Unless vital questions over sea lice, contamination of fish stocks, and issues of employment are addressed openly and publicly, the public cannot have any confidence in decisions made about the controversial fish farm for Galway Bay.
This is the view of Fine Gael Galway West TD Seán Kyne, who was speaking in Dáil Éireann this week about the proposal by Bord Iascaigh Mhara to locate a salmon fish farm in Galway Bay, off Inis Óirr.
BIM submitted an application to the Department of Agriculture last year for an aquaculture licence for the fish farm. The application, and its accompanying environmental impact statement, is being considered under the Fisheries (Amendment ) Act 1997 and the Foreshore Act 1933.
The public consultation period produced more than 410 submissions and there are widespread concerns over the potential impact of the fish farm on the environment, fish stocks tourism, angling, and employment in Galway.
Opposition to the project has been raised by a number of Galway politicians, An Taisce, and has so far culminated in last Saturday’s mass protest rally in Galway, attended by an estimated 2,000 people.
In the Dáil this week, Dep Kyne called on the Minister of Agriculture Simon Coveney to address these concerns by publishing BIM’s responses to queries over the environmental impact of the proposed fish farm and material relating to scientific research on fish farms in general.
Dep Kyne has made his call following contradictory information entering the public domain on the issue.
“BIM states that 90 per cent of salmon smolts from river catchment travel along the coastline up to the north Atlantic, yet local angling groups and the Inland Fisheries Ireland state that 90 per cent of the same salmon smolts swim deep into Galway Bay,” he said. “Which piece of advice is the correct one?”
Dep Kyne said this underlines the case for making “all the scientific data is available” as the public “need to know what is correct before any decision is made”.
“People should be confident that everything can be examined in a transparent manner,” he said. “If people have the information as well as all the responses, they would be better able to judge whether all the facts were there and, if so, whether they were correct.”
One of the major concerns relates to th eeffect sea lice would have on native salmon and trout smolts in the An Spidéal, Cashla, Costello, Kilcolgan, Clarinbridge, and Corrib river systems.
“Connemara and Galway are renowned for their angling, with Lough Corrib being the largest lake in the Republic,” said Dep Kyne. “It is a hugely important industry for us. Sea lice would have devastating effects on wild salmon, as they account for up to 39 per cent of salmon mortalities according to recent peer-reviewed international scientific literature.”
According to BIM, the fish farm could generate more than €100 million in exports a year and create 350 direct jobs and 150 indirectly in the service sector. Dep Kyne questioned these assertions. He said the farm could cause job losses in the recreational angling and tourism sector “if the development proceeds without adequate environmental protections being in place”.
Dep Kyne has now called on Minister Coveney to publish the responses from BIM to his department with regard to the queries and concerns of local groups.
In reply, Minister Coveney said he asked BIM to investigate the creation of new fish farming production areas for deeper waters to “ensure there is no significant environmental or visual impact, and no interference with migratory salmonids, wild sea fisheries, navigation or tourism interests".
He said all aspects of the Galway application are being examined by his department in conjunction with its scientific, engineering, technical and legal advisers and that he will make a decision accordingly on foot of that information.
The minister said that following his decision, any member of the public, or organisation, will have an option to appeal it.