Sunday, 17 November 2013

'Red tape', salmon farming and environmental threats


MR RICHIE Flynn wishes Minister Coveney would use his powers to fast-track decision making on salmon farms, reports The Southern Star on October 19th. Would this really benefit rural coastal areas such as West Cork? Quite the contrary, believes Save Bantry Bay.
Far from boosting local economies, salmon farming could be disastrous for these areas, destroying fish stocks, water quality, valuable tourism businesses and the angling sector.

Far from idling in a sea of apathy, as Richie Flynn suggests, Minister Coveney is actually making considerable efforts to increase Ireland’s farmed salmon output at an unprecedented rate. His plan is for Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) to develop a series of gargantuan salmon farms around the coast. The first, in Galway Bay, would alone double Ireland’s farmed salmon production in one fell swoop.
Unsurprisingly this proposal has met with considerable opposition – just as the proposal to expand salmon farming in Bantry Bay has.

Many of the objections focused on the impact of sea lice from salmon farms on wild salmon and sea trout.
Quick to respond to the controversy, BIM contracted a top marketing agency and the big sell began.
Soon came BIM’s and the pro-salmon farm lobby’s next big trump – the publication of a series of research papers by the Marine Institute which claimed the exact opposite to all other research to date, namely, that sea lice from salmon farms do not have a negative impact on wild salmon.

One paper actually stated there are more thriving salmon rivers in areas near fish farms than elsewhere. It didn’t take long for BIM, the Irish Farmers Association and the pro-salmon farm lobby to be using words like ‘definitive’, ‘conclusive’, ‘unequivocal’ when quoting these studies. The public was told that salmon farming is 100% sustainable and will be the economic salvation of coastal areas in south-west Ireland.

Rubbished
Now, all such claims have ceased. Instead a very obvious silence reigns. Why? The Marine Institute’s research has been rubbished by an international team of experts. It turns out that rather than showing sea lice have no impact, their data in fact shows they’re detrimental to the future of wild salmon. When the international team re-analysed the figures using more accepted methods, it proved sea lice are in fact causing a one-third decrease in nearby wild salmon populations – a figure that is almost identical to what other research studies found.

Given the backbone of the argument for the Bantry Bay and Galway Bay salmon farm was the Marine Institute’s research findings, BIM’s silence, in particular, is profound. For it is now clear, if the mega farms go ahead, some of Ireland’s most famous salmon rivers will be at risk of collapse.
So it seems that the Marine Institute, a government agency whose responsibility is impartiality, is happy to produce bad science, specifically to support a particular government minister’s policy. Its reputation lies in tatters.

To make matters worse, throughout this, Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) scientific experts and environmental groups have been attempting to warn Minister Coveney that he is being misled. Their voices have been quickly shot down, with the response from government being that the Marine Institute’s research has given the final answer.

Simon Coveney did not want to listen. He thought he was covered, noting the Marine Institute’s research and further backing his case by stating the EU had closed an investigation into the impact of sea lice in Ireland. In May 2013, he informed the Oireachtas: ‘The European Commission has been very clear that it now accepts that the systems in place in Ireland to control sea lice and salmon farms are probably the best anywhere in Europe. As far as we are concerned, the sea lice issue is no longer significant.’

Shocking

Shockingly, it turns out the EU case investigating the impact of sealice from salmon farms on wild Irish salmon closed following the Department of Agriculture actively withholding information from the European Commission. Had all the information been submitted, the case may have had a very different outcome. IFI had specifically prepared a report following a request from the European Commission that clearly noted the Department of Agriculture’s views were ‘not consistent with available information’. It made it quite clear the bulk of research pointed to sea lice from salmon farms having a significant and serious impact on wild salmon.

But the commission did not get this information. When Simon Coveney became minister, pressure was put on IFI’s supervisors at the Department for Communications, Energy and Natural resources not to submit IFI’s views.

Coveney is recorded saying these views ‘would not only be misleading but would also cause confusion in the public mind regarding sea lice controls and possibly undermine the state’s regulatory system… I would ask you to withdraw the formal observations of your department and to support the observations supplied to the commission by DAFF.’

The EU has now received information contained within the dossier released under the Freedom of Information Act and is considering reopening the case.
Today, Ireland is under threat of EU fines of €4m due to our government’s apathy in implementing environmental laws. Is this really what Richie Flynn desires? Maybe we should be thankful of that much-criticised ‘red tape’ in place to slow down the likes of BIM, IFA and the salmon farming lobby’s attempts to foist polluting industries on us, giving jobs at any price.
• Alec O’Donovan is secretary of the Save Bantry Bay group.