Welcome as BIM withdraw plans for huge fish farm

Local opponents have this week welcomed the withdrawal of plans by Bord Iascaigh Mhara to develop a massive 15,000 tonne fish farm close to Inis Oírr.

The organic salmon farm, which was planned for a site northeast of the smallest of the Aran Islands and would have been roughly the size of the island itself, will not go ahead following the publication of a new National Strategic Plan for Sustainable Aquaculture Development. The new strategy sets out an agreed scale limit for offshore salmon farms, capping their size to between 5,000 and 7,000 tonnes.

The strategy drawn up by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine follows extensive consultation and forms the basis for the drawdown of €30 million in EU funding dedicated to Irish aquaculture development over the next five years from the European Maritime Fisheries Fund.

BIM welcomed the publication of the new strategy on Monday, and confirmed that it will no longer be proceeding with its current application to the Department for an aquaculture licence for the Galway Bay salmon farm as a result of the new limit, along with the fact that applications cannot be altered while in the planning process.

“Taking account of the new policy framework, BIM has reviewed its work programme to match our activities against this new plan,” said Tara McCarthy, CEO of BIM. “The scaling of fish farms was one element that had to be addressed and we have taken swift and decisive action on that. We must now re-assess our delivery of this project in the context of the new operating environment and examine the operational and commercial impacts. This will take time and a significant amount of engagement and consultation.”

Ms McCarthy added: “It is important to note that €30 million of EU support has been earmarked to support Irish aquaculture over the next five years to deliver on growth targets set out in the Government Food Wise 2025 report. BIM’s focus for the period will be to continue to drive and explore new innovative technologies, lead sustainability programmes, and improve profitability for our producers to deliver against considerable market demand.”

Among those to welcome the withdrawal of the application was Galway West TD Derek Nolan, who said there were too many potential risks associated with such a large-scale operation.

“Fishing and angling is a really important industry in the west of Ireland and it is vital that the integrity of that industry is protected,” the Labour TD said. “This large scale fish farm had many uncertainties and risks associated with it, and could have had very negative environmental impacts. One issue which was repeatedly raised was the problem of sea lice and this could have seriously affected our wild salmon and sea trout stocks.

“There is a huge amount of local fisherman and fishing companies located in the region and their livelihoods must be protected, not threatened. Furthermore, the unique environment of the west of Ireland is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every single year who go there for the beautiful angling and fishing locations. If the wild stocks of fish were affected, we would have had a serious reputational problem.

“I am on the record as saying that granting this licence would jeopardise not only the environment, but also the entire fishing industry in the west of Ireland. I had communicated these concerns to Minister Simon Coveney and called on him to reject the application and protect the indigenous fishing industry, and the wider environment, in Galway Bay.”

Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh also welcomed the news, saying the project was doomed from the beginning as it did not have the support of the local community. “This fish farm was totally unacceptable in one of Ireland’s premier tourist spots, and the failure to take on board concerns of the local community meant the process was flawed,” said the Sinn Féin candidate in Galway West – South Mayo.

“It is hard to understand how it took BIM so long to withdraw this application. What we need is a clear and sustainable policy for the development of aquaculture in Ireland. This must be done to the highest possible standards and I would like to see particular emphasis placed on the need to look at enclosed onshore models for fish farming. Our coastal resources must be developed in a way that will benefit and include the local communities where they are found.”

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