Ocean fish farm plans defeated by locals and fairies

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ISLE OF SKYE, Scotland – The approval of a fish farm near the Isle of Skye was rejected by local council planners because – among other reasons – of a danger posed by deep-sea fairies.

The pisciculture company, Organic Sea Harvest, applied for a third farming site having already received approval for two sites in Invertote and Culnacnoc off Trotternich peninsula in north-eastern Skye at Flodigarry. The prior approvals for twelve 400ft cages were given by authorities in 2018 and produce approximately 5,000 tons of Atlantic salmon.

Organic Sea Harvest claimed that more sites could improve harvest and lower fish population densities. The strategy, they suggested, would also reduce the presence of sea lice and their treatment with medications by taking advantage of the depth and fast-flowing waters.

Looking south in the Quiraing on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. [Photo Credit: David Iliff CC BY-SA 3.0]

The Staffin Community Trust (Urras an Taobh Sear), whose objective is “to improve Staffin’s economic prospects, stimulate social and cultural activities and improve services, with the Gaelic language an integral part of that,” welcomed the proposal by Organic Sea Harvest for different reasons. They noted that ‘significant employment opportunities and much-needed infrastructure investment’ would result from the approval of the new fish farms sites.

But opposition came from the Scottish Fishermen Federation, Scottish White Fish Producers Association and the Mallaig and North West Fishermen’s Association. The groups raised concerns about the impact the farms could have on local fishing.

A community member, Emma Beaton, argued before the council that “There is insufficient evidence for the economic benefits. It’s a pristine landscape and the only benefit would be to OSH.”

Local hotelier, Bette Temming, agreed. She argued that the new fish farm proposed by Organic Sea Harvest would impact her business, the Flodigarry Hotel, by impacting the seascape. Temming said that “15% of visitors are bothered by fish farms…. So our sales would be down 15%, our investment would go down and three to four people would lose their jobs.”  The Scottish National Heritage also noted that the fish farm could affect the nearby coast.

In a bizarre twist to the council deliberations, a letter emerged objecting to the fish farm warning of concerns about the “Ashrai,” aquatic fairies of English folklore that live of the Isle of Skye and now “fear of their lives” because of the threats posed by the fish farm.

English and Scottish folklore tell of a fisherman who captured an ashrai. In the tale, the creature’s touch was so cold that it burned, and it spoke an unknown language but clearly pleaded for freedom. The folk tale goes on to say that the fisherman covered the creature in seaweed to bring the fairy to shore. But the fairy’s calls became more muted as the fisherman approached land and the creature eventually melted into a puddle of water. In other stories, the fairies live for 500 years and lure fishermen to the ocean in pursuit of promised gold, ultimately drowning them.

Atlantic Salmon. [Timothy Knepp, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Public Domain]

The Scottish poet, Robert Williams Buchanan, was the first to describe the Asrai in print in an eponymous poem.  Buchanan later described them as nature spirits who could not bear sunlight in a sequel titled, “A Changeling: A Legend of the Moonlight.”

The letter signed by “Friends of the Eilean Fhlodaigearraidh Faeries” warned of dangers that would befall fisherfolk, especially fishermen, who would be ensnared by the aquatic fairies defending themselves from the fish farm. The letter said that the fairies “will attempt to lure him with promises of gold and jewels into the deepest part of the ocean to drown or simply to trick him.”

The letter added: “Ashrai live for hundreds of years and will come up to the surface of the water once each century to bathe in the moonlight which they use to help them grow.” The fish farm, however, poses a significant risk to that migration. The letter claimed that “It is proven that the steel of the fish farm cages draws many ashrai to the surface, with only one result: they melt.”

The letter further claimed that some seals living on the Isle of Sky are actually water elementals or even mermen who have shape-shifted. The letter concludes mentioned other “magical misty” sites on Skye such as its Fairy Pools, Dunvegan Castle’s Fairy Flag, and the Fairy Bridge.

Despite Organic Sea Harvest having two Highland councillors, Alexander MacInnes and Alister Mackinnon as founding shareholders, the proposed new fish farm was rejected after a six-hour meeting of the local council.

The council is reported to not have taken much stock in the fairy letter.  A spokesman said: “The fairies are not mentioned in the motion. Not mentioned as part of the debate. Not listed as an objector or mentioned in the report.”