The Salmon Farm Monitor
Guest Column, September 2004
Save The Swilly's members were sceptical, after the failure of successive objections and appeals against the onslaught by the fish farmers on the hunter/gatherers (commercial fishermen and anglers) and other legitimate stakeholders. But they decided to follow the appeals route anyway, and also submitted a petition with 10,000 signatures to the European Petitions Committee calling for the introduction of an integrated coastal zone management system in Lough Swilly.
In December 2003, a group of six appellants successfully appealed to the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board (ALAB) the award of a 90-acre salmon-farming licence to Marine Harvest Ireland. There remained one channel of counter-appeal for the company, a Judicial Review of that decision. The window for the Judicial Review application duly closed, with no action from the company.
Given the fact that the company decided to forego its right to challenge the ALAB decision in the High Court, it is puzzling that the licensing authority seems to have given its blessing to yet another attempt at a licence in the same location, Dooanmoore. Is it the case that ALAB temporarily forgot its real role, to usher through the decisions of the Minister? That may seem cynical, but prior to the Dooanmore decision the only salmon-farming licence to be overturned (in Inver Bay, Co. Donegal) by the Appeals Board resulted from an appeal against the licence by the Irish Salmon Growers Association and the three existing fish farms in the bay concerned. Curiously, the key ground for that appeal was cross-contamination between the farms in the bay!
STS's belief is that the Irish government is paranoid about coastal zone management, largely because it does not wish to engage in a genuine debate about the optimal use of resources. Evidence suggests that policy in rural Ireland is driven primarily by available European Union (EU) grant funding. For example, pier developments to support inshore fishermen are put on the back-burner, while grants totalling millions of euro are awarded to mussel dredgers and Pacific oyster farmers.
Any project requiring funding from the central government (such as inshore fishing, tourist amenities, satellite broadband) is typically rejected in favour of projects (such as aquaculture) where up to 75% of funding can be sourced from the EU. Europe's notorious inability to connect the dots, meanwhile, has Ireland receiving huge handouts for developing aquaculture, while at the same time facing serious charges in the European Court of Justice for granting aquaculture licences within Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protected Areas and other habitats without due care. Go figure!
Consequently, the salmon-farming industry in Ireland clearly believes it has little need to justify or explain its activities as long as it can make the case for job creation or, in the more insidious iteration of that argument, job protection. In other words, "give us our licence or jobs will be lost". This is especially evocative in areas where manufacturing jobs have been declining for years.
Save The Swilly has put its money, or more accurately the funds derived from public contributions, to work in advancing the cause of integrated coastal zone management. At considerable cost, the group commissioned an independent "Scoping Study for an ICZM strategy for Lough Swilly", conducted by the Coastal Studies Research Group at the University of Ulster. In essence, what Save The Swilly offered to the Irish Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources was a road-map to peace on our shores.
The subsequent silence has been deafening. Conflicting interests have mushroomed since the Irish Government de facto designated Lough Swilly as an aquaculture bay. Among these have been the serious marine safety risk posed to fishermen and leisure craft by long-line mussel operations, whose flotation buoys tend to break away in moderate seas and drift in the navigation channel; aggressive dredging by bottom-culture mussel farmers who have destroyed significant tracts of indigenous oyster ground; and the continuing decline in salmon and sea-trout stocks, causes of which are never attributed officially to sea-lice emanating from salmon farms.
While the multinationals and their patrons in the Irish government and the civil service doggedly pursue their grant-mining activities, the traditional fishing communities are fed on the scraps from the fulsome EU grant table. Groups such as Save The Swilly will not go away, as long as the injustices of Irelandís sub-letting of its marine resource to the fish farmers continue.