When two State bodies publicly disagree on the environmental impact of a major commercial project – and one of those bodies is promoting the development – the Government should order a comprehensive review. Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) wants to build an enormous salmon farm in Galway Bay*. But Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) has claimed the accompanying environmental impact statements are inadequate or deeply flawed.
BIM is promoting the project on the grounds that it will add more than 300 jobs to the local economy. Objectors challenge these figures and compare them to much lower employment levels in Scotland. Local anglers, fishery owners, hoteliers, tourism interests and islanders oppose the development because of the impact it may have on the environment and on threatened stocks of sea trout and salmon.
A failure to conduct baseline studies of salmonoid stocks and sea lice, before cages were first introduced to sheltered bays, was a major mistake. When wild stocks crashed, basic information was lacking. This development would produce more salmon than all other Irish farms combined. The IFI has urged that baseline studies of species under threat or critically endangered be conducted. It has challenged conclusions issued by BIM; identified information gaps and raised important questions about the location of holding cages and the effects a mass escape could have on wild fish.
The Pescanova experience from the late 1970s offers a cautionary tale. At that time, BIM promoted the interests of a Spanish company in the expectation of extensive local processing. Large grants and fishing rights under the Irish quota were provided. But the promised jobs did not materialise and fish ended up in Spain. In this instance, a Norwegian company would avoid EU rules on salmon dumping and create jobs. But at what cost to existing employment and the environment? The Government should not be rushed into a hasty decision.
* This article was amended on February 18th to correct an error.