Bantry Bay fish farm oral hearing: Fears over jobs, pesticides, and threat of disease in fish population

A hearing into objections against the granting of a licence for a salmon farm in Bantry Bay has heard that, were the development to go ahead, it could prove a “tipping point” for local families who have fished the area for generations.

The two-day hearing into the granting of the licence to Marine Harvest heard from a number of the 14 appellants and from the company itself, which was appealing on different grounds.

Signs declaring opposition to the project were placed outside the Westlodge Hotel. Inside, Dr Owen McIntyre, chairman of the oral hearing which is operating under the Aquaculture Licences Appeal Board (ALAB), heard specific concerns.

Environmentalist Peter Sweetman of Save Bantry Bay said the oral hearing was itself flawed as it was ruling out hearing new scientific evidence published since the original appeals were lodged and that it was not adhering to a European directive on including such evidence.

Solicitor Alan Doyle for An Taisce said the Board had no power to limit the scope of the oral hearing. He said An Taisce had not been notified of the appeals and claimed: “The public is effectively being shut out of the oral hearing process.”

Some other appellants made submissions under protest. Kieran O’Shea said he was a third-generation fisherman in the Shot Head area where the development would be located. He said six onshore fishermen operate out of three boats in the area, fishing for prawns, crab, and lobster, adding the area in question accounted for 15% of annual fishing grounds.

“Were we to lose these fishing grounds it could be a tipping point,” he said, referring to local jobs and the viability of business. He also referred to concerns over the use of pesticides and limited access to areas close to the salmon farm were it allowed to proceed, and the threat of disease in the fish population.

“To make matters worse for us, Marine Harvest is now requesting an increase in the size of the salmon farm from 12 to 18 cages,” he said. “We are at serious risk, as are other boats in the area.”

Paddy Gargan of Inland Fisheries Ireland said IFI believed the environmental impact statement in the granting of the licence was “inadequate” regarding sea lice and escaped farmed salmon. He said there was a lot of international literature on this topic that had not been addressed. He said there was “clear potential” for escapes in Bantry Bay and referred to a previous escape in 2014 involving 230,000 fish.

Mr Sweetman asked department officials for the report conducted into that fish escape. In response, John Quinlan of the department said there were matters before court and it would be inappropriate to comment. Mr Sweetman said a judgement was due on March 10 and there was no reason for it to be suppressed, but Mr Quinlan said the case had nothing to do with Marine Harvest and the department was awaiting the judgement in the case before commenting.

Dr Jervis Good of the National Parks and Wildlife Service quoted from a number of different studies suggesting there was a significant population of fresh water pearl mussel in the catchment of the Dromagowlane River and that a reduced fish population could have an effect on it.

He said it could be possible that the site chosen for the proposed development could be designated as a national heritage area in the future.

Local resident Breda O’Sullivan raised concerns for the community, particularly considering the number of tourists who visit it and the number of foreign people who have moved there in recent times.

Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment said there was a clear conflict of interest in the issuing of licences as the regulatory and development arms of the department were interlinked, while Mark Boyden of the Coomhola Salmon and Trout Anglers Association said the production target of 3,000 tonnes per annum was the equivalent in human terms of an additional population of 60,000 people.

He warned the presence of such a large fish farm could lead to the collapse of wild neighbouring stock and that best international practice indicated farmed salmon be reared in isolation.

The oral hearing continues today.

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