Charges against Wrights of Howth are dismissed


CHARGES AGAINST a seafood company that it misleadingly labelled as “wild” packets of salmon for sale have been dismissed by the Dublin District Court.

Judge Ann Watkin said she was satisfied Wrights of Howth, Galway Ltd, had offered for sale packets of salmon labelled “Irish smoked wild salmon” at Dublin airport in April 2007 which contained salmon that had been bred and raised in cages to the point of harvesting and had been owned by someone.

“However, I am not satisfied I have sufficient evidence in this case that the salmon was farmed within the meaning of the Act.”

She said because the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) had, in its charge against Wrights of Howth and two of its directors, specified the salmon had been “in fact farmed...they must prove it was farmed within the definition of the Act”.

Referring to European Council Regulation 1198/2006 on the European Fishery Fund, she said the FSAI had not proved salmon bred and grown “generally” in Irish “fish farms” were cultivated using techniques that would identify them as “farms” under the terms of the regulation.

Fish farming, or aquaculture, in the regulation is defined as “the rearing or cultivation of aquatic organisms using techniques designed to increase the production of the organisms beyond the natural capacity of the environment”.

She said she was “impressed” by the FSAI’s argument that according to Irish regulations salmon for sale must be identified as having been caught at sea, in an inland waterway or farmed, and that the salmon in the packets seized at the airport in April 2007 was caught neither at sea nor inland. She said this was a “very compelling argument”.

Earlier, the court heard the 24 packets of salmon taken randomly by FSAI compliance officers from the Wrights outlet at Dublin airport constituted 90 per cent of the stock available on the day in April 2007. The packets contained salmon from 22 separate fish.

Eileen Dillane, an expert in fish genetics at University College Cork, carried out DNA tests on samples from the 22 fish. She told the court all 22 samples showed the fish were of the Fanad strain, a salmon derived from Norwegian salmon. This was “the most widely used Atlantic strain Irish fish-farms use and very easily differentiated from Irish wild fish”.

Dr Phil McGinity, a fishery scientist for 18 years with the Marine Institute, said fish could escape from a fish-farm into the wild but regular inspections of commercial catches by the institute showed between about four to eight farmed fish per 1000 wild were appearing in hauls. The chances of every one of the 22 fish sampled by Ms Dillane being of the Fanad strain if they had been caught at sea were “many millions to one”.

Asked about a possible “catastrophic event” where many thousands of fish might escape from a farm just as a trawler was passing and then caught at sea, he said no major escape had been reported in recent years and farms were obliged to report such escapes to renew their licences.

Judge Watkin awarded costs to Wrights of Howth, Galway Ltd.

It was unclear yesterday whether the FSAI would seek a judicial review.