18th December

Open net salmon farming: 'battle won but war continues'

BIM has withdrawn its licence application for a salmon farm in Galway Bay because the proposed production capacity exceeds the maximum annual harvest for individual farms as recommended in the government’s new strategic plan for sustainable aquaculture. 

BIM application1

 INFOMAR data of Galway Bay

The seafood development agency’s chief executive, Tara McCarthy, said her board had taken “swift and decisive action” on December 21 to match the agency’s activities to the new Plan.

She added they would now “re-assess delivery of this project in the context of the new operating environment and examine the operational and commercial impacts, which would take time and a significant amount of engagement and consultation”.

The Federation of Salmon and Trout Anglers (FISSTA) which opposed the project from the beginning is skeptical of the reason given by BIM for acting now.

“BIM says it withdrew the licence application because the new strategy reviews the production capacity of individual farms. But the real reason is because of the strength of public objections emanating from our public awareness events,” Noel Carr, FISSTA’s secretary told Inshore Ireland.

Regulation rules

Under current legislation, a fish farm licence application cannot be altered during the planning process, and the Galway Bay project would not have qualified for grant aid from the European Maritime Fisheries Fund because its production capacity was more than double the revised cap in the new strategy.

First put forward in November 2012, the Galway Bay project has had a stormy passage with BIM regularly having to defend its proposal against a well-coordinated opposition comprising anglers and environmentalists who feared it would damage the local marine environment and be the source of parasitic lice that would ultimately decimate local migrating wild salmon and sea trout.

Two State agencies – the Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland - also disagreed publicly on the impact a salmon farm of this size was likely to have on local salmonids.

Research by the Marine Institute indicates that lice-induced mortality in wild salmon is tiny ― at less than 1% of the overall marine mortality rate. IFI however disagreed and said the scale and location of the farm would lead to the extinction of the wild salmon population and the destruction of an angling/tourism sector estimated to be worth more than €140m a year.

According to BIM, the proposed location at an exposed deep water site near Inis Oírr would have ensured a high volume of water exchange and no build-up of waste. Regarding, the more contentious issue of lice infestation, the agency said there was no evidence that salmon farming has a significantly negative impact on wild salmon and trout.

The agency also highlighted the effectiveness of the National Sea-lice Monitoring Programme and the European Commission’s confirmation that Ireland’s sea lice control system was the ‘safest in the world’.

“We were also committed to applying additional standards to our licence application for the Inis Oírr project that would exceed existing environmental and safety regulations,” a BIM spokesman told Inshore Ireland shortly after the proposal was announced.

Decision welcomed

Welcoming BIM’s decision, IFA Aquaculture Executive Richie Flynn told Inshore Ireland the National Strategic Plan for Sustainable Aquaculture Development was “the right platform to launch a new era of development for the aquaculture sector.

“The scene is now set to make serious progress on the outstanding licence renewals and applications being sought by commercial companies with over 30 years’ experience in the business”.

He said Ireland’s aquaculture industry “looked forward” to implementing the new strategy and to regaining its position as a world leader in quality farmed organic salmon which, he said, was in demand worldwide.

“With that focus comes the prospect of more secure jobs in the farming processing and service sectors ― right up the west coast in areas crying out for direct investment and employment.”

Nevertheless, the BIM decision will be seen by some in the aquaculture sector as a set back for the already ailing fin fish farming sector where annual production flat-lined some years ago and has been on virtual life-support for some time ―mainly as a result of tough, but necessary, EU environmental directives.

“This outcome is the result of people power as seen in our successful protest marches all around the country. Right from the start we recognised that BIM’s plan for Inis Oírr was unsustainable, and that momentum created widespread national and international controversy,” Carr contends.

FISSTA’s notice last May that it planned to take legal action against the government and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to prevent it issuing a licence “also put pressure on Minister Coveney to review this ill thought-out plan.

“BIM’s announcement ends the long wait for the Attorney General’s response to FISSTA, and we’re delighted that our national campaign which saw thousands of anglers and supporters of the wild salmon on the streets of Galway, in Castlebar at the Taoiseach’s office, and in Carrigaline at Minister Coveney’s office,” he said.

Carr said his organisation would continue its campaign against the government’s open net sea cage salmon farming policy.

“While no war has been won as yet, FISSTA acknowledges this is the first of many battles to come. Minister Coveney granted a licence for Bantry Bay in October to which we have also lodged an objection.

“So now we’re calling on him to further review such damaging and polluting cages. We want him to bring salmon farming on shore where it can be properly monitored managed under the current and more stringent EU Waste Management Directives.”

Inshore Ireland invited DAFM to comment but none was received.

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