Letter to the Editor, Irish Examiner: Pros and cons of fish farming
Saturday, August 03, 2013
The debate on the proposal to establish fish farming in Bantry Bay and Galway Bay continues.
Two State agencies, An Bord Iascaigh Mhara and Inland Fisheries Ireland, are contradictory on the merits of the scheme. The adjudication is hampered because there is no dedicated minister for fisheries.
In previous administrations, the assignment was controlled by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, assisted by a junior minister with exclusive responsibility for fisheries. This is now conducted as a subsidiary of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, a demanding tripartite portfolio.
The pros and cons have been articulated. The project would give much-needed employment. With the decline in wild-fish stocks, and the projected rise in demand for fish products worldwide, a lucrative market is assured. But hazards have been identified. The propensity of farmed salmon to produce sea lice is devastating on wild fish stocks, which can be infected through seepage of residues, or escape of fish from the cages. Ecologically, the fishmeal fed to farmed fish requires three units in weight of wild fish to produce one unit in farmed fish, thus diminishing an already endangered wild fish stock. A sizeable quantity of fishmeal is manufactured from small fish species, such as anchovy, capelin, sprat, etc, on which larger fish feed, thus removing a vital link in the ecosystem. Serious concerns have been expressed by conservationists and the tourist industry as to the detrimental side-effects of contamination from fish farms, which could decimate game-fish stocks, particularly sea trout and salmon smolts migrating in the vicinity of the cages. Angling tourism supports thousands of jobs and makes a huge contribution to the economy: €149m last year and a further €89m from visiting anglers.
The manner in which farmed fish is presented as ‘organic’ confuses the ordinary consumer, who assumes organic vegetables and fruit are produced without the use of insecticides or artificial additives. Farmed fish are reared intensively in a captive environment, and fed with a diet that contains a synthetic dye to enhance the pigment of the finished product, and antibiotics or pesticides to curtail the proliferation of the sea lice. A more transparent procedure would be to label the product ‘farmed’ or ‘artificially reared’ salmon.
At this stage, the decision has to be made as to whether the economic returns from the projected fish farms would offset the potential risks and hazards.