15th October

Farmed salmon investigation report withheld says environmental group

Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) has accused the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) of refusing to publish the results of its investigation into how a large number of salmon were lost earlier this year at a fish farm in Bantry Bay.


 Farmed salmon feeding near the water surface

In a press release, the FIE claims that a storm on February 1 caused two cages to collide at the Gerahies site in the bay, resulting in the loss of 230,000 salmon. The FIE says it was refused the report on the grounds that it was an ‘internal communication in the course of completion’ and that it ‘would not be in the public interest to release it’.

According to the FIE, refusal to release this report breaks a precedent set by Minister Coveney ‘of releasing such documents regarding salmon farm escapes’. Tony Lowes, a director of the FIE claims that DAFM has already given permission for the operators to restock the Gearies site.

‘How can they do this if the report on the accident is not complete, and how can this secretive manner of operating be in the public interest?’ he asks.

‘Fish farms are not regulated by land-based building regulations because they are not on land. But neither do they fall under the Maritime Equipment Directive and Regulations because they are not on flag bearing ships.

‘We believe DAFM’s report will show that nothing has been done to ensure that these installations are inspected to ensure their viability. That is why the Minister is refusing to release this Report.’

FIE has appealed DAFM’s decision to the Information Commissioner and is also filing a complaint with the Ombudsman for what it says is ‘maladministration’.

DAFM responds

A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine confirmed to Inshore Ireland that its examination of the [Bantry Bay] matter involved ‘all engineering, scientific, environmental and technical matters associated with the incident’, and that a report was ‘nearing completion’.

She confirmed the investigation involved "the active engagement and consultation with relevant Government Departments and State agencies".

She added that in the meantime "and without prejudice to the outcome of this examination", the Department has no objection to the site being restocked.

"The [Gerahies] site has been refurbished, subject to the strict adherence by the operator to certain specific conditions set down by the Department and also the issuing of a Fish Movement Order by the Marine Institute in accordance with applicable legislation, rules and procedures."

She added it was important to note that the aquaculture industry was heavily regulated and was subject to complex and detailed national and EU legislation.

"The Department is alert to ongoing technological changes which enhance the security of all structures on licensed sites. In this regard the Department is currently preparing a draft protocol for the structural design of marine finfish farms."

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