In recent months, the Department of Agriculture announced the transfer, to a new company, of salmon farming licences from five operators who received up to €4.5m in State funding since the 1980s.
According to Salmonwatch Ireland, the original five licensees also owe up to €378,340 in aquaculture and foreshore licences payments to the department.
However, their newly formed company, Bradán Beo Teorantai (BBT), has got backing from the State’s regional development organisation, Údarás na Gaeltachta.
Salmonwatch Ireland queried whether any of the €4.59m in grant aid invested by the State in the original companies would be repaid.
In response, Údarás na Gaeltachta said none of this funding was retrievable as the most recent tranche had been handed down over five years ago.
It also said the €378,340 owed by the original companies for licence payments would be “taken on” by BBT. The five former licensees are DMCI Golam Teo, Muirachmhainni Teo, Eisc Ui Fhlathartha Teo, Eisc Iathglas Teo and Muir Gheal Teo.
“All grant aid paid to companies by Údarás na Gaeltachta contain a contingent liability clause of five years (similar to other development agencies) from the date of the last payment and are therefore expired in this case,” a spokesman said.
Údarás also confirmed that the new company would be buying the assets of the former licensees.
Salmonwatch Ireland has serious misgivings about the new company’s ability to be more successful than its predecessors and has questioned the ongoing investment of the State in a sector that generates few jobs due to increased mechanisation. Simon Ashe of Salmonwatch said: “These massive financial injections are being made into enterprises that generate low levels of employment and into farms that are so small that it is very difficult to avoid disease and hence make money.”
In response, Údarás denied BBT would provide little employment saying that when the new project is up to full scale, 24 people would be employed directly while indirect jobs 150 would be “sustained and created”.
A spokeswoman said: “South Connemara is a remote region and it has proved very challenging to foster and stimulate the growth of other industries in this region. There is very little other employment opportunities in the area and these jobs are badly needed.”
She said salmon farming in Connemara had faced “difficult times” since 2009.
“Fish stock was wiped out due to a number of natural and unforeseen circumstances (pancreas disease, for example), survival rates among the fish were greatly reduced and companies declared losses as a result.”