Seanad Éireann - Volume 136 - 02 June, 1993
Adjournment Matters. - Annagh Bay (Mayo) Fish Farming.
Mr. Burke Mr. Burke
Mr. Burke: I welcome the Minister to the House and I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter on the Adjournment. I wish to raise the introduction of fish cages off the coast of Achill, north of Blacksod. Initially, there was an application for a licence to rear  300,000 smolts but this was revised downwards to 30,000 smolts. The Minister recently granted the licence despite the strong opposition of local organisations, Erris Tourism Organisation and the North-Western Fisheries Board.
These are virgin waters. The people of the area are very annoyed because the Owenwee river is probably one of the finest salmon rivers in the world and attracts fishermen from all parts of Europe. The Erris area relies heavily on tourism and fishing, particularly trout and salmon fishing. It would be a pity if the granting of a licence to rear smolts on the mouth of Blacksod Bay were in any way to endanger the livelihoods of people who are totally reliant on tourism in what is one of the most remote areas of the EC. They would very much appreciate a visit by the Minister to see for himself its unspoilt waters. Only a few years ago a major lice infestation destroyed other waters not far from the area. Local people will fight all the way against the granting of this licence.
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. G. O'Sullivan) Gerry O'Sullivan
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. G. O'Sullivan): I am glad to have the opportunity to clarify the background to this particular proposal.
The position is that Clare Island Seafarm Limited, Cloghmore, Achill, County Mayo, applied in August 1992 for the licensing of a long term fallowing site at Annagh Bay, Achill Sound, County Mayo. The proposed site would be used to locate the company's annual intake of smolts from March to October each year and is an integral part of the company's overall strategy to maintain its high quality of production and to minimise the risk of disease. Fallowing techniques and the use of separate sites for each generation of fish are now internationally accepted fishfarm management strategies for improved husbandry and survival rates. The scientific sea trout working group in its report published earlier this year recommended that following strategies should be encouraged as part of the efforts to  reduce and eliminate sea lice levels on salmon farms.
An expert working group on fallowing was subsequently set up under the aegis of the Department to recommend on fallowing policy and guidelines for implementation of following proposals. The work of this group, which will report to the Minister shortly, will be complemented by regional assessments of concrete proposals for fallowing sites in specific locations in 1994 and beyond. This assessment process will bring together local fisheries interests, fishery boards and local fish farmers, as well as scientific and administrative personnel of the Department. The objective is to ensure that each proposed fallowing site is assessed for its suitability from all relevant perspectives and that the consultative process takes full account of local factors and concerns.
I am confident that this approach will be critical to the process of identifying and agreeing selected locations for fallowing sites, in other words, that the acknowledged consensus in relation to the principle of fallowing can be translated into consensus on practical implementation of that strategy at local level.
I can advise the Senator that decisions in relation to the Annagh Bay fallowing proposal for 1994 and beyond will be contingent upon the findings of the fallowing group. The proposal will also be assessed further as part of the localised process for agreeing fallowing sites, which I have outlined. The company has been so advised as has the fishery board and other local interests.
Implementation of a comprehensive fallowing strategy by Clare Island Seafarm is obviously dependent on identifying a suitable site at which to locate smolt intake for a portion of the year prior to transfer to the company's main production site for on growing. As part, therefore, of the fallowing site assessment process, the company has sought permission to locate a single cage containing no more than 10,000 smolts at the site during the summer and autumn months of this year. The practical experience  gained from this pilot project and the results of ongoing monitoring of performance on site could be used to inform the fallowing group's assessment of the longer term suitability of the site.
The proposal for a small scale pilot project was considered by the Aquaculture Licence Vetting Committee. All aquaculture proposals are examined by the Aquaculture Licence Vetting Committee — ALVC — a multi-disciplinary committee representing the scientific, technical and marine survey areas of the Department as well as the Central Fisheries Board. The task of the committee includes the assessment of the potential effects of proposals on the water body and on the fish and shellfish life in the area on the basis of environmental data furnished. The ALVC recommended in favour of granting permissions for a small scale pilot project over the coming months, subject to rigorous environmental and fish husbandry monitoring requirements.
The company was subsequently advised that temporary permissions for the pilot project had been approved and would be subject to the following conditions: the permissions will expire on 30 November 1993, at which date the cage and any stock are to be removed from site; the permissions will be subject to ongoing water quality testing and monitoring of general performance at the site; independent monitoring of sea lice levels at the site will be undertaken by the Salmon Research Agency. The parameters and frequency of monitoring will be laid down by the Department. This monitoring will have particular regard to lice loadings at the site and in the event of unacceptable lice loadings occurring the cage and stock will be removed from the site; the cage and stock will be removed in the event of water quality results or general performance at the site not meeting with the conditions and standards set by the Department; and all instructions issued by the Department at any stage of the rearing trial must be complied with.
I cannot over-emphasise the contribution which aquaculture, both finfish  and shellfish husbandry, has made to local and national economies, particularly in the crucial area of job creation. At present, in excess of 2,600 people are directly employed in aquaculture. This represents a five fold increase since 1982 and highlights the great potential for substantial jobs in this young industry. In employment terms, this represents only part of the picture as many more employment opportunities are created in downstream activities such as processing, marketing, transport and services.
The bulk of aquaculture operations are located on the west coast where there are few alternative sources of employment. The Clare Island operation is a particularly good example of the way in which aquaculture enterprise can contribute to the renewal of local communities. In this context the House will appreciate the contribution Clare Island Seafarm is making in terms of jobs to the local economy of the island providing, as it does, full-time employment for up to 25 people.
I would stress that neither the pilot project nor the longer term fallowing proposal involves any increase in the licensed level of production for the salmon farm operation.
I would also stress that to date the permissions have not been issued, and no cage or smolts have been placed in Annagh Bay, pending the company's formal acceptance of the conditions and finalisation of the monitoring arrangements. A cage with no smolts in it is being placed in the bay to test the water type.
I accept the Senator's invitation to visit that area.
Mr. Burke Mr. Burke
Mr. Burke: We would be glad if the Minister of State would visit the island.
Seanad Éireann 136 Adjournment Matters. Annagh Bay (Mayo) Fish Farming.