Galway Independent, 1 Nov 2013: Ombudsman fish lice investigation widened

Ombudsman fish lice investigation widened

Galway Independent, 1 Nov 2013

Ombudsman investigation could damage Galway Bay salmon farm

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In a move that could prove damaging to plans to locate a €100 million salmon farm in Galway Bay, a second government department is to be investigated over claims that important information was deliberately withheld from an European Commission investigation into sea lice.

Following a complaint by the environmental lobby group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE), the office of the Ombudsman has now opened preliminary investigations into both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The complaint alleges that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which through Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) is seeking to locate the salmon farm off Inis Oírr, deliberately suppressed a report by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) in which the state body was critical of sea lice control in Irish fish farms.

This was in spite of the fact that a correspondence from the European Commission specifically requested “the express views of the ministry responsible for inland game fisheries”, which would be the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, IFI’s parent department.

A report by BIM, which contradicted the IFI position, was supplied to the investigation by its parent department, the Department of Agriculture.

A further complaint from FIE has alleged that the Department of Foreign affairs was guilty of failing to assign dual responsibility for dealing with the European request to both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

“The Department of Agriculture is both the licensing authority and the promoter of the ambitious plan to build nine mega-salmon farms in Bays along the Irish west coast. IFI, on the other hand, has long established concerns over the loss of wild salmon due to salmon farms infested with sea lice,” said FIE Director, Mr Tony Lowes.

“Assigning control of the response to the Department of Agriculture was like putting the fox in charge of the chicken house.”

Mr Lowes said that, when he raised his complaint with the Department of Foreign Affairs, he was told that it was standard procedure for only one department to be assigned responsibility for assisting such investigations.

However, in a letter from the Department of the Taoiseach, Mr Lowes was subsequently told, “When a case might be of interest to more than one department, we would routinely assign the case to file handlers in all such departments”.

Mr Lowes then directed his complaint to the Ombudsman and a preliminary investigation has now been opened into both departments.

The European Commission investigation into sea lice controls on Irish fish farms was shelved in 2012, citing a lack of “uncontested scientific evidence of the negative impact of sea lice from farmed salmon on wild salmon”.

However, FIE has continued to furnish the Commission with documents since the investigation was closed and in July of this year the Commission confirmed that it was examining these documents to see if they “provide new elements and scientific evidence to justify the re-opening of the investigation”.

Concerns over the impact of sea lice on wild Irish salmon and trout stocks has been a leading bone of contention with anglers and tourism related businesses who have come out in opposition to the proposed Galway Bay salmon farm.

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