18th December

Winter algal blooms threaten south-west shellfish sector

A severe crisis is threatening the mussel production sector from Castlemaine to Dunmanus Bay as a result of highly unusual algal blooms this winter, according to the Irish Shellfish Association.

“Some bays have been forced to close down for five consecutive months, and farmers have had to watch their crops wash away during the winter storms instead of fetching premiums in top supermarkets and restaurants,” explained Richie Flynn, aquaculture excecutive of the Irish Farmers' Association. 

shellfish 2015 edited-2                   

                  DSP situation July 2014                                     DSP situation October 2014

“By closing their harvesting operations, the mussel farmers ensured that consumer and food safety comes first but unfortunately they have no control over the length of time these natural blooms can persist in the ocean," he added.

Producers are not arguing with the science or criteria which closed them down.

"IFA members work very closely with the agencies such as the Food Safety Authority; Marine Institute; HSE and BIM, to ensure we have the safest shellfish system in the world."

Flynn added that the EU recognised such closures could be extremely painful and must be balanced by a special scheme to allow producers to stay in business:

"That official recognition was enshrined in EU regulations over seven years ago. Minister Coveney must use these EU rules now to find a scheme to help dozens of small family businesses along the south west coast to stay in business.

"Accurate figures on each producer’s production can be accessed from Gatherers Documents records held by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA),” he said.

IFA’s analysis shows that up to 10,000 tonnes of top-quality mussel crop have been lost to the elements or are now unusable:

“This crop should have been sold in November, December and even January. But some bays have been closed continuously since mid-2014 due to an extremely rare occurrence where algal blooms which should have disappeared, stayed within the bays making the shellfish unsafe to consume.

Even if the bays were opened in the morning, prices have entered the annual cyclical slump and most of the crop has lost its quality appearance and size as it prepares for the spring spawning season, Flynn concluded. 

Irish Shellfish Association Chairman, Jerry Gallagher has appealed to Minister Coveney to find a financial solution to the problem:

“This is the Minister’s chance to make a real difference and keep open a successful indigenous industry in an important economic black-spot. With the expertise of BIM and other agencies such as the Marine Institute, a full assessment of the damage is possible, and a legal and justifiable scheme can be implemented - without delay,” he stressed.

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