Tourism interests, local fishermen and environmental acitivists were out in force recently when a licence for a major salmon farm off Shot Head in Bantry Bay was discussed, writes Brian Moore
MARINE Harvest Ireland’s bid to position a new 18-cage salmon farm just off Shot Head in Bantry Bay has been met with both local and national objections since 2012.
While a licence was awarded to the company to place the cages – which could accommodate up to one million fish – at Shot Head, an appeal to the Aquaculture Licences Appeal Board (ALAB) was launched by 14 different organisations, groups and individuals, who say that the new salmon farm will cause environmental, economic and social damage to Bantry Bay.
Five years on, Marine Harvest Ireland, representatives from the Department of Agriculture and the Marine, An Taisce, Friends of the Irish Environment, Save Bantry Bay, a number of national angling groups, as well as local fishermen and residents, all gathered at an oral appeals hearing in Bantry last week.
The hearing, chaired by Dr Owen McIntyre, senior law lecturer at UCC, got underway with Peter Sweetman, representing Save Bantry Bay (SBB), stating that the oral hearing was flawed.
‘This whole process is fundamentally flawed under European legislation,’ Mr Sweetman said.
‘The hearing is ruling out new scientific evidence published since the original appeals were lodged. This is contrary to an European directive on including such evidence.’
Mr Sweetman was joined in his protest by solicitor Alan Doyle for An Taisce, ‘The board has no power to limit the scope of this hearing, new evidence must be allowed. The public is effectively being shut out of the oral hearing process,’ Mr Doyle said.
Dr McIntyre said that no new written evidence would be allowed, but appellants may submit verbal evidence if this has not been circulated in written form beforehand.
After a short adjournment, called for by Save Bantry Bay, Breda O’Sullivan, representing the residents of Rooska on the Beara peninsula, addressed the hearing and outlined the concerns of her community.
‘Nobody wants this salmon farm here,’ Ms O’Sullivan told the board. ‘We have a very important tourist industry in our area. Most of our community depends on the income that holiday rentals provide, and having such a salmon farm just out there in the bay, not far from our shore, would have a devastating effect on our community,’ she claimed.
Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), represented by Paddy Gargan, outlined their concerns that the presence of a salmon farm in Bantry Bay would have a detrimental effect on the wild salmon stocks in the local rivers. ‘We believe that the environmental impact statement provided by Marine Harvest is inadequate when it comes to the problem of sea lice and the possibility of escaped farmed salmon entering the bay and the river systems,’ Mr Gargan said.
Mr Gargan went on to refer to the case in 2014 when over 230,000 farmed salmon escaped into the bay following a storm.
Mr Sweetman called for the representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to produce the report conducted into the escape of these farmed salmon.
However, John Quinlan, representing the Department of Fisheries, said that as the matter was before the courts and had nothing to do with Marine Harvestl his Department was awaiting the judgment in the case before commenting.
Tony Lowes from the Friends of the Irish Environment told the appeal that there was a clear conflict of interest when it came to issuing the licences.
‘This appeals board cannot rely on a licensing system in performing its statutory duty when the evident conflict of interest leads to an authority amending licences without assessment,’ Mr Lowes said.
Dr Jervis Good from the National Parks and Wildlife Service said that he had only heard of the oral hearing 24 hours before it was due to begin.
‘There is a possibility that the site chosen for the salmon farm could be designated a national heritage area in the future, and there have been a number of studies that show that there is a population of fresh water pearl mussels in the Dromagowlane River.
Any reduction in the numbers of wild salmon entering the river system will have an effect on these protected mussels,’ Dr Good said. Local fishermen who have fished for prawns, lobster and crab for generations, also outlined their concerns as the salmon farm’s 18 cages will be located in an area where they set their pots.
‘My family have fished these waters for three generations,’ Kieran O’Shea told the hearing. ‘‘For too long inshore fisherman have been ignored. At no time were the fishermen consulted by either the Department of the Marine or by the company planning to put the site here. We will be denied access to fishing grounds that we have fished for generations. From an economic, social and environmental standpoint, it makes little sense. There are four other families working the area and while we’re not in the area all year round, the salmon farm will create unnecessary environmental pressure on the fishing grounds.’
Alan Doyle said the application, as it stands, must be refused.
‘The information before the board is now out of date and because of the standard of information supplied by the developer (Marine Harvest), the application should be refused,’ Mr Doyle said.
Speaking for Marine Harvest Ireland, Dr Neil Bass began his submission by citing a report which was commissioned by Marine Harvest into the calibrated hydrodynamic modelling of currents at Shot Head.
This report looked at the dispersal rates of sea lice and other waste material produced if the salmon farm was placed in that location.
However, this immediately led to objections from both Save Bantry Bay and An Taisce, as they had seen the report. ‘We did not receive this report and as such we cannot hear evidence at this hearing that we are unable to comment on or contest,’ said Mr Sweetman. ‘Until we have had a chance to examine these documents, we cannot continue with this appeals hearing.’
Having consulted with other board members, Dr Owen McIntyre confirmed that ALAB did receive a copy of this report from Marine Harvest Ireland, but had not distributed it to the appellants. In view of this, Dr McIntyre said that these copies would now be circulated to all appellants and adjourned the hearing for a month.
Speaking to The Southern Star following the adjournment, a spokesperson for Marine Harvest Ireland said that the company was disappointed that it was unable to put its evidence before the hearing.
‘If the Department’s decision is upheld, the new site at Shot Head would vastly improve our Bantry Bay facilities by enabling improved rotation of the fish crop, creating a world-class operation in the Beara Peninsula which is what we’re about,’ the company’s technical manager Catherine McManus said.
‘There has been salmon farming in Bantry Bay since the 1970s, when local fishery interests first established the Roancarrig Salmon Farm and over the last 40 years salmon farming has become a successfully integrated part of the local community in the region,’ she added.