Fishermen, NGOs question Ireland’s aquaculture expansion
July 19, 2013, 8:34 am
Irish Seafood Board plans to expand the country’s aquaculture output and raise sales of seafood to €1bn are unsustainable, said groups including the government agency, Inland Fisheries Ireland.
Yesterday the Irish Seafood Board [BIM] announced that aquaculture will be central to its new five-year plan for Ireland’s seafood sector that it hopes will deliver €1billion of seafood sales.
To achieve this, BIM’s chief executive, Jason Whooley, is proposing a series of large off-shore salmon farms around Ireland’s coast.
The announcement comes against a background of controversy. Government agency Inland Fisheries Ireland, environmental groups, fishermen, tourism and angling organizations have all raised serious concerns about the impact of such mega-farms, the scale of which has yet to be seen in Europe.
According to these critics, the first mega-farm alone will double Ireland’s output of farmed salmon. Yet apparently no Strategic Environmental Assessment has been completed to determine what the impact of such a policy may be, despite this being required by EU legislation, they said.
“The last National Seafood Plan 2007-2012 underwent such a Strategic Environmental Assessment, which resulted in a moratorium on the expansion of salmon farming due to the detrimental impact of sea lice on wild salmon populations,” said Alec O’Donovan, secretary of Save Bantry Bay.
“It was clearly stated the moratorium was to remain in place until the issue was resolved. Today the issue is far from resolved. Anyone who reads the papers knows that. And yet the Government denies the bulk of research available, instead blindly pushing forward a policy that is ill considered and potentially devastating to local environment and economy.”
According to Save Bantry Bay, angling alone is worth an estimated €500 million to the Irish economy, supporting numerous small family owned businesses in remote areas. “Due to the devastating impact of salmon farming on wild salmon and sea trout populations, these jobs, and associated communities, could all be put at risk should this five year seafood strategy proceed,” said the environmental campaign group.
Inshore fishermen could also lose grounds and stocks, as pesticides used to treat sea lice kill valuable crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs, it said.
The group further says any Irish firm is highly unlikely to win contracts to operate any of these mega-farm as there are no operators of an appropriate scale. Approximately 80% of Ireland’s salmon farming is run by Norway’s Marine Harvest.
“To suggest that BIM’s Seafood Strategy 2013-2017 is either sustainable environmentally or economically is a nonsense” Said Keiran O’Shea, chairman of Save Bantry Bay.
“The detriment to the environment caused by salmon farming is well known, and putting small locally owned businesses at risk to benefit a single multi-national is ludicrous. Remote communities that rely on inshore fishing and tourism could be destroyed.”
Plans to up the country’s seafood sales are being talked about even as news surfaced yesterday that Ireland’s seafood exports increased by more than a fifth in 2012, according to Ireland’s agriculture, food and marine minister Simon Coveney.
The country exported €517 million worth of seafood last year, thanks to exporters “successfully targeted new opportunities in markets like China, Russia and Africa,” he said.
Ireland has recently awarded €2.4 million in grant aid to 25 seafood processors under the 2013 Seafood Processing Business Investment Scheme, said local media reports.
Adding private sector investment the sector will receive a total of more than €8 million in 2013.