Irish government departments in a standoff over salmon farm regulation

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A rift has emerged between Ireland’s Minister for the Environment, Eamon Ryan, and Minister for the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, over the country’s aquaculture licensing regime.

“Our current regulatory system for aquaculture is giving rise to ongoing detrimental and unsustainable impacts on wild fish stocks particularly salmonids,” Ryan said in a letter to McConalogue.

“The vast weight of peer-reviewed and published scientific studies, both in Ireland and internationally, demonstrate clearly that the undeniable detrimental impacts of sea lice emanating from fish farms on the survival of wild salmonids is unacceptably high and is a significant factor in the decline of wild stocks,” he added.

In the letter, Ryan called for “an urgent requirement to mitigate, within aquaculture policy, the threat of introgression from escaped farmed fish with wild fish and the very real detrimental impacts on the genetic integrity, fitness, life cycle and from competition for habitats and food.”

McConalogue rebuffed the criticism from Ryan, claiming that the current regulatory system “is fully compliant with all of the State’s obligations in relation to the environment” Officials take the “fullest consideration of all potential environmental impacts in advance of any decision to grant an aquaculture licence,” McConalogue added.

Specifically on the issue of sea lice, McConalogue was clear that the country’s monitoring of sea lice has been recognised by the European Commission as “representing best practice.”

“There is an absence of clear evidence exclusively linking sea lice with high mortality rates,” McConalogue said, dismissing Ryan’s claims for failing to cite specific studies and claiming that the actual impact of sea lice on wild salmonids “is not fully quantified.”

McConalogue added that “the inspection regime is totally independent of the industry, data obtained from these inspections is published and made widely available, and treatment trigger levels are set at a low level.”

The letters were obtained by Salmon Watch Ireland via a Freedom of Information Request. The group has been calling for an overhaul of the salmon farm licensing regime, with the group’s directing claiming it shows “an astonishing difference of opinion between two Government departments.”

In its response, the Marine Institute stated that it “is fully engaged in the process of providing scientific advice as part of the regulatory system in place in the licensing of aquaculture. The function of this is to develop the aquaculture industry in a sustainable way.”