Save Bantry Bay (SBB) have republished a controversial report commissioned by the Minister of the Marine which states that until the precise nature of the relationship between sea lice and sea trout is understood ‘a precautionary approach dictates that it would be prudent to avoid siting new fish farms or increased salmon farm production…within 20km of a sea trout river mouth’.(1) A recommendation that is far from followed today.
Back in 2003 the World Wildlife Fund and Atlantic Salmon Federation mentioned this report and recommendation, but stated the report was never published because of ‘aquaculture industry pressure’.(2) To determine whether this was the case, a Parliamentary question was recently tabled. In his response Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine said that ‘The precise nature of the report referred to by the Deputy is not clear’.(3)
In order to find this elusive report that even Government Ministers appear unable to access, SBB went to a UK copyright library. The Report, which was in fact published in 1994 as an Appendix to a Department of Marine Task Force Report with an additional endorsement from the scientists involved, is now available on the Save Bantry Bay website.
Such advice from scientists on the siting of salmon farms is not unique to Ireland. The Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum has recently also recommended a similar distance of 18km between wild salmon river mouth and salmon farms as a “rule of thumb”.4
Yet this science is consistently being ignored. Save Bantry Bay, are currently objecting to a proposal from Marine Harvest Ireland for a salmon farm at Shot Head, Bantry Bay. ‘There are six salmon rivers within 11 km of the site of the proposed fish farm – one just half a kilometre away. This is the wrong location as it puts too much at risk. We are calling on Minister Simon Coveney to reject the application for a licence which is on his desk’ said Kieran O’Shea SBB Chairman and third generation local fisherman.
Tony Lowes, also a SBB Committee Member, added ‘a recent three country study compared marine survival of wild salmon in Scotland, Ireland and Canada and showed, on average, that fish farms typically reduced survival or abundance of wild populations by almost 50% through infestation with sea lice’.5
In spite of industry claims that the sea lice problem is ‘under control’, SBB points out that many of Ireland’s 23 salmon farms are consistently exceeding the ‘trigger levels’ requiring chemical treatment for lice in farmed salmon.(6)
If the current policy of locating salmon farms in shore continues, Ireland wild Atlantic Salmon may become a thing of the past. Save Bantry Bay therefore calls on Minister Simon Coveney to make good on his expressed in intention to ensure that all fish farms are sited off-shore.(7)
‘There is now solid scientific research that puts in no doubt the relationship between sea lice and major decreases in wild salmon population which in 1994 was not conclusively established. To wait any longer now is to risk the extinction of wild salmon in many of our rivers’ said SBB Chairman Keiran O’Shea.
(1) Fisheries Research Centre, Abbotstown (1995) Report to the Minister of the Marine, Sea Trout Working Group 1994. Published by The Stationary Office, Dublin.
(2) Protecting Wild Atlantic Salmon from Impacts of Salmon Aquaculture: A Country-by-country Progress Report; Gareth Porter, May 2003, Published jointly by World Wildlife Fund and Atlantic Salmon Federation.
(3) Parliamentary Question – Written answers, Tuesday, 27 March 2012
(4) Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum, 2005, SARF005 – Site Optimisation for Aquaculture Operations
(5) Ford, J.S. and Myers, R.A. (2008). A global assessment of salmon aquaculture impacts on wild salmonids. PloS Biol 6 (2): doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060033.
(6) National Survey of sea lice on fish farms in Ireland, 2010, Marine Institute.
(7) Seanad debates, Wednesday, 6 July 2011, Foreshore (Amendment) Bill 2011: Second Stage Part 1 and Part 2.