The European Commission is investigating why it did not receive a scientific report from the Department which showed the amount of sea lice likely to come from such a farm could devastate much of the country’s wild salmon and trout.
This report was drawn up by Inland Fisheries Ireland, responsible for protecting and developing inland fisheries and sea angling and protecting wild salmon under the EU’s Habitats Directive.
Instead, the Department sent a different study from another state agency, the Marine Institute, that said the danger would be small: about 1% compared with the 39% suggested by the Inland Fisheries report.
The Ombudsman is also investigating the issue and was told by the Department that the Inland Fisheries report had many inaccuracies and fundamental errors and that it “would have had disastrous results for Ireland’s reputation” had they sent it to the Commission.
They put forward a report from the Marine Institute, which provides scientific advice to the Department, and which painted a very different picture, suggesting the danger from such a farm would be small.
However, this report was questioned by four independent scientists when published in Journal of Fish Diseases, forcing the head of the Institute, Dr Peter Heffernan, to defend the work, saying the scientists had not considered the entire study.
The European Commission has reopened its investigation of the matter having received the Inland Fisheries study. Their spokesperson said they were investigating, but had just received the Department’s response on Monday and needed time to assess it.
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) want the issue of the Galway Bay farm investigated, saying the environmental impact study was largely based on the Marine Institute’s report, while the report from the body responsible for wild fish conservation, Inland Fisheries, was sidelined.
The Galway farm is part of the Department’s plan to boost the country’s food exports. Getting licences for fish farms tends to be lengthy and bureaucratic, with many environmental and social issues to be considered.
The Department asked BIM — the body responsible for developing the country’s sea and aquaculture industries — to prepare an application and seek planning permission for a fish farm that would more than double the country’s production of farmed salmon. It is expected they will sell or lease the licence to a private company.
FIE are also questioning whether it is right to have BIM looking for the licence for the Galway Bay farm and ask whether BIM will also fulfil its other role of advising the minister for agriculture on whether to award the licence. “This all appears to be incestuous and not very healthy,” said Tony Lowes of FIE.
The Department said it received the application from BIM and the environmental impact statement and was considering it. Inland Fisheries Ireland, in a submission to the application, suggested changes should be made and quoted their research that 39% of smolts (young salmon) were killed by sea lice from fish farms and warned that the planned farm and the harvesting of its fish could produce the same dire results.