Campaigners against fish farm seek sea lice system safety check

Campaigners against a planned €3.5m fish farm in Bantry Bay have called for Ireland’s sea lice assessment system to be tested.

In a letter to Marine Minister Simon Coveney, the group Save Bantry Bay (SBB) is seeking proof current levels of chemical anti-parasite treatments used in Irish waters were safe.

The group also called for the current moratorium on the expansion of salmon farming outlined in the National Development Plan 2008-2013 be continued.

SBB say sea lice from salmon farms are causing a reduction of between 40% and 50% of wild salmon stocks but salmon farm operators refute the claims.

In their letter to Mr Coveney, SBB members request that the Government examine the wider implications of sea lice policy.

The salmon farming industry is required to report on sea lice numbers, the group says, while no monitoring is undertaken by any government agency of salmon farm chemical use and emissions to the environment.

The group claim that when it sought information about the levels of chemicals used to tackle sea lice by salmon farm companies from the Government, it was referred to the companies themselves.

The group is seeking information specifically from Marine Harvest which seeks to develop a 100-acre site fish farm at Shot Head and has lodged an application for a foreshore and aquaculture licence with the Department of the Marine.

The group claim Marine Harvest said the information was “commercially sensitive”.

SBB member Chloe Neild said the lack of knowledge of such chemical emissions amounts to government negligence.

“For government to promote an industry with no understanding of its chemical emissions is deeply negligent, not just environmentally but also economically as sea lice treatments have detrimental impacts on valuable harvested species.”

Tony Lowes, director of Friends of the Irish Environment and SBB member, said the situation was extraordinary.

“Every industrialist knows that if you own a factory, you have to account for everything that goes in and comes out,” he said.

Marine Harvest says the industry is heavily regulated and Marine Institute studies contain information of diseases and treatments including sea lice.

A national survey of sea lice conducted on Irish fish farms in 2011 by the Marine Institute, outlines a list of options for the control of sea lice including animal medicines, hydrogen peroxide, and food supplements.

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