Impact on Nature

The Beara Peninsula is in parts a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the E.U. Birds Directive, of special conservation interest for Chough and Fulmar. It also supports a range of breeding seabirds, including populations of Fulmar and Black Guillemot, of national importance, as well as a significant population of Peregrine. The presence of Chough and Peregrine, both species that are listed on Annex I of the E.U. Birds Directive, is of particular significance. Pollution from the fish farm is incompatible with this directive.

Shot Head off Roosk/Trafrask in Coosard, Adrigole, is designated an area of geological interest (comprised of what could be the oldest known rock formations in the country: Devonian coastal section) according to County Cork Development Plan 2009 ENV 1-11(b): It is a particular objective to maintain the conservation value of those features or areas of geological interest and protect them from inappro­priate development. The site of the proposed salmon farm is incompatible with this objective.

Also, Bantry Bay is full of wildlife and is frequented by dolphins, whales and other particularly important marine species. On 7 June, 1991, the Government of Ireland declared all our seas a Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary. Shot Head may be the only place in Bantry Bay that you find the rare Black Pollock.

The sea is the peninsula’s most important natural resource as many people earn a living from the sea. Not just from fishing, but also in the tourist industry, sailing and diving, whale watching etc. – these industries and livelihoods will be destroyed or at least seriously affected by the proposed operations. 

Siting

Salmon is a species of fish that thrives in colder waters and farming it so far south, in waters heated by the Gulf Stream, requires additional input to their diet (e.g. vitamin E, which is fat-soluble and is thus stored in the liver & fatty tissues, which generally poses a greater risk for toxicity) to promote growth and prevent stress in the fish. Norway and Chile have more suitable water temperatures.

Furthermore, chemicals and excess nutrients from uneaten feed and fish faeces associated with salmon farms can disturb the flora and fauna on the ocean bottom. They smother the sea floor beneath the farms, generating bacteria that consume oxygen vital to shellfish and other bottom-dwelling sea creatures. Once the area is too polluted, the fish farm is moved to a new location (rotation/fallowing). Fish farms affect the environment; they also have a visual impact on the area.

Chemical inputs

An average size salmon farm generates high levels of sewage, equivalent to 10-20,000 people. Chemicals used in aquaculture, often in excessive doses, include:

  • medicinal treatments, notably antibacterial agents (which are a source of MRSA, i.e. bacterial resistance caused by antibiotics in the food chain), antifungal agents, pesticides and especially antiparasitic treatments (e.g. sea lice treatments), anaesthetics
  • antifoulants used on equipment and others such as disinfectants and detergents
  • feed additives such as zinc and dyes – farmed salmon have an unappetizing, grey coloured flesh until a red dye (e.g. canthaxanthin manufactured by Hoffman-La Roche ) is added to the feed; this particular dye was linked to retinal damage in people and has been banned in some countries, though not as an additive to fish feed!

These and other substances that are discharged in fish waste or uneaten feed, for example nutrients associated with waste and contaminants associated with feed, can have unintended consequences for marine organisms and human health. Antibiotics in particular have created resistant strains of disease that infect both wild and domesticated fish. Fish farms cause pollution and will contaminate the lobster, crab and scallop, which are plentiful at that location. They are a Public Health hazard.

Disease/parasites

In the wild, diseases and parasites are normally at low levels and kept in check by natural predation on weakened individuals. In crowded net pens, parasitic, viral and fungal infections can become epidemics that can transfer between farmed and wild fish, as well as among farms, despite all the chemicals used.

Marine Harvest’s operations have been severely affected in the south of Chile, where millions of fish have died by the disease infectious salmon anaemia (the rapid propagation of the virus motivated the enterprise to sell some of its facilities, firing more than a thousand employees, with the aim of translating its installations further south). Infective Salmon Anaemia could also be a threat to other fish. The ISA virus that causes this disease has been compared to Swine Flu H5N1 and Avian Flu – the ISA virus could mutate and theoretically even be transmitted to humans.

Sea lice can cause deadly infestations of both farm-grown and wild salmon. Sea lice are parasites that feed on mucous, blood, and skin – the smolt bleeds to death. Large numbers of highly populated, open-net salmon farms can create exceptionally large concentrations of sea lice. Wild juvenile salmon migrating to sea are highly vulnerable – on the Pacific coast of Canada, the louse-induced mortality of pink salmon in some regions is commonly over 80%.

Norwegian studies have shown 12 miles to be the minimal ideal distance between salmon farms to prevent viral and lice spread. Their own studies are now recommending a distance of 20 miles plus. Cuan Baoi salmon farm is 4 miles or less and Roancarraig salmon farm is 5 miles approx. from Marine Harvest’s proposed site in Adrigole. Bantry Bay is thus not a suitable location for this fish farm.

Escapes

Escaped farmed salmon can compete with wild fish and interbreed with local wild stocks of the same population, altering the overall pool of genetic diversity.

Marine Harvest claim they have a zero-escape policy. However, the company has been busy lately trying to retrieve salmon that broke free after the storm Dagmar swept Norway with hurricane strength winds over the Christmas 2011 holidays. It is one of four incidents for Marine Harvest Norway in 2011. Farming salmon in open-ocean net-pens inevitably means some fish will escape into the wild. World­wide, it’s estimated that nearly 3 million salmon escape from farms each year. This matters because invasive farmed salmon are known to compete with native wild salmon for habitat, food and mates.

