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Frustration grows over disused salmon fish farm's plastic pollution in Wester Ross

By Philip Murray

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Plastic pollution blighting the shores of a Wester Ross sea loch has sparked an angry call for fish farm operators to tackle long vacant salmon pens that have been left to deteriorate for months.

Fed up local resident, Ailsa McLellan, who is a member of the Seawilding charity campaigning for greater protection of Scotland's inshore seabed, has hit out at the lack of "urgency" by Mowi Scotland and Wester Ross Fisheries in cleaning up and removing empty pens that float offshore in the waters of Loch Broom.

She said the fish farm site in question has been "empty since the summer" but despite months of relatively calm weather in the interim, action has not been taken to remove the empty pens.

And the "ancient flotation abrading" has been dumping "masses of polystyrene beads" into the environment, washing up on local beaches.

It comes just a couple of months after action to remove damaged pens was promised by the firms after the aftermath of Storm Babet washed fresh detritus onto shores.

Taking to Twitter with new photos of fresh beads on local shores, she said: "Derelict salmon farm and red wind equals masses of polystyrene beads all over the beach as per. There were less ropes, pipes and buoys than usual [during my latest visit], maybe they have managed to secure the bigger stuff, but they cant stop the ancient flotation abrading into the environment.

Related: Wester Ross company under fire for Lochbroom 'industrial waste' pledges post-Babet clean-up

"My kids and I have picked up the debris from this disintegrating farm regularly, but we can't deal with the beads; nor should we have to."

She continued: "This farm has been empty since the summer. Wester Ross Fisheries [and parent company] Mowi Scotland Ltd 'pledged' to clean up their mess, yet they have shown no urgency in removing the old pen group during calm spells."

With winter storms now hitting the area, which will likely add to the plastic bead problem, she questioned why something wasn't done sooner.

She copied her observations in to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and several high-profile politicians, including local Ullapool-raised MSP Maree Todd, and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, Mairi Gougeon.

Responding to her concerns, a spokesperson for Mowi Scotland, said: “We share the concerns regarding old, outdated equipment that contains exposed polystyrene and is why we have quickly initiated a plan to safely dismantle and properly dispose of it. To ensure minimal impact to the environment, we have taken the required time and worked around numerous autumn storms to properly handle and dispose of materials and/or donate salvaged lumber to local community projects.”

Jonathan Farmer, standards and quality officer with Wester Ross Salmon added: “We have engaged directly with the lead campaigner to update our progress to dispose of old equipment and to advise of our actions to regularly monitor and clean up any stray materials along the beach, whether related to this project or not. We will continue to be vigilant.”

They added that across the industry Salmon Scotland’s sustainability charter had set up an email address where people can report marine litter and its location if they believe it to be from farming operations. Email Enquiries@salmonscotland.co.uk and the information will be passed on to the appropriate company "to follow-up and quickly resolve".

"If notified by the public or Salmon Scotland of aquaculture-derived waste in the marine environment near to our farms, then this will be cleaned up regardless of source company."

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