Gross overstocking and arrogance is revealed in two submissions to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries recommending the withdrawal of Marine Harvest’s salmon farming licences in Donegal and Cork.

The claim is based on two submissions to the Minister by the Principle Officer of the Department’s Aquaculture and Foreshore Division published by Friends of the Irish Environment at the Oral Hearing for a new salmon farm in Bantry Bay by Marine Harvest, the Norwegian multi-national that produces more than 80% of Ireland’s farmed salmon.

In the case of Donegal’s Lough Alton, which supplies 80% of Marine Harvest’s smolts, ‘by its own admission the company exceeded its stocking limitation by a significant degree (17%) for commercial reasons,’ the Report states.

‘Persistent’ requests for an action plan to address the breaches by Donegal County Council had been met with a refusal by the company who ‘cited economic reasons for not implementing the of treatment facilities which their current production rates would demand in order to achieve compliance’.

The Principle Officer states ‘It can be reasonably stated therefore that the company knowingly breached the terms and conditions of its licence to a substantial degree for clear commercial gain’.

At Inishfarnard in the Kenmare River Special Area of Conservation, gross overstocking has been recorded in the annual Department’s Fin Fish Farm Inspection Reports since 2012. An application for increased capacity was refused by the Minister in 2010 as ‘Such a major increase in stocking capacity would have to be the subject of a new licence application accompanied by the necessary Environmental Impact Statements’.

The Inishfarnard site, which is licensed to contain no more than 500 tons of fish, had a standing stock that was 26% above the permitted level before the input of 820,604 young fish in March 2014, this input itself being 105% in excess of the permitted level of 400,000 fish.

In response to this major non-conformity raised by Aquaculture Stewardship Council the company made no apology or commitment to meet the stocking requirements, simply stating ‘the current limit of 500 tons per annum would require harvest at 1.25 kg which is not a saleable size.’

Marine Harvest, the Norwegian multi-national that produces more than 80% of Ireland’s farmed salmon, called the licensing system ‘Anachronistic, legally and technically meaningless in its application to modern good farming practice’.

FIE published the reports as part of its presentation to the recent Oral Hearing of a number appeals against the company’s proposed new salmon farm in Bantry Bay. They told the Oral Hearing, held in Bantry earlier this month, that ‘an applicant who openly informs a licencing authority that he has no intention of meeting his licencing conditions is not a fit person to hold a licence’.

The consequences of this overstocking, according to the environmental group, are ‘that the pressures on the environment has 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 are based on samples taken multiplied by the number of fish licenced. If the site is overstocked by 105%, the number of lice will also be 105% higher than the recorded level.’

The detailed 20 page submissions were rejected by the Minister because of proportionality and the commercial consequences to the company.

However, the Principle Officer’s Submission addressed the issue of the commercial consequences:

‘While it can be argued that the development of the industry will be adversely affected by any sanction against the company, the overriding obligation of the department is to take action against the operator in accordance with the obligations set out in the legislation. Anything less will seriously undermine the State’s regulatory system in relation to Marine aquaculture. The long-term effect this would have on the regulation of the industry is as serious as it is obvious.’

FIE said that the 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 which creates an objective bias in the functioning of the Department.’

In separate submissions, they have urged the Government to ‘reorganise the Department so that the Marine Institute and the Sea Food Protection Authority are administered by a non-fisheries division of the Department. The necessary and appropriate checks and balances incumbent on the Department in the exercise of its functions is impossible under the current regime.’

According to FIE Director Tony Lowes, who made the presentations, the publication of the Reports in hard copy and electronically at the Oral Hearing was not covered by the local or national press present. Complementing the UK’s Sunday Times, which today is covering the story, Mr. Lowes said that ‘if the Washington Post was right in saying that ‘democracy dies in darkness’, our struggle to bring out the story shows that the lights have been truly extinguished by the Irish media’.

Read the astonishing reports

Marine Harvest Overstocking

  • No comments found
Add comment