Waves such as those which lashed the west coast last week would have destroyed the proposed fish farm in the bay and caused serious ecological damage to the wild salmon gene pool, opponents to the project have claimed this week.
In the wake of the storms which wrought havoc on coastal areas throughout Galway city and county, concerns have intensified over locating a giant salmon fish farm in Galway Bay, a move critics say could be “uninsurable” and “severely effect the wild salmon gene pool”.
Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages - made up of anglers, hoteliers, guest house owners, and environmentalists - and Salmon Watch Ireland, have described An Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s proposal to locate a 1,126 acre, 15,000 tonne, open caged salmon fish farm off Inis Óirr, a danger to the wild salmon stock and a future storm hazard.
Niall Greene of Salmon Watch Ireland told the Galway Advertiser that the proposed farm would be at severe risk from high waves. He noted that the Environmental Impact Statement for the farm said swells of between 1 and 3m in Galway Bay “would be uncommon”, but the recent storms saw wave heights of between 12 and 15m (40 to 50ft).
Billy Smyth, the chair of GBASC, believes the proposed farm would have been “completely destroyed” and “resulted in the loss of €70 million”, with stocks of farmed salmon washed up dead on shores or escaping into the wild and “severely affecting the wild salmon gene pool” had the farm been in place at the time of the storms.
Independent Connemara councillor Thomas Welby has also raised similar concerns.
“The recent storm was extremely violent in the area proposed for the farm,” he said. “That should cause alarm for BIM. Local knowledge would agree a fish farm would not have survived the storm.”
GBASC feels the storms also raise questions over whether such a farm could be insurable.
“As the Government would own the licence for the proposed salmon farm, would it also be the insurer of the proposed salmon farm?” asked Mr Smyth. “If that would turn out to be the case, the tax payer would have to foot the bill.”
Before Christmas the EU re-opened an investigation on the proposed farm following claims of “fundamental errors” in the analysis of key papers by the Marine Institute in Oranmore regarding the threat posed by sea lice to wild salmon; allegation that information from Inland Fisheries Ireland on the scale and damage caused to wild fish from lice was withheld by the Department of Agriculture; and perceived refusals by the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to answer questions in the Dáil.
The re-opening of the investigation has led many to think the matter is now closed and that no salmon farm will go ahead, but it remains a live issue, with a decision expected from the EU in the early spring.
GBASC and SWI have re-iterated their opposition to the proposed farm, with Niall Greene of saying the basis on which the farm is proposed is “fundamentally flawed”.
“The Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed farm is seriously deficient in key areas,” said Mr Greene. “It relies on a narrow interpretation of sea lice; escapee salmon from the farms that are genetically distinct from wild salmon and which could affect wild salmon stocks; the treatments used on such farms; and the environment in which such cages operate.”
Mr Greene has called into question the Marine Institute’s claim that the percentage of wild salmon killed by sea lice is “one per cent”.
“Scientists believe the impact of sea lice on juvenile salmon may be as high as 40 per cent,” he said. “Recently the Norwegian government ordered the culling of two million farmed salmon infested with sea lice which had also become resistant to treatment. The reason given for the culling was to protect migrating wild salmon smolts.
“Our opposition to the farm is about conservation. We are only getting three to four per cent of juveniles coming back as adults due to a mixture of climate change and sea lice. We can do nothing about what is caused by nature, but what is caused by humans we can do something about and such a fish farm will only further contribute to the decline of wild salmon.”
Meanwhile Cllr Welby is calling on Galway TDs and all local election candidates to “clearly outline their party policy” on the farm.
“Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have candidates, and potential candidates, heavily involved to the fish farm industry,” Cllr Welby said. “Because this project has the potential to wipe out the wild salmon stock it is vital the public know the policy of the political parties and the position of the local and national representatives.”