THE United Nations last year issued a report slamming “greenwashing”, where companies use unsupported sustainability claims to justify an action that is ultimately bad news for the environment and people who depend on it.

We have just such an example in Loch Long Salmon, which wants to build two industrial mega-farms in the inlet of Loch Linnhe that currently welcomes migrating wild salmon, whales, and porpoises, within its fragile ecosystem.

In the US, with its troubling industrial farming practices, a mega-farm is defined as having 1000 cattle. The two farms proposed locally by Loch Long Salmon would be the biomass of 22,000 cows. Yes, you read that right.

These monstrous agri-industrial complexes would release at least 15% of the excrement directly into the loch. Added to the existing fish farm’s waste, this equates to raw human sewage from at least twice the population of our local town, Oban.

Given people’s outrage at the state of this country’s waters, it is baffling that Loch Long Salmon could even attempt to make environmental claims about its business.

Yet it does. So, let’s look harder at the impact of industrial mega-farming based on the unproven technology that this company proposes to use.

Fish urine, made up of ammonia, phosphorus, urea, and nitrous waste, would enter the loch, exacerbating harmful algal blooms, which in 2022 contributed to 15 million farmed salmon mortalities. That’s a quarter of the entire farmed salmon population in Scotland.

These battery farms stock fish at over twice the density of open net cages leading to obvious welfare concerns. The size of these farms makes the animals very vulnerable to technology failures or storm damage.

As any local knows, wild weather is increasing here. A site in Canada trying the same technology had to abandon the experiment because the fish were dying in their own urine due to equipment failure.

The government is reviewing an appeal following a rejection of the original Loch Long proposal by the local authority. Stewart Hawthorn, the company’s CEO and shareholder, tried to defend his company’s plans in The National last week. There was a notable absence of any data to support his claims that these farms would help the environment.

The company has not calculated its carbon emissions, which are likely to be significant, given the imported feed required, the huge scale of the growing and processing sites and the export-driven nature of salmon production. Neither is there any assessment of the impact of waste, noise and light pollution on nature or thought for how the degradation will impact the local community.

Those like me who live and work on the shores of Loch Linnhe were surprised to find ourselves described disparagingly by Hawthorn as “professional objectors” living miles away. All the more interesting as none of the handful of private shareholders who are set to profit from this industrial farm seem to be located anywhere near here.

The serene beauty of Loch Linnhe is essential to the visitor experience of the area. As more people look for sustainable travel options and seek to reconnect with nature through wild swimming, kayaking and the like, we are seeing increasing numbers of people rely on open water spaces for their wellbeing.

While it pains us somewhat to describe our natural environment as an asset, it is true that it has a major economic benefit to local people through tourism. The number of people employed in the Scottish tourist trade dwarfs those in aquaculture – roughly 200,000 compared to 1500 – because mechanised farms don’t need many employees.

Hawthorn’s claims of job opportunities ring very hollow to us who foresee a bleak future as tourists turn away from a 24-hour spot-lit wasteland of treatment plants, diesel generators and handling stations, serviced by huge lorries, with the lingering smell of dead fish.

We are only just beginning to wake up to the negative consequences of the industrialisation and neglect of our waterways and coastal areas that have been revealed through the controversy around Britain’s water companies.

We call on policymakers not to let Loch Long Salmon’s greenwash lie like an algal bloom over the enrichment of a few people at the expense of our shared, natural resource.