RYA Scotland has had a long involvement with aquaculture developments and is consulted on individual applications.

The Crown Estate Scotland leases the waters but the Local Authority issues the licence. Applications are responded to by our coastwatchers on a case by case basis. The key issues for us are safety and rights of navigation. There is a trend for there to be fewer but larger sites and for these to move into deeper and more tidal waters. The RYA position paper on aquaculture is based on Scottish experience.

Advice for recreational sailors
Fish farming makes an important contribution to local economies, particularly in remote areas. When well-planned, aquaculture has no adverse impact on recreational sailing and there can sometimes be benefits from sharing facilities.

If you sail in places where fish, shellfish or seaweed is farmed - such as the west coast of Scotland, the Northern Isles and Northern Ireland - you will find useful information below about identifying and sailing around the farms. Depending on where you sail you may encounter farms for salmon and other finned fish, mussels, oysters and even seaweed. As water quality is very important for shellfish farms, it is not considered good practice to empty sea toilets near them.

Be prepared
Fish farms are not always where you expect them to be as charts, even electronic ones, are not always up to date. New fish farm licences can be granted, old ones surrendered and existing farms can rotate their cages between different sites.

As a result, it is prudent to download and carry with you the Notices to Mariners giving chart updates for your cruising area. It is also important to be particularly alert in conditions of poor visibility as marker lights for the aquaculture farms may not always be lit.

Give farms a wide berth
Fish cage anchors tend to extend outwards beyond the cages themselves but are not generally a hazard. It is wise however to give the cages a generous berth, particularly when a workboat is present. In a few places a feed store on land is connected to the cages by pipes near the surface so it is best to avoid passing between cages and the shore unless you are certain there are no feed pipes obstructing your passage.

Fish are generally brought to and taken away from fish farms in “well boats” which are small, fast and manoeuvrable coasters. Keep a good lookout even in remote sea lochs.

Mussel farms often consist of ropes suspended from a cable supported by large grey buoys (grey to reduce the visual impact for tourists) and as the mussels mature the buoys sink lower in the water. It is therefore inadvisable to try to sail through a mussel farm or between the buoys.

Dinghy cruisers and yachtsmen anchoring or coming ashore should note that there are a few oyster farms in shallow water and they may be unmarked. Hazards include steel cages (trestles) or steel rods just under the surface.

Stay alert
It is perfectly safe to sail in waters with aquaculture farms. Good seamanship, particularly with regard to keeping watch, is the key.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation have also appealed for recreational water users to Respect The Buoys.

Please inform the RYA at about problems you experience with aquaculture farms, particularly if they are not well marked or lit.

Dr G Russell
RYA Scotland Planning and Environment Officer
Last updated 1 May 2020