The Department of Agriculture has described as “flawed” a report from the 1990s which warned about the negative effect of fish farms on wild sea trout and, furthermore, denied ever trying to “suppress” it.
The report had been commissioned in 1994 by the Department of the Marine.
It had warned until the exact nature of the relationship between sea lice and sea trout was understood, “a precautionary approach dictates that it would be prudent to avoid siting new fish farms or increased salmon farm production — within 20km of a sea trout river mouth”.
Last week, Save Bantry Bay — an action group strongly opposed to a planned 12-14 cage organic salmon farm at Shot Head — re-published the report describing it as having been “suppressed” by the department.
However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture yesterday said concerns had arisen in the late 1990s about the quality of data used in the 1994 Sea Trout Working Group research.
“Included in the 1994 report was a linear model which appeared to show a correlation between the presence of salmon farms and declines in sea trout based on proximity of the farms to the sea trout rivers,” she noted.
“After 1994, the then minister set up the Sea Trout Management and Advisory Group which engaged in various related studies.
“However, concerns emerged about the quality of the data under examination. Two independent reviews of this data were carried out by international experts whose reports concluded that there were serious flaws in the data collection methods being employed and that conclusions being drawn from them would have to be treated as unreliable.
“Far from ‘suppressing’ the report, the Department of the Marine, at the time, issued a press release on the matter”.
According to Save Bantry Bay, the Scottish Aquaculture Research Forum recently recommended a similar distance of 18km between wild salmon river mouth and salmon farms as a “rule of thumb”.
The group also said a “recent three-country study compared marine survival of wild salmon in Scotland, Ireland and Canada which showed, on average, that fish farms typically reduced survival or abundance of wild populations by almost 50% through infestation with sea lice”.
Defending Ireland’s sea lice control protocols, the department said fish farms in Ireland are inspected 14 times a year and results are also reported to the department and to stakeholders such as Inland Fisheries Ireland.
“These protocols are more advanced than those operated in other jurisdictions for the following reasons: The inspection regime is totally independent of the industry.
“Data obtained as a result of inspections is published and made widely available. Treatment trigger levels are set at a low level,” she said.
The department also noted, that four years ago, the State introduced a new Pest Management Strategy which resulted in a “steady decline in average sea lice numbers on farmed salmon”.
“The controls in operation are regarded by the EU Commission as representing best practice internationally,” they said.
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