PLANS to open a controversial fish farm in a protected sea area have been dropped after unprecedented opposition due to fears for some of Scotland’s rarest marine life found living near the site.

The huge Sound of Jura development would have contained a dozen circular cages capable of hosting around one million fish, mainly rainbow trout.

But the plan has now been scrapped after sea-bed surveys showed a variety of rare marine species living near the site.

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Environmental watchdogs refused to recommend the proposals got the go-ahead after the surveys found extremely rare northern sea fans directly below the planned site.

The plants have the highest level of marine protection and, along with the critically-endangered common skate, have seen the project rejected.

The blueprint for the rainbow trout farm in Dounie, just south of Crinan on the mainland, attracted a wave of criticism from nearby residents, conservationists and watersports enthusiasts.

It would have been located just 60 yards off the shoreline at Dounie, in stretch of the popular Scottish Sea Kayak Trail and the new Argyll Sea Kayak Trail.

It was also within the newly designated Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area set out to safeguard rare marine features such as the sea fans and the common skate.

Sea lice, chemicals and escaping fish are seen as threats to species such as porpoises, as well as to wild salmon and trout from a local river.

Family-run Kames Fish Farming Limited applied to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency seeking a licence but have now dropped the proposals altogether following the Scottish Natural Heritage underwater survey.

A pressure group called The Friends of the Sound of Jura (FoSoJ) was formed to highlight concerns about the project and they have welcomed the decision to drop the farm.

FoSoJ spokesman Mark Smith, said: “We have always maintained that this industrial- sized fish farm should have no place within a Marine Protected Area.

“The wildlife of the Sound includes the rare flapper skate, porpoises, otters and seals, as well as smaller rarities like the northern sea fan.

“They have been spared being smothered in thousands of tonnes of fish faeces laced with pesticides every year.

“The wild salmon and sea trout which migrate to the River Add have been spared the catastrophic burden of sea lice associated with fish farms. We will continue to promote the Sound of Jura as an important resource for use by the local community, anglers, creel fishermen, scallop divers, sailors, tourists and all of us who value and depend on the good health of the marine environment.”

Fish farming is worth £1.86 billion a year to the economy and is an important source of employment in rural areas.

The Scottish Government plans to double production of farmed salmon by 2030.

Stuart Cannon, KFF managing director, had argued that “sea lice were not nearly the same problem for rainbow trout as salmon”.

He added: “We have been in production for 45 years, and are not going to suddenly pollute the whole of the Sound. We do listen to local concerns and we will comply with whatever the authorities tell us.”