EU closes investigation into Ireland sealice impact, NGO says debate not closed
October 8, 2014, 10:29 am
Update: This article was updated shortly after publication to include the letter from the European Commission
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) and the Irish Sea Fisheries Board (BIM) have welcomed the European Commission’s decision to end its investigation into the impacts of salmon farming on wild salmon stocks.
The news means Ireland can finally embark on growth plans, and “shine on the world seafood stage”, said IFA’s aquaculture executive Richie Flynn.
However, the decision does not mean the debate is closed, warned the NGO Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE).
In a letter dated July 17, 2014, the European commission informed FIE that the investigation would be closed, citing lack of adequate information to bring the complaint further.
However, the letter added, the scientific debate itself is not over:
The various studies brought to our attention and relied upon by you and the Irish authorities clearly show that sea lice infestations levels in salmon farms have an effect on migrating wild Atlantic salmon in terms of their overall survival rate.The studies by the Irish authorities have emphasised that in overall mortality terms the evidence suggests that the role of sea lice infestation levels on wild Atlantic salmon populations is not significant.The assessment led by Dr Martin Krkošek has emphasized that the data shows that infestation is indeed significant when looked at from the perspective of reduced survival rates of wild Atlantic salmon. It would appear to the Commission services that this scientific debate is not closed and that there is a need for continued monitoring at different geographical scales to assess the overall impact of sea lice infestation on wild Atlantic salmon populations.
FIE was one of the two NGOs, together with Salmon Watch Ireland, that filed the original 2009 complaint to the European commission that led to the investigation into the impacts of sealice and salmon farming on wild salmon.
But the European commission decided to close the investigation (EU Pilot Case 764/09/ENV1 against Ireland) on Sept. 22.
“The closure of the investigation means that the commission has concluded that the Irish state has no case to answer in relation to the complaint raised,” said BIM in a statement.
“The closure of this complaint by the EU Commission confirms three things,” said BIM’s director of aquaculture service Donal Maguire.
“First it shows that there was no evidence to support the suggestion that salmon in Irish rivers are being adversely affected by sea lice from salmon farms.”
“Second, it is a clear demonstration that the EU Commission accepts the science, developed by the Marine Institute of Ireland, which shows that sea lice have only a very minor influence on wild salmon survival,” said Maguire.
Third, she said, “the closure of the case upholds Ireland’s excellent sea lice monitoring and control programme on salmon farms, which commission officials have classified as being the ‘best in Europe’.”
“Hopefully the formal closure of this pilot investigation will mark a turning point in the long running and sometimes bitter debate about salmon farming and wild salmon stocks.”
FIE director Tony Lowes disputed Maguire’s conclusions.
“BIM’s statement today that there is ‘no evidence to support the suggestion that salmon in Irish rivers are being adversely affected by sea lice from salmon farms’ is unscientific and unsound,” said Lowes.
“The Environmental Directorates closure of its investigation into sea lice and salmon farming is based on the fact that they require ‘uncontested scientific evidence’,” said FIE.
“This is an impossible requirement, given the nature of science. Nor does it accord with the European Court of Justice’s legal test of ‘the balance of probability.’”
“Further, the closure letter from the Commission states that the wider infringement case against Ireland arising from the adverse judgement of the Court of Justice in 2007 remains open and ‘the debate is not closed’,” said Lowes.
This is the second time that the European commission dismisses complaints over sealice impact on wild stocks due to lack of evidence, said the farmers association IFA. The first time was in October 2012, when the NGOs’ first complaints were dismissed in favor of Ireland, it said.
“We have been held back due to indecision and the long wait for the inevitable dropping of this case,” said IFA’s aquaculture executive Richie Flynn.
“Ireland has a chance to shine on the world seafood stage and capture high value markets while still reminding relatively small in international terms but incredibly important locally.”
Ireland’s small and “highly focused industry” is driven by demand from niche quality markets, said Flynn.
EU and national targets for aquaculture growth “are realistic and incredibly positive goals for coastal communities, with associated jobs in farming, processing and service sectors”, he said, referring to targets set out in Ireland’s Harvest 2020 program and the European Commission’s Blue Growth strategy, which aim to reduce the EU’s reliance on fisheries imports by boosting aquaculture.
For FIE, however, the fight is not over. A review published last week concluded that sealice have “negatively impacted wild sea trout stocks in salmon farming areas in Ireland, Scotland and Norway”, said FIE.
FIE said the review was published by “top international scientists from Norway, Scotland and Ireland” and assessed “all 300 available published studies on the effects of sea lice”.
It concluded that “sea lice have a potential significant and detrimental effect on marine survival of Atlantic salmon with potentially 12-44% fewer salmon spawning in salmon farming areas”.