Licence refusal deemed a victory for common sense

Aquaculture - mussel linesFOR many people in West Cork the refusal by the Aquaculture Licensing Appeals Board to grant a licence for a shellfish farm in Dunmanus Bay was a victory for common sense.

Except for the politicos – because Simon Coveney, Fine Gael Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food, was much in favour of the project and approved a foreshore and aquaculture licence for Dunmanus Bay Mussels Ltd. But, after local fishermen appealed the decision, the application was turned down.

So, in basic terms, Coveney, a city politico better known for spending €26,000 flying to Algeria to open a supermarket, was told to take a running jump! He had received a master class in the dangers of ignoring local interests!

The mussel farm was deemed likely to produce large amounts of polluting gunge that would ‘degrade’ the marine habitat and significantly impinge ‘on wild fisheries, flora and fauna populations’.

Yet, according to Mary of Toormore who has a poetic turn of phrase, the battle against fish farms is far from over. Here’s what she said: ‘We’re still stuck on the pitiful path from paradise to pollution; and ahead is the destruction of Heaven’s reflex, beauty’s home, the place God made when he was in good humour, Bantry Bay itself.’

She was referring to the €3.5 million, 196-acre salmon farm that the Norwegian company Marine Harvest wants to develop at Shot Head, off Adrigole.

Fishermen, residents, tourism and environmental interests vehemently oppose the project, claiming that waste from the fish farm would be equal to sewage from a town ten times the size of Bantry.

Local fishermen, who say they are not against salmon farming if done properly, predict that in the case of this particular venture the loss of trawling grounds can be expected, the livelihood of pot fishermen destroyed and a devastating environmental catastrophe visited on the waters and sea life of Bantry Bay.

Doomsday stuff, certainly, but the Save Bantry Bay group do not come across as headbangers when they argue that smolts from five salmon rivers running into Bantry Bay will be at risk of sea lice infestation.

They point to Chile, where in 2008, an infectious salmon anaemia killed millions of fish that Marine Harvest was exporting to Japan, Europe and the United States.

Scientists at the time alleged that Marine Harvest’s policy of breeding salmon in crowded underwater pens contaminated once pristine waters.

They urged the Norwegian company to radically change its methods of fish farming, warning that preserving the waters for marine life would become impossible if they didn’t do so.

The New York Times reported that environmentalists accused Marine Harvest of farming salmon for export ‘at the expense of almost everything else around.’

Salmon faeces and food pellets were stripping the water of oxygen, killing marine life and spreading disease, they said. Escaped salmon were eating other fish species and invading rivers and lakes.

At the heart of the controversy in Chile was the argument – and it is also the sticking point in West Cork – that it is not possible to produce fish on an industrial scale in a sustainable way, or to get an ecological balance.

A fisherman from the Gulf of Reloncavi, a place dotted with salmon farms, put the scandal of what happened in Chile into focus: ‘The salmon companies robbed us of our wealth. They brought illnesses and then left us with the problems,’ he said.

Opponents of the development in Bantry Bay can expect little sympathy from FG city slicker, Simon Coveney. A former MEP, he’s perceived as a loyal EU- regulation enforcer whose ministerial responsibility is to make it easy for multinationals to open fish farms on the basis that imports from Asia and South America are distorting the European market.

For its part, the Marine Harvest Company claims its operation at Shot Head will secure the long-term future of the aquaculture industry, including of course the future of its fish farm at Roancarrig. Significantly, they say nothing about jobs.

That may be because the Shot Head salmon farm will employ just six people during establishment and the sum total of two when fully operational!

In other words, the project will not benefit the people of West Cork in any appreciable way – which makes inexplicable the failure of elected government politicos to turn up to a meeting last March in Glengarriff at which strong opposition to the proposed salmon farm was voiced.

Indeed the only public response from a political source was that of that of the local Labour Party. Their ‘take’ on the Shot Head controversy amounted to the following: ‘it seems fair to take a cautionary approach.’

Not exactly a call for the comrades to nail their smoked salmon shirts to the mast, but at least it was something!

Southern Star
6 October 2012

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