Two Government departments are at odds over regulation of salmon farms in the Republic. 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
Update on Deenish Island Salmon Farm
Deenish Island - Update 09 February 2021 The proposed closure of the Deenish site owned by MOWI has not taken place despite the Ministerial order to close the farm being issued in April 2019. This is nearly two years ago and during this time period MOWI have launched a High Court Judicial Review of the Ministers decision and also appealed to the Aquaculture Licence Appeal Board. The High Court case was adjourned generally in January 2020 and the case is still under consideration by the Aquaculture Licence Appeal Board (ALAB). It is entirely unsatisfactory that no decision has been forthcoming and the site has continued to operate throughout the period. It is anticipated that the farm will again be stocked this month to start a new cycle which will last until late 2022. The appeal to ALAB is expected to be decided by the end of June 21 but this is not certain and if this decision does endorse the Ministers decision, it would be expected that MOWI would again appeal to the High Court. Meanwhile the sea trout and salmon resource is under severe pressure in Waterville and adjacent catchments. Salmon Watch Ireland has actively pursued the review process and has been active in lobbying both the Department and ALAB to arrive at an early decision. With modern technologies available to MOWI and production strategies to mitigate the effects of sea lice and disease it is alarming that the company continues to operate as before with open net technologies. This type of farming,with no physical barrier separating it from the surrounding ocean, has been causatively linked to the virtual elimination of sea trout stocks in Ireland, Scotland and Norway. The effect on salmon is now better understood and various studies identify that salmon spawning stocks can be reduced by up to 50%. These effects on salmon and sea trout relate to both disease and the effects of sea lice infestation from farms. To put the fish farming situation in perspective in the local Kenmare Bay area the stock of farmed salmon can be up to one and a half million pre-adult and adult salmon residing in two farms while the stock of wild salmon and sea trout now numbers probably less than ten thousand fish in the local area. In effect the wild salmon stock returning to Ireland now numbers less than 220,000 fish so effectively the two farms in Kenmare Bay dwarf Ireland's wild population by a factor of eight. Without the use of modern technologies these farms are a reservoir for disease, parasites and harmful pathogens. The entire west coast of Ireland is practically devoid of sea trout in areas where salmon farms exist, and Waterville is essentially heading in this direction. The economic collapse in the angling tourism sector and ecological destruction of the sea trout in Waterville can be reversed if a new and more environmentally responsible industry is put in place. Closed containment systems are now common in other countries and are evolving constantly. With climatic change gathering pace in Ireland, it is inevitable that fish farm mortalities will increase substantially. Increasing water temperatures will result in more harmful algal blooms and increased densities of jellyfish, both of which have and will cause large scale mortalities on farms. The reservoir of sea lice coming from farms will also increase with a warming ocean effectively reducing generation time giving more lice over the entire year. The advent of closed containment systems will effectively deal with these harmful episodes but will certainly also protect wild fish from sea lice infestation and other harmful effects emanating from open cage farming. There needs to an adult conversation between the Government, the industry and the various stakeholders as to how wild fish populations can be protected. Unless the industry and government regulators are prepared to change it is inevitable that all farm licences will be subject to judicial review in the High Court by vigilant conservation NGOs such as Salmon Watch Ireland. The European Commission is also aware of the specifics of the licensing system of salmon farming in Ireland and a formal complaint has been issued by Salmon Watch Ireland.