Two Government departments are at odds over regulation of salmon farms in the Republic.

Government departments in conflict over how best to regulate salmon farms

Just a small piece of the extensive articles in today’s Irish Times written by Kevin O Sullivan, Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times. Well worth a read and it clearly states the differing opinions regarding salmon farming. We fully support the position of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Communications and Inland Fisheries Ireland. The Department of Agriculture Food and Marine and the Marine Institute are way out of line with international norms and are clearly green washing the salmon farming industry. Time for a seismic change in policy.

Clear divisions have emerged in an exchange of letters between Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan and Minister for the Marine Charlie McConalogue. In a letter released under Freedom of Information legislation, Mr Ryan accuses Mr McConalogue’s department of operating an aquaculture licensing regime with flawed assessment of fish-farm sites and their potential impact on wild salmon and sea trout. These two species are in sharp decline in Ireland with sea lice from fish farms implicated in their demise.

It is understood that Attorney General Paul Gallagher has intervened with the departments to express disquiet at the stand-off over how licence applications are assessed and to underline the need for a resolution.

The opposing views are mirrored by a stand-off between two State agencies involved; the Marine Institute, which advises Mr McConalogue on all applications, and Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), which is responsible for the protection and conservation of freshwater fish and their habitats.

Mr Ryan said the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) in assessing applications was over-reliant on an incorrect interpretation of a small number of Marine Institute studies, which run contrary to the main thrust of international peer-reviewed scientific opinion.

Mr McConalogue, in his 10-page response, insisted the regulatory regime is fully compliant with the State’s environmental obligations and that “appropriate assessments” are carried out correctly by the Marine Institute. He also robustly defended the way sea lice levels are monitored.

Salmon Watch Ireland, which obtained the correspondence, has called for an overhaul of the licensing regime. Its director John Murphy described the stand-off as “an astonishing difference of opinion between two Government departments”.

In response to the exchange of letters, the Marine Institute said as scientific advisers to DAFM, it “is fully engaged in the process of providing scientific advice as part of the regulatory system in place in the licensing of aquaculture. The function of this is to develop the aquaculture industry in a sustainable way.”

It added in a statement to The Irish Times: “The process of assessment of aquaculture licences for salmon farms is a matter for DAFM. The role of the Marine Institute as scientific advisors is to oversee and/or prepare a report on the appropriate assessment [AA] process and to submit these reports to DAFM as part of the licensing determination process.”

‘Development activities’

The institute’s advisory inputs, it said, “are in line with best practices worldwide” and its scientists “take great care in discharging their responsibilities towards all conservation, protection and development activities in the natural environment”.

The clear intention for the AA report prepared for Kenmare Bay was to determine shellfish aquaculture licensing only, it underlined. “It was not sufficient nor was it intended or proffered to enable determination of marine finfish applications [including salmon]. No finfish licensing was determined on the basis of this AA report. Any such applications would be subject to a full AA process specifically focused on finfish [salmon].”

On Mr Ryan’s contention that DAFM was over-relying on an incorrect interpretation of a small number of Marine Institute studies which run contrary to international peer-reviewed scientific opinion on impact on wild salmonid stocks, the institute said: “There is an absence of clear evidence exclusively linking sea lice with high mortality rates. International organisations, including ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) have stated further research is needed to investigate the connection between sea lice infestations and effects on wild salmonids.

“Irrespective of the unresolved scientific position, the fact that Ireland has operated an independent national sea lice monitoring programme for nearly 30 years with clear management measures in place, reflects the seriousness which the State takes to any risk posed by sea lice on our wild salmonid populations.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan