‘Already too many salmon farms in Bantry’

An organisation opposed to the development of another salmon farm in Bantry Bay says the area is “already overburdened” with them and believes there’s a direct link between such farms and sea lice infestation which can kill wild fish.

Save Bantry Bay secretary, Alec O’Donovan, made his organisation’s concerns known on day two of a reconvened oral hearing into a decision by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to grant a licence for Marine Harvest for a salmon farm at Shot Head.

“Sea lice was recognised in the 1980s as being a problem for sea trout and salmon smolts on the rivers of the west of Ireland. Strangely enough this decline of sea trout occurred shortly after the commencing of salmon farming on the west coast in 1984,” Mr O’Donovan said.

Average sea trout rod catches in five Connemara rivers were 9,000 per year prior to the commencement of salmon farming. Within two years a sharp decline was noticed and by 1991 the catch had dropped to just 800.

“Various groups tried to bring to the attention of the government that when there were no salmon farms there was no major sea lice problem,” Mr O’Donovan said.

He challenged claims made by Marine Harvest’s consultant hydrologist that tides and the 27bn tonnes of water flushed in and out of the bay every month would keep salmon faeces deposited under the cages at a very low level.

He said a Cork County Council document published in 1988 contradicted that claim and pointed to a 1997 report from the British Hydrographic Office that said: “there are no significant tidal streams in Bantry Bay.”

Mr O’Donovan said he understood the Government has a responsibility to create employment. “However, a big danger is jobs at any price.” He said he’s concerned the fish farm industry is being favoured to the detriment of wild fish, adding that Inland Fisheries Ireland says recreational angling contributes €836m to the economy every year and supports 11,000 jobs.

Noel Carr, national secretary of the Federation of Irish Salmon & Sea Trout Anglers, said his organisation has objected to every salmon farming licence in Ireland, both north and south, since the wild sea trout collapse in the mid 1990s, which he also maintained was caused by sea lice infestation.

In his submission to the Aquaculture Licences Appeal Board (ALAB) hearing, Kieran O’Shea, a third generation fisherman, said three boats operate in the Shot Head area catching prawns, shrimp, crab and lobster.

He said it makes up approximately 15% of their fishing grounds and if they aren’t able to access it because of the development of the salmon farm they could be forced out of business.

Solicitor Alan Doyle made an objection on behalf of An Taisce, saying there had been no environmental assessment on the impacts the salmon farm might have on otters, dolphins and seals present in the area.

John Quinlan, principal officer with the department said in September 2015 the then minister with responsibility, Simon Coveney, granted the licence to Marine Harvest on evidence-based information and it was his view that was “a correct and sound” decision.

Dr David Jackson of the Marine Institute said sea lice control in existing salmon farms in the South-West is currently excellent.

The oral hearing has concluded. It’s not known when a decision will be reached.

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