Minister for Marine Michael Creed has discontinued a licence held by Norwegian multinational Mowi for a fish farm in Co Kerry.
A breach of licence conditions at a smolt hatchery run by the Norwegian aquaculture company’s Irish division in Donegal has also been identified by Mr Creed’s department.
A third investigation by his department found no “provable” breach of licence conditions at a salmon and rainbow trout farm run by the same company near Inishfarnard in Coulagh Bay, Co Cork.
Mr Creed’s decision to discontinue a fish farm licence for the first time was taken under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1997, which permits him to revoke or amend a licence if he considers it in the public interest, or if he is satisfied of a breach of conditions.
Mowi, the world’s largest farm-reared salmon company, has its headquarters in Norway and runs farms in Chile, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, and the Faroe Islands. It employs almost 300 people at over a dozen fish farms in five coastal counties here.
Its global operation employs over 14,000 people in 24 countries and recorded a turnover of almost €3.6 billion in 2016.
Investigations by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine identified overstocking at Silver King Seafoods Ltd at Deenish in Ballinskelligs bay, Co Kerry three years ago.
The Kerry farm is licenced to harvest up to 500 tonnes (dead weight) of salmon in any one year, but harvested just over 1100 tonnes in 2016 – over 121 per cent more than permitted.
The breach is “significant”, the department says, and the decision to rescind the licence under section 68 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997 is “proportionate and warranted”.
“The company was fully aware of the limits set by the specific condition of the licence governing harvest tonnage,” it notes.
Breaching licence conditions serves to undermine public confidence in the regulatory system, and therefore enforcement by the department of licence conditions is in the public interest.
The department says that an increase of 121 percent in stock harvested from the site must increase its effluent discharge.
Mr Creed’s department also identified a licence breach at a freshwater smolt cultivation site run by Comhlucht Iascaireachta Fanad Teo T/A Marine Harvest Ireland at Lough Altan, Procklis near Falcarragh, Co Donegal.
Under the licence terms, annual production should not exceed 2.5 million smolts at the plant, which provides juveniles for seawater farms.
However, the department opted not to revoke the licence, but to amend it, due to the “very serious commercial consequences for the company”. The department’s inspector had recommended revoking the licence.
The department also decided to amend the licence at the Inishfarnard farm in Co Cork where it found “no provable breach” in “circumstances where evidential issues may arise as to what technically constitutes a smolt”.
The licence amendment is to “avoid a similar situation occurring in the future”, it states. Its inspector recommended discontinuing this licence.
Mr Creed declined to comment on the decisions.
Mowi/Marine Harvest said it was seeking legal advice and would comment further. It said it was “disturbed” by the fact that it had sought renewal and improvement of the Deenish licence back in 2007.
Environmental group Salmon Watch Ireland said it “welcomed the fact that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is doing its job”.
Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) welcomed the decision in relation to the Deenish fish farm in Co Kerry.
However, FIE spokesman Tony Lowes urged Mr Creed to reconsider his decision in relation to the two other fish farms, given the recommendations by the department’s own official.
The high levels of overstocking means that the pressures on the environment have not been assessed, as required by European and national law.
"The overstocking also undermines the department’s sea lice control, where the number of lice is based on samples taken multiplied by the number of fish licenced,” Mr Lowes said.
Mr Lowes said that a “failure to deal vigorously with significant breaches of licence conditions is a result of the conflict of interest within the department between its role as industry developer and as industry regulator”.
“The Government must reorganise the department so that the Marine Institute and the Sea Food Protection Authority are administered by a non-fisheries division of the department,” he said.