Written Answers. - Aquaculture Development.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

179 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed regarding the impact of mussel farming sites on Lough Swilly; if he will consider the imposition of a moratorium on further acquaculture licensing on fin fish or shellfish, until an independent scientific study has been completed and the environmental impact to all stakeholders fully assessed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14608/02]

There has been an extensive public campaign by lobby groups, in opposition to the further development of aquaculture in Lough Swilly. While the campaign gives the impression that Lough Swilly is overwhelmed by aquaculture, the reality is that this is far from being the case. The surface area of Lough Swilly is 15,400 hectares and the total water of the lough which, on average, exceeds 2 billion tonnes, is changed every two days or so by tidal movements. To date, the total area licensed for intensive aquaculture such as salmon farming, rope culture of mussels or the growing of oysters in bags on trestles amounts to just over 1% of the surface area of the lough. In addition approximately 7.5% of the area of the lough is licensed for the bottom culture of mussels, a traditional and unobtrusive method of cultivating shellfish that does not require any equipment in or on the water and, therefore, has no visual impact. Most of the licences date from the 1980s and to date there has been no evidence of adverse consequences arising from this aquaculture.

This means that more than 91% of the area of the lough is entirely free of aquaculture and the vast majority of it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. The few remaining licence applications currently on hand, which amount to no more than about 280 hectares in total, are being considered on their merits, within the legal framework governing the licensing of aquaculture and with no prior commitment to licensing any or all of them.

Carefully focused research can yield valuable information with regard to the interactions between aquaculture and the environment. In recognition of this, it is already a mandatory requirement that a detailed environmental impact assessment be carried out in respect of all salmon farming projects, the only aquaculture which involves artificial feeding anywhere in Irish waters. Only one such project exists in Lough Swilly and has existed for decades without evidence of adverse impact.
It should also be noted that all licence applications are subject to public consultation. In addition to canvassing the views of the public, applications are also scrutinised by specified statutory consultees including, amongst others, An Taisce, Dúchas, Bórd Fáilte, the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the Central and appropriate Regional Fisheries Board and the relevant local authority and harbour authority. The broad range of responsibilities and expertise which the statutory consultees bring to this process ensures that all aspects of proposals to engage in aquaculture are given due consideration and that possible impacts are clearly identified before a decision is reached on whether or not to grant a licence.
Beyond the safeguards built into the licensing process, the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board provides a fully independent review of licensing decisions. Any party who is still dissatisfied is entitled to seek a judicial review of a licensing decision within three months thereof.
In view of the detailed scrutiny to which aquaculture proposals are subjected, I do not believe that the imposition of a moratorium on the licensing of aquaculture in Lough Swilly would be justified. I understand, however, that the Save the Swilly Group has commissioned a scoping study for an integrated coastal zone management – ICZM – strategy for Lough Swilly. This study will be carefully considered by my Department, when it has been completed.