The Norwegian company seeking to expand its fish farming operation in West Cork breached sea lice protocol levels five times in their Donegal operations, according to monitoring by the Marine Institute.
The impact of sea lice generated by fish farms is a huge source of controversy internationally with environmentalists and anglers arguing that farmed fish pens create high levels of sea lice which pose a potentially fatal threat to young salmon swimming out to sea.
This risk forms part of the campaigns against Norwegian giant Marine Harvest’s planned 100-acre organic salmon fish farm at Shot Head in Bantry and Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s planned 500-hectare deep-sea salmon farm 6km off Inis Oirr.
Environmentalists will today march to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney’s constituency office in Carrigaline, Co Cork, to highlight opposition.
Data published by the Marine Institute as part of its Oct 2012 sea lice report shows that Marine Harvest’s Lough Swilly farm in Donegal recorded elevated sea lice levels, as did Ocean Farm’s Donegal Bay farm and Mannin Bay Salmon Company’s farm at Corhounagh.
The Lough Swilly operation has a mean of 9.35 ovigerous (egg-bearing) sea lice per fish, Mannin Bay had 9.36, and McSwynes (Ocean Farm) had 3.49. Protocol states the fish must be treated to kill the sea lice once there is over 2.0 egg-bearing femals sea lice per fish.
In September , elevates sea lice levels were recorded at Marine Harvest’s Cranford A and Lough Swilly farm, and at Mannin Bay’s Corhounagh site.
Niall Greene, chairman of Salmon Watch Ireland, said fish farmers have recorded stark rises in sea lice due to a big outbreak of amoebic gill disease in Irish and Scottish salmon fish farms.
“This causes the farmed fish to go off their food and to they won’t take in the treatment. Sea lice numbers have gone off the scale as a result,” he said.
Marine Harvest last night defended the figures, saying sea lice control protocols in Ireland are “more advanced that those operated in other jurisdictions as the inspection regime is totally independent of the industry”.
“These controls are widely accepted as representing best practice internationally. Marine Harvest Ireland conforms fully with this leading pest-control strategy. Given certain climatic conditions, lice can be more prevalent and this has occurred this year”.
“Best practice in fish farming is to optimise stock rotation and separation by having a greater number of sites. This is why we have applied for a licence application for Shot Head, to compliment our existing facilities by enabling improved rotation of our fish stocks therefore implementing best practice with regard to lice control.”
by Claire O’Sullivan