Friends of the Irish Environment, which is based in Bantry, lodged the appeal against the expansion of the salmon farming operation in Bantry Bay by Marine Harvest, an international group with Irish offices in Donegal.
Marine Harvest already operates out of two sites in Bantry Bay, at Ahabeg and Roancarrig, as well as other sites off nearby Kenmare and along the western seaboard.
It also applied for a new salmon farm site at Shot Head, Bantry Bay, in what the company said would be a €3.5m investment.
Last month, the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine granted approval for aquaculture and foreshore licences for the Shot Head site following a four-year application and appeals process which faced strong local resistance.
According to the company’s website: “The investment at Shot Head would vastly improve the company’s existing Bantry Bay facilities, enabling improved rotation of the fish crop and creating a world-class operation in the Beara Peninsula which will secure the long-term future of the aquaculture industry in the area.”
The company, which employs some 270 staff around the country, said approval for the expansion would result in eight sustainable jobs post-construction.
However, Friends of the Irish Environment said there were concerns about overstocking, the possible environmental impact of any expansion of salmon farming in the area, and whether the company had, at all times, provided Department of Agriculture vets with information as part of an audit process.
The group’s spokesman, Tony Lowes, claimed Marine Harvest’s Castletownbere’s main site was overstocked in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
“If the licence is granted, it will increase the biomass of fish in the bay,” Mr Lowes said.
“The stress on the environment, waste production by fish, nitrogen in the water — all these things are amplified enormously.”
The group also claimed that, in 2013, Marine Harvest had not initially provided information to the department as part of an audit process, but a spokesperson for the Marine Institute said that, having reviewed its documents, “there is nowhere that we can see in records for 2014 that show they [Marine Harvest] refused to release the data”.
The spokesman said that one part of the data for 2013 could be read as the company not releasing information for the purposes of the audit, but that a follow-up contact secured the information subsequently.
Friends of the Irish Environment also said that a close analysis of the environmental impact statement relating to the application demonstrated “fundamental errors”. The organisation added that the new site would worsen already significant levels of toxicity in the area.
Efforts to obtain a response from Marine Harvest were unsuccessful yesterday, while the Department of Agriculture said it would be inappropriate for it to comment pending any appeals lodged with the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board.
A spokesman for the department said it is open to any member of the public to appeal the minister’s decision to the appeals board.