Bureaucracy costs fish-farming up to €60m investment and 2,000 jobs

Bureaucratic bottlenecks in fish-farm licensing decisions have cost coastal areas 2,000 jobs and up to €60m in lost investment in the past five years, the IFA has stated.

A new IFA report entitled Removing Barriers to Irish Aquaculture Development concludes that marine investors are being dissuaded by the absence of a working, transparent licensing system.

The applications for licences must pass by the Department of Agriculture’s aquaculture and foreshore management division, its engineering division, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Marine Institute, Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Consulting bodies include Bord Fáilte, local authorities, the Marine Survey Office and Inland Fisheries Ireland, and nine other authorities. The Aquaculture Licence Appeals board is responsible for post-determination.

IFA aquaculture chairman, Jerry Gallagher, said: “The logjam can only be broken by putting in clear, agreed steps, driven by economic and employment targets, where the delivery of jobs in a proven sustainable industry takes precedence.

“There are six state agencies, nine statutory consultees, four Government departments and a seven-person appeals board, which currently take endless months and years arguing their own vested interests.”

The report says the delays are costing millions in unfilled orders for fish and shellfish, as well as up to 2,000 skilled and semi-skilled jobs, with a huge impact on peripheral local services and infrastructure. It also cites the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s “piecemeal” approach to informing industry about policy changes. It blames “Government inertia” and excessive bureaucracy for causing private investment and institutional credit to dry up.

Mr Gallagher added: “It is clear from IFA’s report that even modest increases in output and employment in aquaculture contained in the Government’s own policy, Food Harvest 2020, are beyond the capacity of the state to deliver.”

The IFA points out that the Irish salmon sector would only fill a corner of one Norwegian fjord, but has delivered vital jobs in coastal areas Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Cork and Kerry, and is one of the longest surviving industries in those areas. Despite the lack of state support, Irish farmers have carved a niche at the high-end of the organic market, the IFA stated.

The report points to Scotland, with the same EU rules, where the Orkney Islands farm more salmon than the entire country of Ireland.

IFA also notes that our international competitors are being encouraged by access to EU schemes denied to Irish farmers.

Jan Feenstra, of the Irish Salmon Growers’ Association, said the report highlighted failures impacting on confidence, investment and growth.

“Decisions which take months and are dealt with transparently in the salmon sector in Norway and Scotland can take many years here,” said Mr Feenstra . “Unilateral policies which prevent us from fulfilling customer needs and employing more people have reduced the size of the sector from a high of over 20,000 tonnes in 2001 to today at just of half that output.”

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