Opportunity to be a leader in fish farm industry
Galway Independent, 27 Nov 2013
In the opinion piece by Jason Whooly of BIM in last week’s paper (‘Time to realise our salmon farming potential’, Wednesday 20 November) hope is expressed that the “local people will see the sense” in what BIM are proposing and will allow the development of an industrial salmon mega-farm in Galway Bay. Of course, there are elements of truth to Jason’s piece but equally there are some very important missing elements.
For example, Jason is correct in saying there has been “vociferous opposition”, but his claims that objection comes from “a small cadre of people with particular sectoral interest” is not true. Concerns have been raised publicly by a wide spectrum of community stakeholders: from inshore shellfish fishermen, oyster growers, elements within the wider tourism sector, local primary health care organisations, An Taisce, national and international scientists, and from State Agencies like Inland Fisheries Ireland.
Jason speaks of the socio-economic benefit salmon farming could bring to the region. But in the past decade, the industry in Ireland has halved production, due to disease, high labour costs and price instability. Marine Harvest, the Norwegian multi-national that operate the majority of Irish salmon farms, have had losses in their Irish operations, due to disease (amoebic gill disease and pancreatic disease), and increased sea-lice levels from our warm summer. Moreover, there are currently approximately 200 people employed full time in a sustainable inshore fishing industry (brown crab, lobster, clams, shrimp ) that exports millions of euros per year of high quality shellfish. These fishermen have expressed grave reservations about the impact of a farm of this scale. Fishermen fear that the vast quantities of pesticides employed will kill wild shellfish larvae leading to the collapse of their industry, as has happened with the lobster fishery in Canada’s Bay of Fundy.
Jason is correct in saying that Irish anglers flock to Scotland and Norway. He implies that this proves compatibility between salmon farming and angling tourism. But anglers flock to East Scotland, where no salmon farms exist. The West Scotland salmon stocks have collapsed since the advent of intensive salmon farming, as they have in those Norwegian fjords where intensive salmon farming is conducted. If we are to follow Scotland’s example (as Jason seems to be suggesting) wild salmon fishing in the West of Ireland will be similarly decimated.
Jason also cites the “careful study, based on the most up to date and comprehensive research” which underpins the BIM plan. He omits to mention that the scientific paper BIM relied on to support their proposal has subsequently been debunked by international experts from Canada, Norway and Scotland, with “at least three fundamental methodological errors” (Krkosek et al, Journal of fish diseases, 2013).
The only “small cadre of people with particular sectoral interest” involved in this debate are those trying to railroad through this highly dangerous proposition. What the “local people” can “see the sense of” is the development of a project that combines job creation with sustainability. The good news is that there are alternatives which could deliver sustainable jobs and increase our farmed salmon output without putting our existing jobs, inshore fishery and wild salmon at risk. Closed containment models are currently being implemented in Canada, Denmark, the US and China. They filter pollution, eliminate escapees and stop the transfer of disease or parasites (e.g. lice) to the wild stock. They significantly reduce the need for antibiotics and chemical treatments. The costs are admittedly higher, as one would expect from a new emerging technology, but they are reducing all the time, and we have an opportunity to be a leader rather than a follower if we arrive early to the party.
We want salmon farms but not if they risk our existing sustainable jobs, our world renowned inland fisheries, our wild salmon and our bay.