Galway Bay fish farm plan in doubt under new guidelines

Bord Iascaigh Mhara awaiting ‘guidance’ from licensing body on project application

The Marine Institute has recommended that offshore salmon farms should be capped at production of 7,000 tonnes. Photograph: Getty Images/Hemera

The Marine Institute has recommended that offshore salmon farms should be capped at production of 7,000 tonnes. Photograph: Getty Images/Hemera

 

Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) plans for a 15,000-tonne offshore organic fish farm in Galway Bay are in doubt, following new size guidelines published by the Government.

The Marine Institute is recommending that offshore salmon farms should be capped at production of 7,000 tonnes, with an initial peak biomass of 5,000 tonnes, as part of new draft plans for aquaculture development.

Minister for Marine Simon Coveney, who has repeatedly said he is awaiting advice from the institute on licensing the Galway Bay project, said he would be “seeking stakeholder views” on all 24 actions and initiatives in the draft strategy.

He said he would be “considering all views” – including the proposed scale limits – before deciding if they were “ appropriate for inclusion in the final plan”.

BIM told The Irish Times it was seeking “communication and guidance from the licensing authority” on whether the limits will apply to its application submitted in 2012 for the farm off Inis Oírr.

It said it “notes with interest” the scaling guidelines which, it said, “may offer a route to achieving greater consensus among all marine stakeholders . . . on planned growth of the aquaculture sector in Ireland”.

“As the State agency responsible for the development of Ireland’s aquaculture industry, BIM will reflect these guidelines in any future aquaculture licence application or development initiatives it is involved in,” it said.

It said it “worked closely with the Marine Institute and [departmental] officials to ensure that the Galway Bay application was produced to the highest scientific standards and in accordance with all the legal procedures and requirements”.

It said the “key parameters associated with the project were agreed from the outset by all concerned” – including the department – and the application “continues to stand on its own merit from a scientific and technical point of view”.

BIM is also seeking a licence for a 5,000- tonne farm off Inishturk in Co Mayo.

Mr Coveney has come under increasing pressure from local politicians from from anglers’ groups opposed to the Galway Bay project.

In January, Mr Coveney said a decision would be made “as soon as possible”, and forecast “significant progress” would be made this year in progressing some 600 aquaculture license applications.

Irish Farmers’ Association aquaculture executive Richie Flynn said solving licensing was an “absolute priority for the future of the industry”.

He said the European Commission would not sign off on Ireland’s €241 million-euro operational programme for seafood development until the licensing backlog was addressed.

Mr Coveney said he was “not aware of any communication from the European Commission linking their consideration and ultimate adoption of that operational programme with aquaculture licensing timescales in Ireland”.

The draft plan, which is seeking comments by July 24th, sets a target of increasing aquaculture production by 45,000 tonnes by 2023, citing 2012 figures for output of 36,700 tonnes, valued at €138 million.

It said the “current seafood trade deficit for the EU is estimated by the OECD at €16 billion per annum, which is plainly unsustainable from an economic perspective”.