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.