Councillors have reluctantly approved plans by Marine Harvest to install bigger pens at a west Highland salmon farm.
The firm will replace the present 20 smaller salmon farming pens at its Gorsten site in Loch Linnhe with 12 larger ones, increasing salmon numbers by 15%.
But both the Lochaber District Salmon Fishery Board and the Lochaber Fisheries Trust are concerned about the high levels of sea lice found on wild fish.
They say extra volumes of fish proposed for this application means higher risk of lice spreading and infecting wild salmon in local rivers due to fish escaping.
Marine Harvest will be required to provide an Environmental Management Plan which addresses how their compliance with sea lice issues will be assessed, and details of what action will be taken during a production cycle in the event sea lice treatments are not successful.
But South Planning Applications Committee member and Fort William and Ardnamurchan councillor, Andrew Baxter, said he remains “somewhat troubled” by the application because of the “unknowns.”
He added: “I suspect if I had been minded to refuse this application, as I am not scared about it going to the Scottish Government reporters, but I actually suspect in this case it would have been a fruitless exercise and pointless expedition, so I am not going to do that and will be prepared to accept the officer’s recommendation.”
Councillor Baxter added that it might be useful for members to have a seminar on some of the “intricacies” of environmental impact on fish farms, as some of it is outwith the remit of the planning authority.
Committee chairman Jimmy Gray agreed that this be added as a recommendation alongside the decision to approve the plans, adding: “These are very complex and technical papers and it’s not always clear where the responsibility lies.”