The Irish seafood national programme 2007-13 is a framework programme under the national development plan covering supports to the seafood sector that are not co-funded by the EU. Most support to the seafood sector is co-funded by the European fisheries fund and is covered by the Seafood development programme 2007-13.
Financial supports for the construction, installation and modernisation of aquaculture enterprises are provided by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, and Údarás na Gaeltachta through the commercial aquaculture development scheme. This scheme was originally part of the Irish seafood national programme, but was moved into the co-funded seafood development programme in 2012 as part of a revision of that programme following its 2011 interim evaluation.
As part of the original development of both programmes, a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, was conducted. During the course of the public consultation on that SEA, the central and regional fisheries boards, now Inland Fisheries Ireland, raised concerns about the possibility of sea lice emanating from salmon farms negatively affecting migrating wild salmon. The Minister for Communication, Energy and Natural Resources supported these concerns.
Rather than delay the finalisation of the programmes, it was agreed to exclude marine salmon farms from financial support under the Irish seafood national programme until such time as the sea lice issue has been satisfactorily resolved. This temporary restriction on development grants was included in the text of the Irish seafood national programme, on page 99. There is no restriction on the development of the salmon farming sector itself.
With the transfer of the commercial aquaculture development scheme into the co-funded seafood development programme in 2012, the text of that programme was amended to provide for the continuation of the temporary restriction on financial support to the marine salmon farming sector. The temporary restriction was also included in the eligibility criteria approved earlier this year for the 2013 call for applications under the commercial aquaculture development scheme. The temporary restriction, therefore, remains in place. It remains intact because there are ongoing discussions between my Department and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on this issue.
The European Commission has been very clear that it now accepts that the systems in place in Ireland to control sea lice and salmon farms are probably the best anywhere in Europe. As far as we are concerned, the sea lice issue is no longer significant. However, we need to convince our colleagues in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the IFI that this is the case. If and when this is achieved, we will remove the restriction.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The Irish seafood national programme included a table specifying targeted increases in production by 2015 for the main aquaculture species, including salmon. Owing to the temporary restriction on financial support to the marine salmon farming sector, arising from the SEA, the programme acknowledged that the targeted increase in production of salmon would be adversely affected by the absence of development support. As that temporary restriction remains in place, the targeted increase in production of salmon continues to be affected. My Department’s policy on sea lice controls is strictly evidence based. The control protocols are operated by the Marine Institute on behalf of the State and are more advanced than those operated in other jurisdictions for the following reasons: the inspection regime is totally independent of the industry, data obtained as a result of inspections are published and treatment trigger levels are set at a low level.
In 2008, the State introduced a new pest-management strategy, supplementing the control regime already in place. This has resulted in a steady decline in average sea lice numbers on farmed salmon since its inception. The protocols have been the subject of detailed investigation and testing by the EU Commission in response to a complaint from a member of the public in respect of the effects of sea lice on wild salmon. On 11 October 2012, the Commission closed its investigation of this complaint in the State's favour following its examination of all relevant matters. The Commission has also indicated that it regards the sea lice protocols operated in Ireland as representing best practice internationally.