Written Answers. - Treatment of Sea Lice.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

49 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Marine if he condones the use of the unlicensed drug invermectin to remove lice at fish farming facilities, in particular facilities run by publicly owned bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

In so far as I have a function in this matter, it derives from my role as licensing authority for all fish farm operations governing their location, management, fish husbandry and production parameters. The use of all veterinary medical products is quite seperately regulated under legislation administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, while the National Drugs Advisory Board is the competent product licensing authority under EU and national legislation.

I am advised that Ivermectin is authorised and freely available worldwide for use in the livestock industry and indeed as an antiparasitic agent in human medicine with a record of safety. I am further advised that an application for its product authorisation as a fish medicine has not been lodged to date. I consider that on balance it would be a helpful development if evaluation of the compound's efficacy as a treatment for sea lice were continued and intensified with a view to proceeding towards a product licence application which could be considered by the relevant authorities. I would stress, however, that I have no direct influence in this process.

The extent to which there is responsible use of applied treatments and preventative medicine in fish management can be gauged by residue testing programmes of the final product. I am advised that in an ongoing programme of representative sample testing, using state of the art technology and to the strictest limits of detection, no threshold residues of Ivermectin have been found in samples of Irish farmed fish offered for sale. I am sure the Deputy is aware that Irish farmed salmon production is governed by a quality assurance scheme which lays down strict standards for husbandry, harvesting and withdrawal times for all treatments. As a result Irish farmed salmon enjoys the highest reputation in markets abroad.

I have every reason to believe that there is widespread, genuine support for the objective of minimising sealice levels at salmon farms through the use of effective treatments and other lice-eliminating measures. Such an approach has been strongly endorsed by the Sea Trout Task Force in its final report. New treatments are continually being devised although it is the case, as with all advances in veterinary and human medicine, that the process of expert verification is a complex and lengthy one. I understand for instance that trials are going on into an effective vaccine to combat sea lice on salmon. The results, while encouraging, are still only at a preliminary stage.
I am sure that the Deputy supports the proposition that we should actively encourage means of naturally reducing sealice infestations through improved fish farms, management strategies and fallowing in particular. A major benefit of fallowing, if accepted and supported in practice as well as in principle, would be to progressively reduce the need for therapeutants and applied treatments for lice control. With this objective in mind, priority will continue to be given to encouraging, co-ordinating and implementing fallowing proposals backed up by a process of local and regional consultation.