Press Release, 29 March: Coveney confirms Ireland’s largest ever salmon farm escape

Press Release: Coveney confirms Ireland’s largest ever salmon farm escape

29 March 2014

Minister Simon Coveney has confirmed 230,000 salmon are missing after storms significantly damaged Murphy’s salmon farm in Gearhries, Bantry Bay, on 1 February 2014. This is Ireland’s largest single salmon farm escape in history.

It is a legal requirement that all mortalities are disposed of at a licensed facility. However, none have been retrieved despite a well boat, capable of collecting farmed salmon from nets, spending a day at the site on 18 February 2014.

‘As things stand there is no evidence of any mortalities at the Gearhries salmon farm. To date, not one of the missing salmon are accounted for. This could spell disaster for wild salmon in Bantry Bay.’ Said Alec O’Donovan, Secretary of Save Bantry Bay.

Escapes are a serious problem as farmed salmon differ genetically to wild populations. In the wild salmon are loyal to a particular river returning each year to spawn. Every river’s salmon population has adapted over thousands of years. If these escaped farmed salmon cross breed with wild populations they pose a significant threat to their gene pool. Farmed fish are designed to be aggressive feeders that grow fast. But, they’re not used to dealing with predators, and don’t have carefully attuned strategies for growth, maturity, timing of migration and resisting disease that relate to their local environment.

Earlier this month a new research study published by Prof Gage of the University of East Anglia (UK) showed escaped farmed salmon are just as fertile as their wild cousins.1 While previously it was thought they may be less successful in reproducing in the wild, opinion is now changing. Prof Gage noted in the New Scientist on 12 March 2014 that there is ‘ample evidence that escaped farmed salmon can survive at sea and get into spawning rivers. In some Norwegian rivers, big numbers of farmed fish have been recorded – accounting for as much as half of the salmon. There is also evidence that farmed fish have successfully mated with wild populations: the genetic signatures of salmon in some Norwegian rivers now exhibit significant changes that are entirely consistent with wild/farmed hybridisation’.1,2

The sheer scale of the recent escape in Bantry Bay means that the already depleted wild salmon stocks in local rivers could be swamped. The Dromogowlane, Coomhola, Owvane, Meelagh, Glengarriff and Adrigole rivers are all less than 20km from the escape site.

Save Bantry Bay are calling for the proposed salmon farm at Shot Head in Bantry Bay to be rejected on ground of environmental and economic impacts.

‘We now have 230,000 farmed salmon escaped in Bantry Bay, that pose a significant genetic risk to our native brood stock. It is vital that these increasingly threatened salmon stocks in Bantry Bay are put at no further risk. The proposed Shot Head site is only a few kilometres across the Bay from the escape site. These storms have shown that Bantry Bay is not a suitable environment for salmon farming. It is time to stop investing in open cage salmon farms which are clearly failing, and to start investing in land based closed containment systems from which salmon cannot escape.’ Said Kieran O’Shea, Chairman of Save Bantry Bay


Secretary, Save Bantry Bay, Alec O’Donovan, 087 7949227 (mobile) or 027 50508

Chair, Save Bantry Bay, Kieran O’Shea, 086 1280303 (mobile) or 027 60121

Notes for Editors:

1. Yeates, Sarah E., et al. “Assessing risks of invasion through gamete performance: farm Atlantic salmon sperm and eggs show equivalence in function, fertility, compatibility and competitiveness to wild Atlantic salmon.” Evolutionary Applications (2014).

2. Jensen, Ø., et al. “Escapes of fishes from Norwegian sea-cage aquaculture: causes, consequences and prevention.” Aquaculture Environment Interactions 1.1 (2010): 71-83.

Parliamentary Questions

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in relation to his reassurances that his Engineering Division and the Marine Institute were investigating the disaster that overtook a fish farm (details supplied) in County Cork over six weeks ago, if he will provide the number of salmon contained in the fish farm before the disaster overtook it and the number of fish remaining subsequently.

To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide information on the number of mortalities collected and stored in formic acid on barges in enclosed ensiling tanks after the disaster that overtook a fish farm (details supplied) in County Cork; the licensed facility at which they were ultimately disposed of as required by his Fish Health Management Plan..

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 25th March, 2014.

REPLY: The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine: (Simon Coveney)
I propose to take PQ numbers 13634/14 and 13635/15 together.

My Department’s Engineering Division together with the Marine Institute carried out a preliminary onsite examination of the aquaculture operations at the location referred to by the Deputy as soon as weather conditions permitted.

The results of this preliminary examination suggest that the total number of salmon held on site in three cages immediately prior to the recent storm was in the order of 250,000. The number of live fish remaining after the storm event was in the order of 20,000.

In accordance with the requirements of European Regulation No. 1069/2009 all aquaculture operators are obliged to send mortalities to Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine approved facilities for disposal (e.g. rendering, incineration). My Department’s Veterinary Inspectors carry out routine inspections to ensure compliance with these requirements.

Due to the ongoing severe weather conditions that prevailed at the site up to recently no fish mortalities were collected. At the first available opportunity my Department arranged a dive inspection of the area and this took place on the 13th March. The dive inspection indicated that there were no dead fish present. I am advised by the Marine Institute however, that where dead fish remain in the bottom of a cage for extended periods (i.e. more than a week or so) they decompose and the bodies of the fish disintegrate making any estimate of numbers difficult. In addition the effects of rough weather and scavengers feeding on the remains will tend to accelerate the disintegration process.

Department continues to keep the position under review.

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