Enforced regulations needed to “stop salmon farms having such a significant impact on Irish rivers.”

Published by Eric Maher on

23 February 2017

The number of mature salmon returning to Irish rivers has continued to decrease despite the 2007 ban on driftnets. There is a very real threat that by the middle of this century there will be no exploitable salmon stocks of salmon available.

A lack of clear and enforced regulation and licencing over fish farming was cited as one of the reasons for this worrying downward trend.

Overstocking, increase in waste products polluting Irish waters and the creation of sea lice by salmon farms are just a few negative impacts they have on salmon numbers. They are other factors affecting the decline in the number of salmon in Irish rivers.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Niall Greene from Salmon Watch Ireland highlighted how salmon farms were, “very, very poorly regulated and there really is very little enforcement of the rules.”

Speaking at Salmon Watch Ireland’s conference, Minister of State with responsibility over inland fisheries, Seán Kyne also claimed to favour a closer look at land-based fish farms as part of a review of aquaculture licensing.

Friends of the Irish Environment’s Tony Lowes echoed Mr Greene’s and Mr Kyne’s sentiments in his presentation at the conference. However, he felt that for a review of aquaculture to be effective, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine must ensure there is no conflict of interest between relevant agencies within the department’s remit.

He referenced Lough Alton, a fish farm in Donegal, which was consistently in breach of their licence conditions and refused to implement changes for economic reasons.

Donegal County Council sought for their aquaculture licence to be rescinded for consistently breaching regulation and overstocking. However, Instead of having their licence revoked and being prosecuted, no legal action was taken and the company had their licence amended to allow for increased production.

They feared that the rescinding of the licence would have a “disproportionate commercial impact.” Economic factors outweighed environmental concerns. No assessment of the impact the licencing amendment would have on the environment was carried out and the Department admitted that they were unsure if they were, “equipped to carry out such an assessment.”

The case, Mr Lowes told the audience, demonstrated the need to review the process of licencing for aquaculture.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine’s policy on aquaculture is informed by The Marine Institute and Sea Fisheries Protection Authority’s scientific work. The Fisheries and Marine division, which are responsible for industry development, manage and operate their budget.

Mr. Lowes felt, “it [The Fisheries and Marine division’s control over the Marine Institutes and SFPA’s budget] perpetuates a real and perceived conflict of interest and enforces an inadequate separation of functions within the Department” and that “this situation has given rise to considerable public concern about the independence of these agencies.”

Friends of the Irish Environment are calling for an end to this conflict of interest within the department so that a review of aquaculture licences will be transparent and objective.

There are other reasons why salmon numbers are decreasing. Michael Healy-Rae claimed a cull on seals is needed to protect Ireland’s salmon population. The ISPCA, animal welfare groups and industry leaders were quick to point out that there was no evidence suggesting seals affect salmon numbers and that no action should be taken before an analysis of a report into their presence in Irish water is done.

Industry spokespersons are keen to stress that we should not be distracted from the effects of human impact on declining fish numbers in Irish waters. Dr. Ciaran Byrne from Inland Fisheries Ireland reported that they seized approximately 14 and a half kilometers of illegal net last year. One net alone was 900 metres long – twice the length of Grafton street.

[x_button shape=”square” size=”mini” float=”none” href=”https://www.friendsoftheirishenvironment.org/images/pdf/Impact_salmon_farms_published_-full_20.02.17.pdf” info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover”]Click to read Tom Lewes’ Presentation and Friends of the Irish Environment’s Licencing review suggestions[/x_button]

[x_button shape=”pill” size=”mini” float=”none” href=”http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/driftnet-ban-fails-to-save-atlantic-wild-salmon-1.2981020″ info=”none” info_place=”top” info_trigger=”hover”]Click to read more on the Salmon Watch Ireland conference[/x_button]

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Eric Maher

Eric Maher is a contributor to the Green News. He has a Masters in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama from UCD.