Salmon farming is a multi-billion industry and the sector has assumed the commercial and political clout that success makes possible.
Irish salmon farms are relatively small players producing around 12,000 tonnes last year compared to Norway’s 1.35m tonnes — and Norway intends to increase that output dramatically.
The industry has become, not just for conservationists, symbolic of the unsustainable stresses industrialised farming imposes on our natural world.
This view is contested by salmon farmers who face tightening regulation around the world.
Denmark is the latest country to limit fish farming. Last month the Danes decided to halt fish farm expansion in coastal areas because coastal and inland waters were “overloaded” with nitrogen.
Responding to the decision Inland Fisheries Ireland chief executive Dr Ciaran Byrne said the evidence is “pointing towards” moving fish farms onshore for a more sustainable aquaculture industry.
Land-based systems are more expensive than today’s sea farming so the issue is one of priorities — profit margins or environmental responsibility. Ironically, technology may come to the rescue because once on-land systems are perfected they can be established closer to the most lucrative markets in Asia and America.
That moment cannot come soon enough for the remnants of Atlantic salmon and sea trout populations, populations decimated in recent decades.