Marine Harvest Ireland was granted an aquaculture/foreshore licence in September 2015 to farm Atlantic salmon in a 106-acre area off Shot Head in Bantry Bay.
It hopes to invest €3.5m and create up to eight jobs at the site.
The licence decision took into account its location in what the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine said are suitable waters. It also stated the activity has potential economic benefits, and would have no significant ecological effects on wild fisheries, natural habitats, flora and fauna, or the environment generally.
But the decision prompted more than a dozen appeals, including from individuals, residents, anglers’ associations, environmental groups, and Inland Fisheries Ireland.
The Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board (ALAB) has now decided to hold an oral hearing to seek clarity on a number of issues.
These include the nature of any risks to salmon and other members of the salmonid fish family in the Dromagowlane and Trafrask rivers. The presence of the mouth of the Dromagowlane just over a kilometre north of the proposed licence area was not mentioned in the company’s environmental impact statement or the environmental impact assessment submitted as part of the appeal to the board. It is understood the company had also appealed the conditions attached to the licence granted in 2015.
Other issues to be considered at the hearing will be the associated impact on the pearl water mussel, and the robustness of the company’s integrated pest management plan and single bay management plan.
The hearing is likely to take place in Bantry sometime in mid-February, with a decision anticipated by the end of May. The board may refuse the licence, back the previous decision, or grant a licence with new conditions.
Save Bantry Bay, one of the appellants, welcomed the decision to hold an oral hearing, claiming there are significant weaknesses in many studies presented by Marine Harvest Ireland.
The group’s concerns include the possibility of pollution, and the impact on wild salmon fisheries and on marine tourism.
“The fact that ALAB now wish to examine data presented in more detail confirms that local residents, businesses, inshore fishermen, anglers, environmentalists, and tourism interests were right. Shot Head is not an appropriate location for a salmon farm,” said Save Bantry Bay secretary Alec O’Donovan.
A spokesperson for Marine Harvest Ireland said the company did not wish to comment on the organisation’s statement or on the licence application.
The application was lodged in January 2012 for the cultivation of Atlantic salmon on the site near Adrigole. The company says it would employ eight people within a few years of construction and that the investment would vastly improve its existing facilities in Bantry Bay, where two of its 10 Irish sea farms are located.