An oral hearing into the granting of a licence for a salmon farm in Bantry Bay has been adjourned for at least a month after it emerged a technical report relevant to the proceedings had not been circulated to all parties due to an oversight.
Photo credit: Graham Saunders, technical adviser to the the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board , Dr Owen McIntyre, Hearing Chairman, Seb Rider, Technical adviser to the Chairman, at the Bantry Bay Fish Farm Oral Hearing in the Westlodge Hotel, Bantry. Pic Tony McElhinney
Marine Harvest had been granted a licence for the facility off Shot Head and the second day of the oral hearing was to feature a contribution from the company in which it sought to assuage concerns raised by those objecting to the development.
However, when Dr Neil Bass, making a submission on behalf of Marine Harvest, cited a report that involved hydrodynamic modelling of currents in the area and the dispersal rates of sea lice, appellants including An Taisce and the Save Bantry Bay group said they had not seen it.
Dr Bass told the chairman of the oral hearing, Dr Owen McIntyre, that the company would be “severely disadvantaged” if it could not cite the report to address the concerns raised by those objecting to the project.
The outcry from all sides prompted an adjournment so Dr McIntyre could consult with the board of the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board (ALAB), following which it was decided to adjourn the hearing for at least four weeks so all parties could read the report, which is over 100 pages in length.
When it recommences, the hearing is likely to require two days to consider the various submissions that will be made in relation to the report.
There had been confusion when Dr Bass said the report — which included calibrated hydrodynamic modelling which he said would show how the proposed project would not result in issues such as dispersal of sea lice, as raised by some of the 14 appellants — had been submitted to the Aqua Marine and Foreshore Licencing Division of the Department of Agriculture and the Marine.
However, John Quinlan, representing the department, said: “That is not the case.
“The specific document that he is referring to was not submitted to the department.”
He added that the report also post-dated the decision by the minister to grant the licence.
Dr Bass corrected the record and stated it had been submitted to ALAB, and Marine Harvest had submitted it “in good faith”.
It was later clarified that in the original application to the department, a version of the report was handed in but that a newer version featuring the data on hydrodynamic modelling and dispersal rates was later completed.
ALAB requested this alongside any other relevant documentation under Section 46 of the Sea Fisheries Amendment Act 1997 and on receiving it, the report formed part of the basis of a report from ALAB’s technical advisor for the hearing, Dr Graham Saunders.
Ideally this should have been made available to all parties but afterwards Dr McIntyre said it had not been, and this was due to an oversight.
Environmentalist Peter Sweetman for Save Bantry Bay said the public had been denied access to all the documents in the case, adding: “This is a fundamental human right for us to be consulted properly.”
Solicitor Alan Doyle for An Taisce had also made an objection regarding the document, stating that An Taisce had already been struggling to read all the documents in its possession having been made aware of the oral hearing on January 23, and introducing a new report at that stage would be unfair and contrary to national justice.
The adjournment will hold for four or five weeks, when the dates for a new hearing will be advertised. It will also mean that the re-convened hearing will also take place after a judgment is due to be delivered in the High Court relating to an incident from three years ago involving a different fish farm operated by a different company in which 230,000 fish escaped.
Earlier, Dr Bass had clarified that the target production figure for the proposed Shot Head farm was 3,500 tonnes every two years, and not 3,000 tonnes per year as had been suggested by one appellant on Tuesday.
He also addressed concerns raised by local fishermen that the development would limit fishing grounds, stating that approximately 0.5% of the suitable area was taken by the site, which he said was “a reasonable splitting of the resource”. He added that much of the site was over rock and gravel.
Afterwards, Marine Harvest, which plans to invest €3.5m to develop the site 8km east of its existing Roancarrig site, said it was disappointed that the hearing had been adjourned.
Catherine McManus, the company’s technical manager, said the hearing had given Marine Harvest the chance to demonstrate that it had been as comprehensive and transparent as it could be in making its case for the licence.
“If the department’s decision is upheld, the new site at Shot Head would vastly improve our Bantry Bay facilities by enabling improved rotation of the fish crop creating a world-class operation in the Beara Peninsula which is what we’re about,” she said.
Ms McManus added that salmon farming had become a successfully integrated part of the local community in the region over the past 40 years.
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