Upscaling deep-sea salmon farms
Irish Examiner, Friday 15 August 2014
By Donal Maguire
Bord Iascaigh Mhara has applied for an aquaculture licence to develop a deep-sea salmon farm off Inis Oírr, and is working on two further projects off the west coast to create jobs for local communities, writes Donal Maguire.
Remarkably, despite our exceptionally good conditions for sustainable salmon farming, Ireland produces just 15,000 tonnes each year
Bord Iascaigh Mhara has been working with Ireland’s coastal communities for more than 60 years on a variety of initiatives to create and sustain employment in those regions through the development of the seafood sector.
One such initiative is our Deep Sea Salmon Farm Project which when first announced in 2012 sought “to facilitate the development of three deep-sea organic salmon farms that can accommodate safe, efficient, and sustainable fish farming to meet market demand and create sustainable jobs in an area where they are needed”.
The three sites identified as suitable in our 2012 proposal were areas off the coasts of Galway, Donegal, and Mayo. These locations differed from those of existing Irish salmon farms in that they would be located further out to sea, where the higher speed and volume of water movement creates the ideal conditions for rearing the kind of premium salmon much in demand both domestically and, to a greater extent, in our export markets.
In December 2012, BIM applied for an aquaculture licence to develop an organic salmon farm on the first of these three sites — on the leeside of Inis Oírr in Galway Bay. To date, BIM has not submitted any other aquaculture licence application.
In that regard, a recent article in this paper which commented on BIM’s proposals with respect to a potential salmon farm off the coast of Mayo contained some inaccuracies which require correction.
To set the record straight, in the case of Galway Bay, BIM has carefully followed all of the legal procedures set out in the 1997 Fisheries Amendment Act, and subsequent regulations and amendments, for making an aquaculture licence application in Ireland. We await the outcome of the examination of that detailed application, which has been through an exhaustive and very transparent consultative process by the licensing authority.
BIM continues to progress its work in identifying specific sites for the two remaining locations off the Mayo and Donegal coasts. At this point BIM has identified a potentially suitable site approximately 2km due east of Inisturk off the coast of Mayo and is now in the early stages of preparing the work required to develop a planning application for what will likely be a 3,500 tonne per annum salmon farm at that site. BIM has not concluded its work on identifying a suitable site off the Donegal coast.
The proposed Inisturk farm would be very similar in size and appearance to the salmon farm which has been operated successfully for more than 25 years from nearby Clare Island without causing any negative environmental impact.
Delegations from BIM, with support from the Marine Institute of Ireland, have visited Inisturk on a number of occasions and have discussed the proposal with community leaders in some detail. It is BIM’s intention to extend this consultation further once it has more detailed plans to put to interested parties in the region. It should be noted that a considerable amount of scientific survey work and analysis must first be completed before such plans would be available. In any case, BIM will continue to update the communities of its progress in that regard.
The Deep Sea Salmon farm proposals are grounded in Ireland’s ideal position to take advantage of a major opportunity presented by the massive projected growth in global fish consumption. With quotas and natural constraints limiting the amount of wild fish catches available to meet growing demand for seafood, sustainable fish farming will inevitably become the source for the vast majority of the additional supply requirement.
Globally, there are few locations with the climatic and marine environments suitable for successful salmon farming. Remarkably, despite our exceptionally good conditions for sustainable salmon farming, Ireland produces just 15,000 tonnes each year, the majority of which is organic farmed salmon, as opposed to the 160,000 produced by Scotland and the 1.2m tonnes produced by Norway.
The global industry continues to grow rapidly on the back of seemingly insatiable consumer demand, especially in Asia. For example, in 1995, per capita consumption of seafood in China was 7kg; by 2020 this is forecast to increase fivefold to 36kg per capita. This explosion in consumption patterns in a country with 1.5bn people tells its own story.
Ireland has a strong reputation for its organic farmed salmon, which commands a premium price in export markets where demand for the product continues to grow. This presents a major market opportunity for the country and the coastal communities in which the industry can develop. BIM’s motivation in developing Ireland’s aquaculture industry is to create jobs in the these remote coastal communities, generate a new and sustainable source of raw material to supply Ireland’s very successful salmon processors and to assist in boosting Irish seafood exports.
After careful study, based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive research, we believe that this can be achieved in a sustainable manner and without displacing the interests of any other stakeholders.
It is our earnest hope that the coastal communities identified will see the value in what we are proposing so that we can deliver the benefits of these projects for them.
* Donal Maguire is the director of aquaculture development at Bord Iascaigh Mhara