Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Letter in West Cork Times - 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
Save Bantry Bay

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Accurate Study Highlights 34% Loss in Wild Salmon Numbers from Sea Lice

Statement by Inland Fisheries Ireland

Sea Lice Infested Sea Trout
 New Study highlights 34% loss in wild salmon numbers from Sea Lice. Errors identified which undermine Galway Salmon Farm EIS

Inland Fisheries Ireland notes the findings of a new international scientific paper which identifies fundamental flaws in the methodology and findings of a study (Jackson et al), elements of which have formed the basis of an EIS submitted in support of the proposed Galway Bay Salmon Farm.

The new paper demonstrates that the impact of sea lice on wild salmon causes a much higher loss (34%) of those returning to rivers in the west of Ireland, than the 1% loss suggested heretofore in the Jackson paper. The new study entitled “Comment on Jackson et al. "Impact of Lepeophtheirus salmonis infestations on migrating Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar L., smolts at eight locations in Ireland with an analysis of lice-induced marine mortality" is published by Krkošek, et al. (2013) in The Journal of Fish Diseases. It points out fundamental methodological errors made by Jackson et al. (2013). Following a re-analysis of the same data, it shows that it incorrectly concluded that sea lice play a minor, perhaps even negligible, role in salmon survival and that this finding emerged following three fundamental methodological errors.

This new paper conducts  a re-analysis of the data with the findings departing substantially from those reported and interpreted by Jackson et al. (2013), and in previous publications that drew on some of the same data (Jackson, et al. 2011a;  2011b).  Whereas Jackson et al. 2013 assert that sea lice cause 1% of mortality in Atlantic salmon, the correct estimate is actually a one third loss (34%) of overall returned stocks.
The new paper gives the example that if, in the absence of parasites, final adult salmon recruitment is 6% of smolt production, then the effect of parasite mortality reduces that recruitment to 4%.  According to interpretations used by Jackson et al. (2013), that is a change of 2%.  However, the overall effect is that it reduces the abundance of adult salmon returning to a river from, say, 6,000 down to 4,000; this 1/3 loss of salmon returns could have significant conservation or fishery implications. Krkošek, et al. 2013 emphasise that their purpose is not to downplay factors other than parasites that may also have a large influence on marine survival of Atlantic salmon. They do however highlight that parasites can and, in this case, clearly do have a large effect on fisheries recruitment, irrespective of apparent changes in overall marine mortality over time, and with important implications for the management and conservation of wild salmon stocks.

Two of the publications that utilise some of the same data (Jackson et al. 2011a & 2011b), and which contain the methodological errors reported above, have been referred to in the Environmental Impact Statement submitted by BIM in their proposal for a deep sea fish farm in Galway bay. In support of the contention that sea lice do not negatively impact on out migrating salmon smolts, the Marine Institute studies by Jackson et al. 2011a & 2011b are quoted as concluding that the infestation of outwardly migrating salmon smolts with sea lice was only a minor component of the overall marine mortality in the stocks studied. This contention may now be questioned by the re-analysis undertaken in this new paper by Krkošek, et al. 2013.

This paper concurs with previously published international research (Krkosek et al, 2012 & Gargan et al, 2012) which indicates that sea lice emanating from aquaculture facilities can cause significant mortality to Atlantic salmon.  IFI welcomes the clarification in this new paper regarding the potential negative impact of sea lice emanating from marine salmon farms and looks forward to ensuring effective sea lice management to reduce or eliminate this impact. In this context, the location of salmon farms in relation to salmon rivers and the control of sea lice prior to and during juvenile salmon migration to their high seas feeding ground is critical if wild salmon stocks are not to be impacted. The development of resistance to chemical treatment of sea lice and other fish husbandry problems, such as pancreas disease and amoebic gill disease, are likely to make effective sea lice control even more difficult in future years.

IFI is supportive of the development of a sustainable aquaculture industry and welcome all advances in research that will underpin the sustainability of this industry and safeguard wild salmon and sea trout stocks into the future.