Marine agency rejects critique of sea lice data

Research on environmental impact of fish farm parasite defended by institute

The Marine Institute says it stands over the work of its scientists, following renewed criticism by Inland Fisheries Ireland and several environmental groups regarding its research on the impact of sea lice emanating from fish farms .

Editors of two international scientific journals have also defended publication of the institute’s work, with both stressing that papers are always anonymously peer reviewed.

IFI and environmental groups including An Taisce, Friends of the Irish Environment and No Salmon Farms at Sea have criticised papers by institute scientist Dr Dave Jackson and colleagues in several journals – the most recent being in Agricultural Sciences which suggested no correlation between fish farming and wild salmon stocks.

The paper published in late June concluded that pollution and the quality of freshwater habitats, rather than fish farms, was the “key driver” in the status of wild salmon stocks here.


However, a recent critique by scientists from Canada, Norway and Scotland, led by Martin Krkosek of University of Toronto's department of ecology and evolutionary biology, published in the Journal of Fish Diseases, argues that the institute work has three "fundamental errors".

The commentary states that sea lice is estimated to cause a 30 per cent loss of wild Atlantic salmon, rather than the institute’s estimate of a 1 per cent mortality rate. A similar low mortality rate had been found in separate research in Norway.

'Controversial plans'
An Taisce has claimed that the critique means the institute study is "scarcely worth the paper it is written on" and has accused it of "propping up Bord Iascaigh Mhara's controversial plans" for "vast and intensive fish farms off the coast". BIM has applied for a 15,000-tonne organic fish farm in Galway Bay.

Friends of the Irish Environment has called on Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney to “investigate the Marine Institute’s scientific expertise”, while Salmon Watch Ireland said that the research had “appeared in an obscure journal with no track record of publishing material on sea lice or salmon”, and claimed the institute paid for the publication.

However, in a robust defence, the institute said the paper in question was published in a special edition of Agricultural Sciences dedicated to aquaculture and fisheries.

The agency said the journal was “open access”, allowing students and the public to download quality scientific research free and that it supported this concept.

“The Marine Institute does not pay to publish in journals,” it said.

Independently reviewed
Agricultural Sciences charged only for the open access facility after an article had been independently peer reviewed and accepted for publication, it pointed out. And in this case the fee for "open access" to the paper was $600, or €450.

It said Dr Jackson, author of the paper in question, had published in about two dozen journals to date, including the Journal of Fish Diseases, Aquaculture, Fish Veterinary Journal, and Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK.

“The paper was independently reviewed, minor revisions were made and following this it was accepted for publication,” it said.

Prof Daniele de Wrachien, editor in chief of Agricultural Sciences, told The Irish Times that the journal's management was governed by an international editorial board. The publication had been indexed by several world databases and its rating or "impact factor", based on the ISI Web of Knowledge, was 0.19.

Journal of Fish Diseases editor Prof Ron Roberts downplayed the significance of publishing the Krkosek critique of Dr Jackson's work, stating that this option was "not uncommon in scientific publishing, and had a beneficial role in ongoing scientific debate".

The institute said that “in the normal course of events, when one scientific publication draws a contrary view or offers a critique of a published scientific paper, it would be for the author(s) of the original paper to consider, in due course, a response through the peer reviewed scientific literature.

“It would not be appropriate to respond through the media in the first instance,” it added.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times