A Report on Untreated Waste in the Kilbrannan Sound

Dr Sally Campbell, local resident and marine scientist, reports on the plans by Marine Harvest to establish a new salmon farm and the problem of untreated waste going into the Kilbrannan Sound.

It must be nearly ten years ago since Arran defeated a Marine Harvest proposal for a huge 2500 tonnes max biomass fish farm for a site north of Lamlash Bay and Hamilton Rock. It involved a very committed effort by those in the community concerned about the proposal. So why is there not outrage on Arran about the disposal of untreated waste into Kilbrannan Sound, by both salmon aquaculture and our own island distillery?

Marine Harvest Scotland has applied for a licence this month to establish a new salmon farm of nearly 2,500-tonnes in the Kilbrannan Sound. The proposal, which has been submitted to SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) this month, seeks permission to hold a maximum biomass of 2,475 tonnes of salmon in a dozen 120m circumference pens, which would later allow for up to 3,600 tonnes of salmon to be produced per year. The company also intends to establish a new shore base in the area, approximately 11 km north of Carradale Harbour, which is between Arran and the Kintyre Peninsula. The company already has two existing 2,500-tonne capacity sites at Carradale. These have now been given permission to increase their biomass on each farm by 50% to 3750 tonnes of maximum biomass. At North Carradale and South Carradale the number of open cages will increase and be located 75 metres further east into deeper water. To give you an idea of the discharges from such farms into what were pristine waters around Arran, the combined untreated quantities of waste from just these two Marine Harvest salmon aquaculture farms in Kilbrannan Sound in 2016 were as follows:

Copper from nets: 1.409 tonnes
Zinc from feed and nets: 0.956 tonnes
Nitrogen as ammonia and urea: 33.875 tonnes
Phosphorus from food and faeces: 46.785 tonnes
Organic carbon from waste food and faeces: 1,086.936 tonnes

Further, antibiotic use in salmon aquaculture both as a prophylactic and for disease treatment is increasing. For example, we already know that in just 2017, 108kg oxytetracycline and almost 29kg tetracycline, two broad spectrum antibiotics active against a wide range of infections in fish and humans, were used in the Carradale salmon farms. The larger the total tonnage of biomass and stocking density in a salmon farm the greater the risk of infections, whether by viruses or bacteria or parasites such as sea lice, all of which drive treatments potentially serious for the ecosystem and those that depend on it, be it microfauna, shellfish, dolphins or us.

Along with salmon farms we have the example of SEPA granting a licence to the Arran Lochranza Distillery to discharge up to 60,000 litres per day of mixed untreated distillery effluent over two 3- hour periods each day into Kilbrannan Sound. This effluent from the distillery will be transported to the outfall head by road tanker. This is located at Rubh Airigh Bheirg, an important geological area, 2.5km SW of Catacol on scenic, unspoilt coast. SEPA decided that the “relative remote isolation”, “relatively small volume” and “lack of protected areas” are good enough reasons to conclude that formal consultation with external organisations was unnecessary. The works are underway at present.

Image by Sally Campbell

SEPA approval for the Arran Whisky Distillers sets a precedent, so what else may be around the corner? It is disappointing that this high-profile company seems willing to risk its brand reputation in engaging with a proposal to discharge untreated high organic content (high COD) wastewater into the pristine marine waters surrounding Arran. The principle of using dilution and dispersion to dispose of contamination was finally removed from our shores back in the 1980’s when it was realized that so-called utilization of the surrounding environment’s assimilation capacity was invariably accompanied by a detrimental cost. I have no doubt the distillery runs brilliant tours and tastings but what will their punters and Arran residents and visitors think of the discharge, a tanker every day draining effluent down a pipe by the roadside? The smell of organic effluent along a wonderful stretch of coast where tourists often stop to look at the Lennimore and North Thundergay graveyard, and at the geology of metamorphism and the tectonically deformed Dalradian rocks? It was an ideal picnic area.

Unintended consequences are said to result in a Tragedy of the Commons, a term used to describe a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users act independently according to their own self-interest and behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action.

At the height of this tourist season many islanders and visitors are saying that Arran needs some strategy for development, or we will lose the very precious things people come here for…the unspoilt coast, the marine environment clean, clear and biodiverse, the sense of unspoilt place, the calmness. First the Scottish Salmon Company in Lamlash Bay, now Marine Harvest and also the Isle of Arran Distilleries all seriously affecting our marine environment; what next, a 92-bed hotel, a carbuncle on Brodick seafront? North Ayrshire Council, the Scottish Government, Marine Scotland and SEPA all need to wake up. And so do we, to fight for those things we think are precious on Arran. Or don’t we care anymore?

But there has recently been one good piece of news. Under pressure from Greenpeace and consumers of health food products (omega-3), a huge group of krill fishing companies have just committed to reduce their impact on Antarctic wildlife. The global call from 1.7 million people to protect the Antarctic goes from strength to strength. To demonstrate their support for a network of Antarctic ocean sanctuaries, almost the entire krill fishing industry has agreed voluntarily to stop fishing in sensitive Antarctic waters which are being proposed for protection. This includes the biggest krill ‘sea hoovering’ companies in the world, like AkerBiomarine, where much of what is collected goes to salmon aquaculture feed. So, what will be used now, or where will krill be fished from, I ask? Just at the time Marine Harvest has spent upwards of £100 million on the industrial feed plant on Skye at Kyleakin, which will have an annual capacity of 170,000 tonnes of feed. Organic feed for Marine Harvest’s Irish farms, as well as non-organic feed for Scotland, Norway and the Faroes, and a range of freshwater pellets. No wonder it wishes to expand in Scotland, where environmental controls are weaker than in Norway and Ireland. Incidentally there have been many dead salmon (known as morts) reported in farms this summer…salmon do not thrive in warming water and morts have been taken by lorry for disposal. I hear there have been smelly fish on the Cally Isles too. Any information?

Photo of ‘morts’, Kyleakin development near the Skye bridge, by James Merryweather
Kyleakin development, Skye. Image by James Merryweather
Kyleakin plant, Skye. Image by Marine Harvest









Sally Campbell July 2018