18th December

Let’s tone down the loud voices in the salmon licence debate

BIM’s recently published five-year strategy features extensively throughout this issue of Inshore Ireland, in a front page article and an in-depth interview inside. The strategy document itself is well written, admirably brief, accessible and easy to navigate.

It lists and examines the five key priority areas to be addressed: raw material supply; maximising added-value; creating scale; developing skills and enhancing the environmental sustainability of Irish seafood.

The aquaculture sector is featured also many times throughout, and for those currently operating in that sector, there is surely a fervent hope that this time it will receive the attention it has been long, and often, promised. And while no one could deny that the sea fisheries and seafood processing sectors have taken a heavy share of hardship over the past decade, the aquaculture sector ― fin-fish farming in particular ― has fared even worse.

There’re no doubt that much of the early gloss and optimism has disappeared, and it has been effectively mothballed for a decade while the issues around various EU directives are worked out. All eyes are now on Minister Coveney who finds himself in the unenviable position of having to weigh up the pros and cons of granting an aquaculture licence to the Galway Bay offshore salmon farm.

Those few salmon farmers who are left in the sector know well that unless this project receives the green light, fin fish aquaculture will find it next to impossible to reverse out of the cul de sac it has been in for over ten years. And as the minister listens to all sides and deliberates, the debate-on-the-street is taking a sadly predictable route.

Opponents of this proposal are becoming louder and more shrill - recently directing personalised abuse at the scientists whose research results they do not want to hear. Displays of extreme anger, whether in the media or at public meetings, will do their cause no good. Isolating and then attacking individual scientists is futile and, in the end, self-defeating: it’s just a case of shooting the messenger.

They should know by now that this is no way to win the argument. Has nothing been learned from the dark days of the rod licence campaign twenty years ago when ugly public scenes were many and bitterness was sown in communities in west county Galway?

The latest research paper from the Marine Institute which we analyse in this issue will certainly turn up the volume in this argument even louder, and unfortunately, the personalised attacks on the scientists involved are unlikely to lessen. No one doubts the passion and genuine commitment of those who oppose the granting of a licence for the Galway project. Some of them, a minority, should be told however that it’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it.

Arguments are won by those who present the most convincing evidence ― not by the loudest voice.

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