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Group Calls for Expert Assessment of Irish Sea Lice Policy

08 January 2013

IRELAND - The Save Bantry Bay group has wrote to Simon Coveney calling for him to hold true to his word and have the sea lice system tested. Until it is proven sea lice are not damaging wild salmon stocks Save Bantry Bay demand the current moratorium on the expansion of salmon farming must be continued.

While the pro-salmon farming lobby and government continue to argue sea lice have little impact on wild salmon populations, the scientific facts show in no uncertain terms that this is not the case. The three most comprehensive and relevant scientific papers recently published show that sea lice emanating from salmon farms cause anything from a 39 per cent, 44 per cent or even 50 per cent reduction in wild salmon populations.

Save Bantry Bay is therefore calling for the continuation of the moratorium in the current National Development Plan which states ‘The targets for increased productive capacity for salmon will now have to be deferred until after 2013 at the earliest as a result of the amendments made to this Programme… during the SEA process’. The concerns related to the negative impact of sea lice emanating from salmon farms on wild salmon, and were submitted by the former Central and Regional Fisheries Boards and supported by the Department of Communication, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR).

As the sea lice issue has not been resolved, Save Bantry Bay maintain that the moratorium must be continued until there is evidence to the contrary.

Save Bantry Bay also requests that the Minister examine the wider implications of the current sea lice policy. While, the salmon farming industry is only required to report on sea lice numbers, no monitoring is undertaken or record held by any government agency of salmon farm chemical use and emissions to the environment. Rather, when a request was made under the Access to Environmental Information Regulations to the Government for the chemical treatment data Save Bantry Bay was directed to the salmon farming companies themselves as the only body able to provide such information.

Chloe Neild, Save Bantry Bay Committee Member states: "For government to promote an industry with no understanding of its chemical emissions is deeply negligent, not just environmentally but also economically as sea lice treatments have detrimental impacts on valuable harvested species. The current policy is encouraging unprecedented use of chemicals, as all salmon farmers care about are their sea lice records. The salmon farmers themselves are openly telling us they treat much earlier than required to ensure lice numbers are kept right down."

"The situation is extraordinary," adds Tony Lowes, Save Bantry Bay Committee Member. "Every industrialist knows that if you own a factory, you have to account for everything that goes in and comes out," he says. "You can’t just emit waste into the air and sea. So why aren’t the rules the same for fish farming as for other industries?"

Despite this, the Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine continues to consider new applications for salmon farm licenses, including one for Europe’s largest salmon farm from the government agency BIM. Not only does this go against the current moratorium, it is also in contravention of the European Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) – the very bit of legislation that led to the moratorium in the first place.

"It’s time for the gold rush mentality within government departments and organisations to end," says Alec O’Donovan, Secretary of Save Bantry Bay. "Until a truly independent assessment of sea lice policy is undertaken with representation from all interested parties, the protests will continue. The science, the law and common sense all dictate that expanding salmon farming in Ireland without further assessment would be negligent and potentially devastating to our environment. Hopefully, officials will start to take notice now even the Taoiseach has voiced concern and requested these issues 'to be considered rationally' and that time be given for debate by planning authorities and those dealing with environmental regulations."

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