Biologists fear these invaders will also out-compete other marine creatures for food and territory, hastening the demise of the native fish and turning a healthy, diverse marine habitat into one dominated by a single invasive species. Preserving diversity is essential because multiple species have a better chance of surviving than just one.

In addition to the negative health impact on local species, fish farming is invasive and constitutes one of the biggest threats to the dwindling stocks of wild salmon and to biodiversity.

Feed

Of all the concerns, the biggest turns out to be a problem fish farms were supposed to help alleviate: the depletion of marine life from overfishing. These fish farms contribute to the problem because the captive salmon must be fed. Salmon are carnivores and need to eat fish to bulk up fast and remain healthy. A growing salmon farming business must control and reduce its dependency upon fishmeal and fish oil – a primary ingredient in salmon feed – so as not to put additional pressure on the world’s fisheries. Fish caught to make fishmeal and oil currently represent one-third of the global fish harvest.

It takes about 2.5 to 4 pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon. That means grinding up a lot of sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring and other fish to produce the oil and meal compressed into pellets of salmon chow. As the salmon farming industry expands, it requires a higher percentage of the wild forage fish for feed, at a time when 75% of the worlds monitored fisheries are already near to, or have exceeded, their maximum sustainable yield. Fish farming is unsustainable.

Additionally, man-made contaminants, PCBs and dioxins make their way into the ocean and are absorbed by marine life. The pollutants accumulate in fat that is distilled into the concentrated fish oil, which, in turn, is a prime ingredient of the salmon feed. Farmed salmon are far fattier than their wild cousins, although they do not contain as much of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists are trying to determine the extent of the contamination in salmon and what levels are safe for human consumption. A study found levels of dioxins, chlorinated pesticides, cancer-causing PCBs and other toxins up to ten times greater in farmed salmon than in wild Pacific salmon. Scientists have concluded that “…consumers should not eat farmed fish from Scotland, Norway and eastern Canada more than 3 times a year” (Lang SS (2005) in Chronicle Online, Cornell University.) Farmed salmon is unsafe.

Finally, farmed salmon is less valuable than wild salmon in terms of nutritional value as its flesh has an increased fat content, yet it has reduced levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a combination which contributes to increasing the risk of arthritis, heart disease, strokes and cancer – not a healthy option. A Marine Harvest spokesperson is quoted in the Southernstar article: ‘The “Produced in Ireland” guarantee is also a significant contributor to the success of our sales across sophisticated European markets’. However, a sophisticated public will not eat farmed salmon – many chefs and seafood lovers snub the feedlot variety as inferior to wild salmon – but will look for a healthier, safer alternative like wild salmon!

Nutrient loading and carrying capacity

Excess food and fish waste in the water have the potential to increase the levels of nutrients, nitrates and phosphates in the water. This can cause the growth of algae (blooms), which consumes oxygen that is meant for other plant and animal life (eutrophication resp. hypertrophication). The depletion of oxygen in the water caused by nutrient loading induces reductions in specific fish and other animal populations. Fish that swim by salmon farms not only ingest the feed containing chemicals & dye and suffer from the diseases & parasites rampant in fish farms, they may also simply suffocate through lack of oxygen supply. Currently Bantry Bay produces many marine species, such as pollack, mackerel, dogfish, rays, tope, skate, conger from the harbour areas and wrasse from the rocky headlands, as well as mullet, bull huss, trigger fish, ling, thornback, plaice and dabs. These could all be wiped out. Fish farms have a negative environmental effect.

The question as to whether fish can at all be farmed organically appears justified: it is impossible not to use chemicals when so many fish are kept so close together. Just stopping medication a few days or even weeks before slaughtering does not magically turn an artificial produce into a natural one. Dyed… dosed… doused… and domiciled in cages where they can only float about lazily, these are definitely not free-range fish. There is no way the Shot Head site can be farmed organically, and for this far­med fish to be labelled organic and carry the Irish Green Logo as a guarantee of Excellence is absurd.

Compiled and edited by: ak

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2 thoughts on “Impact on Nature

  1. I only wish people could see what this type of farming does, and how much damage it will do to an already badly damaged Bantry Bay.

  2. A further note as regards siting. There was an article in the Norwegian newspaper Altaposten dated 19.07.2007 including an interview with John Fredriksen as he was on a fishing trip in the Alta river in Norway. Fredriksen, who has a major interest in the fish farming company Marine Harvest (his daughter Cecilie is sitting on the board of directors, see: http://www.marineharvest.com/en/Investor1/Corporate-governance1/Board-of-directors/), is quoted as saying: “Environmental changes will result in the aquaculture industry having to move northwards.The temperature increase will force this trend” – so why try to farm a cold water fish like salmon in the warm waters of Ireland?

    Also, cold-water salmon oil is rich in alpha- linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentanoic (EPA) and docosahexanoic (DHA). These are all fatty acids that are essential for the functions of the human body. Early Arctic explorers noted that the Eskimos, despite their consumption of high-fat and high-cholesterol foods, had a very low incidence of heart disease because their diets were rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish are the primary source of omega-3 fatty acids, but not all fish are created equal: the healthiest fish, with the most omega-3 fatty acids, live in cold water. Added to that, substituting vegetable proteins for animal proteins in the farmed salmon diet to reduce overfishing will also result in lower levels of the highly valued omega-3 fatty acid content in the farmed product.

    Wouldn’t a more northerly location for farming salmon be more suitable? Aren’t there other fish that could more profitably (and with less stress to the fish) be farmed on the south west coast of Ireland??

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