Simon Coveney: Weather delayed collection of fish
Irish Examiner, 29 March 2014
By Claire O’Sullivan
After months of questioning, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has confirmed that up to 230,000 farmed fish escaped from their cages into Bantry Bay during February’s storms.
These figures would make the fish escape the largest single salmon farm escape in history, according to local group, Save Bantry Bay, which is campaigning to stop the development of a €3.5m organic salmon fish farm at Shot Head, Bantry.
Mr Coveney admitted that only 20,000 out of 250,000 fish remain at Murphy’s farm at Gearhies, Bantry, after storms on February 1.
Save Bantry Bay’s chairman Kieran O’Shea said the escaped fish “pose a significant genetic risk to native brood stock”.
“It is vital that our increasingly threatened native salmon stocks are put at no further risk,” said Mr O’Shea.
“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.”
Mr O’Shea said that, despite it being a legal requirement that all farmed fish mortalities are disposed of at a licensed facility, none of the escaped fish have yet been retrieved, even though a well boat spent a day trying to locate remains at the site.
In a reply to a parliamentary question from Independent TD Clare Daly, Mr Coveney said that “ongoing severe weather conditions” had delayed department efforts to collect the dead fish.
“At the first opportunity my department arranged a dive inspection of the area and this took place on March 13,” said Mr Coveney. “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 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.”
The Department of Agriculture has said it will keep the fish escape under review.
The same department is currently assessing an application from Marine Harvest to build another organic salmon fish farm at Adrigole.
Marine Harvest, which already has a salmon fish farm 8km away at Roancarrig, says the farm will create six jobs during the installation period and two more when it is operational.
It also says it will solidify existing employment in the south-west, where up to 38 people work for the multinational in Bantry and Kenmare Bay.