Aran residents express concern about storm threat to planned fish farm

Oireachtas sub-committee visits Inis Oírr to present report on sustainable communities

Wed, Jan 15, 2014, 01:00

Residents on the Aran Island of Inis Oírr have questioned how the proposed fish farm for Galway Bay could have survived the recent hurricane force winds and Atlantic surges which hit the west coast.

The issue was raised during presentation of an Oireachtas sub-committee report on Inis Oírr yesterday on sustaining coastal communities, which calls for a “clear community dividend” for any “new major aquaculture and marine energy projects”.

‘Controlled’ return
The report also calls for single governance of the marine sector, similar to the Marine Scotland agency across the water, and a “controlled” return to commercial fishing for wild salmon if stocks recover.

Fine Gael TD Andrew Doyle and members of the all-party Oireachtas sub-committee on fisheries flew out to the island to outline their vision for the survival of coastal and island communities, after a series of consultations over the past year.

The delegation was asked to ensure that any change to policy was backed up by practical action, including addressing the need for a proper pier, for maintenance of the island’s air service, currently under review, and adequate funding to address weather damage.

The force of the storms was such that waves broke over the Plassey shipwreck, tore into the lighthouse, knocked stone walls, ripped up roads and killed eels when a freshwater lake was engulfed. Tonnes of boulders coughed up by the swell are still scattered across the island’s main beach, Trá Inis Oírr, and island co-op manager Paddy Crowe described how waves reached the coffee shop, Café an Trá, during the peak swell.

The delegation said proper management of aquaculture, inshore fishing, sea angling, marine tourism and seaweed cultivation could contribute to “vibrant coastal and island areas”.

Initiation of “heritage licences” to allow for traditional fishing practices, and a possible ban on boats over 10 metres fishing within the 12-mile limit are among its 29 recommendations to Government.

The committee has not adopted any position on the 15,000-tonne fish farm which Bord Iascaigh Mhara is seeking a licence for off the island, but chairman Andrew Doyle said surprise was expressed in Scotland at the ambitious scale of the project when he made a fact-finding visit there last year.

Labour TD for Clare Michael McNamara said on a personal level, he was “not convinced” about the merits of the project.

The committee’s report does recommend that finfish aquaculture projects be licensed to the “world’s highest environmental standards” and structures created to allow for some form of local ownership.

The report also says the Government and industry should not “focus unduly” on one or two species, but should allow for diversification to “curb risks associated with such aquaculture projects”. Independent TD for Donegal Thomas Pringle highlighted the report’s call for provision of reliable data for inshore fisheries, and the need to develop a management structure for the inshore sector.