The Village Magazine, 4 July 2013: Coveney’s Department deceived EU Investigators

Coveney’s Department deceived EU Investigators

July 4, 2013 – Environment, Featured Posts, News, Tony Lowes – no comments


  • Sea lice from farmed salmon (seen here) can infect wild salmon at distances up to 30 kilometers.
  • EU probe was deliberately misled about the severity of the impact on wild salmon of lice from farmed salmon
  • EU Commission’s Compliance official was transferred out of his job

The Department of Agriculture denied it had a key Report requested by an EU investigation into sea lice and wild salmon, according to documents obtained under Freedom and Access to Information from Irish Departments and the European Commission. The documents have been posted to the website of the Friends of the Irish Environment.

During the investigation, which began in February 2010, the Commission repeatedly sought the ‘the express view of the agency responsible for game fisheries’. Under the Fisheries Acts and the Habitats Regulations, Inland Fisheries Ireland [IFI], which operates under the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources [DCENR], is responsible for wild salmon in our rivers and within 15 miles of our coast.

The Department of Agriculture Food and Fisheries [DAFF] was assigned the file by the Department of Foreign Affairs [DFA], which received the request for information in response to a complaint by NGOs, processed under a new investigation system called PILOT.

DAFF responded to the investigation in June 2010 minus the repeatedly-requested views of IFI. Commission officials called the Department of Foreign Affairs and said that, if these views were not provided, the Commission would have to consider bringing formal infringement proceedings before the European Court of Justice.

A Report was subsequently prepared by IFI in September 2010 and approved by its Board. It was forwarded to DAFF by DCENR in November 2010.

The IFI Report is a damning commentary on the official position entered by DAFF in response to the Complaint in June 2010.

It cites examples from Marine Institute salmon farm-lice records, stating: ‘This does not constitute good sea lice control’.

Confirming that it had not been consulted in the preparation of Ireland’s June 2010 response to the Commission investigation, the IFI submission noted that stating that ‘no empirical evidence has been made available suggesting the presence of sea lice in salmon fish farms has a significant impact on the protected species’ is ‘not consistent with available information’. It provided ‘numerous records that provide contrary evidence’, adding that ‘Mortalities of salmonoids attributable to sea lice have been well documented’.

The report, marked ‘final’, concluded ‘the potential exists for sea lice transfer from farmed salmon to outward migrating wild salmon smoults in any estuary with a marine salmon farm present’.

The Department of Agriculture wrote to the EU investigation less than a year later, in November 2011, stating that its Department had not received any report from DCENR/IFI.

As a result the PILOT complaint was dismissed and the Minister was able to claim that

‘The European Commission has been very clear that it now accepts that the systems in place in Ireland to control sea lice and salmon farms are probably the best anywhere in Europe. As far as we are concerned, the sea lice issue is no longer significant.’

The long-standing Commission official who had threatened Ireland with infringement proceedings if the IFI views were not provided was reduced from acting unit head to desk officer and transferred out of the Compliance Unit of the Environmental Directorate.

The decision had further consequences beyond simply ending the European investigation and undermining EU enforcement attempts.

The Minister had been prohibited from ordering an increase in salmon-farm production by the terms of the National Development Plan 2007 – 2013, which had placed a moratorium on further expansion ‘until the sea lice issue was resolved’.

The ban was put into the Plan in July 2010 on the basis of a similar submission from Inland Fisheries Ireland to the one they prepared for the Commission investigation, again supported by DCENR.

In a memo advising the Minister to accede to the ban proposed by IFI and DCENR circulated to the top civil servants in DAFF in July 2010 and signed ‘as agreed’ in pen by Minister Sean Connick, the Minister was advised that ‘it was worth noting’ that the largest operator (Marine Harvest, the Norwegian multinational responsible for 80% of Irish production) was ‘disbarred from receiving state aid because the regulations limited aid to SME [small to medium enterprise] companies only’. The memo also pointed out that under current conditions even SMEs ‘may have difficulties accessing the required matching finance’.

Thus the author pointed out that the exclusion would ‘in reality, be quite small, in the short term at least’.

In fact the exclusion stood in the way of Simon Coveney’s plan for 6 mega salmon farms along the Irish coast. With the Commission’s investigation closed, Coveney was able to claim that they had been investigated and that the sea lice issue ‘was no longer significant’. He instructed his own agency BIM to apply for the first megafarm licence at a single location in Galway Bay. This would alone double Ireland’s national production of farmed salmon – in the catchment of the Corrib River system, home to Irish native salmon..

The 2010 Report written by IFI but never received by the Commission is in substance the same as the advice given recently by Professor Mark Costello, the chair of the World Register of Marine Species, and a previous technical adviser to the Irish Aquaculture Licence Appeals Board.

In his May 2013 letter to the Minister, Professor Costello, who has published papers on the subject since 2006, made it crystal clear that the sea-lice issue is not resolved. Warning the Minister of ‘misinformation’ circulating in the Irish media, he reiterated the fact that there was no scientific doubt that salmon farms should not be located within 30 kilometres of wild-salmon rivers because of the dangers of sea-lice infestation.

The Friends are calling for the Commission to reopen their investigation and for the application for the Galway Bay farm to be suspended until the 2014 – 2019 National Development Plan can determine if the moratorium imposed in the 2007- 2013 Plan should remain in place. They have submitted ‘Requests for redress of mal-administration’, the first step in opening a case with the European or National Ombudsman, to the Departments involved in misleading the Commission.

MEP Nessa Childers said “I am very disturbed by the information published by Friends of the Irish Environment, about the handling of the investigation of sea lice and wild salmon, by the Department of Agriculture Food and Marine. In everyone’s best interests, I am writing to the Commissioner about the matter to ensure that the full facts are brought into the public domain”.

Tony Lowes

Index of full copies of the Requests for Redress, documentation and related records.

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