By Lorna Siggins
Inland Fisheries Ireland chief executive Ciaran Byrne has said that the evidence is “pointing towards” moving fish farms onshore for a more sustainable aquaculture industry.
Dr Byrne was responding to a decision by the Danish government to halt any further fish farming in coastal areas.
Denmark’s environment minister Lea Wermelin said late last month that future licensed fish farming would be based on land.
Danish newspaper Politiken reported Ms Wermelin as saying the move was being made for the sake of the marine environment, as she believed coastal areas and inland waters were “overloaded” with nitrogen.
Some 60% of Danish farmed fish is rainbow trout, with 27% produced in sea cages developed since the 1970s. More than 200 freshwater farms are mainly based in the Jutland area.
Ms Wermelin’s move overturns a decision by a previous Danish government to permit more fish farms in coastal areas if facilities could guarantee removing nutrients, particularly nitrogen, released into the water column.
A new administration voted in last June is led by Ms Wermelin’s party, Social Democracy, with the support of three other political parties.
“We have major challenges with oxygen deficiencies, and we can see that nitrogen emissions are not falling as expected,” said Ms Wermelin.
“Therefore, it is the government’s position there is no room for more or larger facilities in Denmark.”
Her decision was welcomed by the Danish Anglers Association but the Danish Aquaculture organisation said it was sad and very serious for the entire aquaculture sector in Denmark.
Dr Byrne said Inland Fisheries Ireland, the State organisation managing publicly-owned freshwater fisheries, had “always argued for a sustainable aquaculture industry, one in which farmed fish are not negatively impacting on wild fish”.
“This can be achieved in tightly controlled circumstances — however with increasing climatic and environmental variables, this is becoming more difficult to achieve and sustain,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Michael Creed said he would not be commenting on a Danish government decision.
Danish aquaculture production of rainbow trout amounted to over 45,000 tonnes in volume in 2016 and over €156 million in value.
A recent report for the Irish aquaculture industry said capital costs were too high to attempt land-based projects in Ireland.
The 2016 study for the Irish Salmon Growers’ Association (ISGA) by Danish-born fish farming pioneer Ivar Warrer-Hansen explained how rearing salmon in closed containment is perceived as being more attractive than at sea.
This is due to reduced interaction with native or wild stocks and greater control over the immediate production environment, including disease risks and protection from coastal storms.
Land-based farming of finfish species such as eel, tilapia and catfish has developed internationally, while there has also been success with sea bass, turbot, and perch.
Pilot-scale projects in Canada and in the US have proved it is possible to rear salmon to “market quality” in these systems, and Norway, European leader in salmon farming, is one of a number of countries investigating land-based options.
The study for the ISGA calculated the capital costs for land-based aquaculture in Ireland at around €33m for a 5,000-tonne farm, based on 2015-16 cost figures.
Capital costs would make it “difficult to be competitive, especially during those regular periods where production costs rise above market prices”, Mr Warrer-Hansen’s report stated.
Norway’s largest land-based salmon farm plans to have with an annual capacity of 50,000 tonnes when built, and it was recently reported that Norwegian entrepreneur Geir Nordahl-Pedersen wants to detonate a mountain to create a 500m x 90m basin which would accommodate about 30 cages.