‘ocean farm’ can be realised.”
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.
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.”
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 £58M Barcaldine RAS Hatchery (recirculating aquaculture system) which aims to grow bigger, healthier, more robust smolts that are better able to withstand the natural challenges of the environment.