Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Letter in West Cork Times - Opposition to Fish Farming

http://westcorktimes.com/home/letters-opposition-to-fish-farming

History repeats itself. Just as theologians of old tailored science to back their leader’s beliefs, today the Marine Institute tailors their research to back Minister Simon Coveney’s agenda.

In publishing papers stating sea lice have little impact on wild salmon, the Marine Institute positioned themselves in direct opposition to all other international research studies on the topic to date. This begs the question, why is the Marine Institute going out on such a limb?

Mr Coveney is proposing to expand salmon farming at an unprecedented rate. To do this against public opinion; with questionable scientific backing; and potentially at the cost of valuable angling, tourism, and marine leisure industries; not to mention the environment would be preposterous. Thus, the need to recruit the Marine Institute in order to have science and resulting economics on Mr Coveney’s side.

This must have hit home in 2009 when the European Commission opened a preliminary PILOT case to investigate Ireland’s sea farming plans after concerns had been raised.

Quick to respond, the Marine Institute were at hand to present the required scientific arguments. This approach succeeded. The case was closed in Ireland’s favour. Mr Coveney’s confidence must have grown, for soon his salmon farming plans became yet stronger and more public. It did not matter that the Marine Institute was presenting findings that are in direct contrast to the generally held opinion – that sea lice posed a serious threat to wild salmon and sea trout.

And, so as of yore the arguments were constructed to suit the moment.

The Marine Institute argue their research papers cannot be faulted, for they are peer reviewed. Yet the fact that a theory is peer reviewed only means that the maths, calculations, and research are constructed to certain guidelines. It does not question if the research is failing to address the issue at hand or is being wrongly interpreted by government. Neither does peer review take into account that the Marine Institute theories are in direct contrast to studies carried out by IFI, the government body tasked with protecting wild salmon and sea trout.

So it would seem, a refusal to accept reality has become a part of the Department of Agriculture and pro-salmon farm lobby mind set.

To make matters worse, the production of bad science is not the limit of inappropriate behaviour by the authorities when pushing their salmon farming agenda.

This month, Mr Coveney met with Alf-Helge Aarskog, chief executive of Marine Harvest – the company that operates three quarters of Ireland’s salmon farming today and hopes to soon secure more licenses along Ireland’s shores.

Directly after the meeting, the Irish Times quoted Aarskog as saying they had “agreed to meet again in six months, by which time Marine Harvest hopes to have been awarded a new licence for a fish farm at Shot Head in Bantry Bay and to have achieved progress on other sites.”

In contrast, Mr Coveney responded during a Parliamentary Question on the matter “There is always a strict separation between my Ministerial role as decision maker in respect of aquaculture licence applications and my Ministerial duty to promote the sustainable development of the industry. This separation of duties is always strictly observed.”

Such “separation of duties” is a big ask when Mr Coveney gets to: make the decision on whether or not to award a license; decide who is appointed on the appeal board should his decision be opposed; and oversee the agencies responsible for inspecting salmon farms once in operation.

Just over a year ago, he adopted Food Harvest 2020, the government agricultural policy which aims to increase salmon farming at a greater rate than any other production area.
To suggest this arrangement conducive to a fair trial is delusional.

So it comes as no surprise that those in opposition to salmon farming believe the only hope lies with the European Commission. Fortunately, having received new information detailing the bad science presented by Mr Coveney’s team, the Commission are now reconsidering the Pilot Case they formally closed.

In truth, the only hope of true justice lies with the European Commission.

Alec O’Donovan
Secretary
Save Bantry Bay