18th December

Is Freedom of Information really what it says it is?

Inshore Ireland masthead

In our December issue we chronicled IFA Aquaculture’s efforts through Freedom of Information (2009 and 2013)) and Public Access to Environmental Information (2013) to procure the full and final report of the SUMBAWS Project which was published in 2005.

The representative body of Ireland’s aquaculture sector had sought this scientific report because parts of it were quoted in a formal Complaint to the EU Commission in February 2009 by the environmental group Salmon Watch Ireland on the potential impact of sea lice on wild salmon stocks in Ireland.

The complaint resulted in the EU Commission launching a five-year Pilot Investigation of Ireland’s lice monitoring programme. According to IFA Aquaculture, this investigation had a negative impact on the development of Ireland’s finfish farming sector.

In-depth study

SUMBAWS is a record of the investigations carried out by an eminent team of researchers from Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands and Norway. It provides a socio-economic evaluation of the interactions between the various salmon-based businesses (aquaculture, commercial fishing and angling) in three Ireland, Norway and Scotland. It also comprises comparable figures for the value of the various sectors, and examines in detail the costs associated with lice reduction and devises a methodology for estimating and comparing the costs and benefits involved.

With a working budget of almost €2.4 million this should be, by any measure, a significant, worthwhile and informative of investigative research. This body of work compiled by such an eminent body of international researchers would surely be of interest and indeed required reading for anyone connected with the finfish aquaculture sector in Ireland.

Notwithstanding, the formal efforts by IFA Aquaculture to unearth SUMBAWS from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources have to date failed.

Elusive report

Almost four months have passed since Inshore Ireland first sought a copy of SUMBAWS from Inland Fisheries Ireland who deny having it, despite the fact that one of their senior fisheries biologists contributed to the publication. A similar request to the Economic and Social Research Institute – the second Irish contributor – has also failed.

Our own formal Freedom of Information Request for a copy of SUMBAWS from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources was refused on December 30.

We are now appealing this decision.

Salmon Watch Ireland would not reveal to this paper whether it had used a full copy of SUMBAWS or who had provided it with the information for its case. And Friends of the Irish Environment told us that SUMBAWS does not exist!

It beggars belief that a report backed by the EU to the tune of more than €1.6 million and which may contain vital information pertinent to the debate on the impact of lice on wild salmonid populations is still not readily available in this country.

The question is why?

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