Save Bantry Bay Informs TDs of Ireland’s Largest Ever Farmed Salmon Escape

Save Bantry Bay Informs TDs of Ireland’s Largest Ever Farmed Salmon Escape

6 May 2014

Today, Save Bantry Bay wrote to all TDs informing them of Ireland’s largest ever farmed salmon escape. Information regarding the incident in which 230,000 farmed fish were lost in Bantry Bay continues to be withheld. Reports by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Marine Institute are not being made public, despite the Access to Environmental Information Regulations stating that details of any emission or release to the environment should be available.

“There is a culture of obstruction, denial and disdain in government authorities and state agencies in the salmon farming debate. It is extraordinary that it has took two months for numbers of escaped salmon to be revealed. Even now government agencies are attempting to deny these escapes, claiming all salmon and dead and ‘vanished’. There is not one bit of evidence to back these claims. Instead, there is an arrogance and refusal to listen to anyone who questions salmon farming policy.” said Alec O’Donovan, Secretary of Save Bantry Bay.

“For the Marine Institute and Irish Farmers Association to claim a quarter of a million salmon can vanish is absurd. I am a 3rd generation lobster potter and can confirm that it takes more than two weeks for dead fish to disintegrate and be eaten by scavengers in a pot or net at these water temperatures. For 230,000 to dead salmon to vanish from the nets by the time the well boat arrived at the site is a nonsense. Had the dead salmon become loose from the nets you’d expect reports of them floating at the surface or washing up on shores. It was the same time as the salmon farm escapes that two tourists went missing and the coastguards were out searching the bay by boat, helicopter and car. Yet nothing was reported.” Added Kieran O’Shea, Chair of Save Bantry Bay

The Letter to TDs was sent today.

Save Bantry Bay continue to pursue the reports, and should they be made available will keep interested parties informed.


6 May 2014

Dear TD,

Re: Salmon farm escapes, withheld data and design standards

February 2014 saw the largest escape of farmed salmon in Irish history, at Murphys Salmon Farm, Ghearies, Bantry Bay. However, news of the event took weeks to be made public making an emergency response impossible, and Minister Coveney continues to evade offering any insight into the incident.

To date, Parliamentary Questions revealed 230,000 salmon are unaccounted for, and there is no evidence of mortalities. Minister Coveney has refused to make public the scientific and technical reports prepared by the Engineering Division of his Department and the Marine Institute. Instead, the public are being told the missing salmon ‘disintegrated’ and ‘disappeared’.

Save Bantry Bay are calling for a statement, reports and relevant data to be made public.

The law requires that any mortalities must be counted and disposed of at a licensed facility. We are now three months after the event. Any confirmed mortalities would by now have been counted, disposed of, and therefore numbers known. However, no such reports are available despite ongoing claims the salmon died.

What is known is the salmon farm’s service boat was on site soon after the event, and fish were not coming up for feeding. A well boat capable of collecting mortalities visited the site two weeks after the incident, yet no remains were gathered suggesting that no salmon mortalities were present. Ask any lobster fishermen and they will tell you a salmon carcass can survive many weeks in cold water. The notion a quarter of a million dead salmon vanished is unfeasible. Meanwhile, no sightings of dead salmon floating on the surface or washing up on shores were reported, despite the fact coastguards were scouring the bay for these two weeks, as two tourists had tragically gone missing.

For authorities to continue to insist 230,000 salmon died, disintegrated and disappeared, while withholding all reports and data, is at best disingenuous. Until there is evidence to back up these statements, such unsubstantiated claims must stop.

Meanwhile, the lack of evidence to the contrary suggests 230,000 fish escaped alive – a disaster for local wild salmon.

Why? 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 to be perfectly in tune with that very environment. If 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 river.

Research published in March 2014 by Prof Gage of the University of East Anglia (UK) shows escaped farmed salmon are just as fertile as their wild cousins. 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’.

Despite this research, Minister Coveney has played down the issue claiming ‘in relation to the genetic integrity of native wild salmon stocks, there have been no documented cases in Ireland of negative population impacts leading specifically to loss of wild stock integrity and productivity as a result of fish farm escapes to date.’

Such a statement once more dismisses the severity of the situation.

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

Save Bantry Bay are calling for the expansion of salmon farming in Bantry Bay to cease.

A third salmon farm is currently under consideration at Shot Head in Bantry Bay. The Environmental Impact Statement includes a wave assessment showing the Shot Head site to be less sheltered than the Ghearies site from which the salmon recently escaped following storm wave damage to cages. What is more, while the EIS notes that waves of up to 16 meters occur in storms, and 18 metres were recently experienced, no details are given regarding structural, engineering or technical standards to which the salmon farm equipment is designed. Nor is it indicated whether or not cages could withstand the wave pressure experienced at the site.

Save Bantry Bay are therefore requesting the Shot Head salmon farm licence application is refused. It has been proven Bantry Bay is not a suitable location for salmon farming, and local wild salmon are now under significant threat from farm escapes. An existing angling and tourist industry employing up to 10,000 persons and worth an estimated €750m nationally is being put at risk.

Technologies for land based closed containment systems, from which salmon cannot escape are rapidly advancing. Facilities are now built or under development in Canada, Denmark, China, Mongolia and the Middle East. If Ireland wishes to be a leading provider in sustainable sea food, it is time to embrace these technologies. Not only do they offer a more sustainable product, they offer more sustainable jobs.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any queries.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours Sincerely,

Alec O’Donovan
Save Bantry Bay
Mobile: 0877929227

Appendix 1 – Parliamentary Questions concerning recent salmon farm escape in Bantry Bay

Parliamentary Question No.355
To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in view of the fact that the operator moved the remaining fish which suffered such damage in the recent storms at the Bantry Bay fish farm on 19 February 2013, if he will provide the details of the fish that escaped as reported to him under the regulations..
– Clare Daly.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 4th March, 2014.
Ref No: 10819/14 Proof: 401

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine: (Simon Coveney)
My Department’s Engineering Division in conjunction with the Marine Institute conducted a survey at the site referred to by the Deputy at the first available opportunity and have provided preliminary scientific and technical reports to my Department.

There is evidence to indicate that due to a mooring failure the nets on three cages appear to have “bagged”, trapping fish and leading to extensive mortalities. The three damaged cages have now been secured. It is not possible to quantify the potential number of mortalities versus escapees, at this time.

My Department, in conjunction with its scientific and technical advisors, is continuing to assess the situation as a priority.

Parliamentary Question No.509
To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will detail the damage to aquaculture operations during the recent stormy weather; the number of fish which escaped as reported to his Department under the licensing conditions for fin fish operations, with specific reference to a company (details supplied) in Co. Cork; if he is satisfied that fish escaping from salmon farms have not and will not have an irreversible impact on the genetic integrity of native wild salmon stocks.
Clare Daly.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014.

Ref No: 6714/14 Proof: 576
Details Supplied :[Murphy’s Seafood Ltd, Gerahies, County Cork]

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine: (Simon Coveney)
My Department has received a report from the company referred to by the Deputy that due to the recent stormy weather, damage has been done to one of the cages on site and that a fish loss is likely to have occurred as a result.

Due to the ongoing weather conditions it has not been possible to quantify the fish loss but the company has advised that a fish count will be taken as soon as weather conditions permit. My Department will continue to monitor the situation.

In relation to the genetic integrity of native wild salmon stocks, there have been no documented cases in Ireland of negative population impacts leading specifically to loss of wild stock integrity and productivity as a result of fish farm escapes to date.

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