A plan to build a series of trout farms along the Cornish coast could create a multi-million pound industry to rival the success of Scotland’s salmon industry.
However, doubts have been raised over the project, with the exposed nature of the Duchy's coastline, as exposed by last winter's storms, leading to doubts over its viability.
The project is being led by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), along with the British Trout Association and The Crown Estate, which owns most of the UK’s foreshore.
They are currently seeking a business partner to help demonstrate the potential for farmed rainbow trout, a fish native to North America, which would be held in pens off the Cornwall coast.
While the team believes there is “scope within the market for an enterprise producing this species in a net-pen facility to be viable”, it could create conflict with local fishermen, watersports users and those with expensive homes boasting unspoilt sea views.
Doubt has also been cast on whether suitable sites exist around the coast, compared to some of the sheltered waters in Scotland.
“This multi-partner project is a very exciting initiative for aquaculture in England,” Neil Auchterlonie, programme director in food security and aquaculture at Cefas, said when the bid was announced.
“There is potential for aquaculture to support UK government and regional aspirations relating to food security and regional economic development.” He added: “This project should help support the long-term sustainable development of the marine aquaculture sector in English waters. Our model provides a platform for the sharing of information, stakeholder input and dialogue.”
The search for a commercial partner – who would operate at an agreed site as an independent business – was launched last September but has so far gone unreported in the region.
A Cefas spokesman said the tendering process was still ongoing. An announcement is not expected until the autumn.
With an economic value of more than a £1 billion a year, farmed salmon has become Scotland’s most successful food export.
David Bassett, chief executive of the British Trout Association, said: “There is clear market demand, both at home and abroad, for top-quality farmed UK trout. It is exciting to try to increase production through a novel collaboration with regulatory authorities and local interests.
“We are lucky to be able to start with best practice that has been developed over decades elsewhere, and to thereby avoid many of the problems faced in the past. Both fish farmers and those from outside our sector will be watching this project closely to see how it develops.”
Alex Adrian, aquaculture operations manager at The Crown Estate, said: “We are pleased to be contributing to a project which will diversify and strengthen Cornwall’s aquaculture industry, creating new opportunities for it to grow and succeed within a seafood sector that is developing rapidly.”
Despite it success, the farmed fish industry is not without opposition, with criticism over the use of antibiotics, which are used to keep penned stocks healthy, as well as issues with lice and pollution.
And The Wildlife Trusts’ head of living seas, Plymouth-based Joan Edwards, said: “Fish farms are normally built in quite sheltered waters which is what causes some of the issues.
“A lot of food and antibiotics are used and a lot of things end up on the seabed which creates problems. That might not happen in more exposed waters but looking at the Cornish coast seems a little bit odd to say the least.
“If you had a fish farm off the coast last year, it would not be there now because of the storms.”