Thursday, 9 May 2019

Ceisteanna (4)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

4. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions being taken to control sea lice levels at salmon farm sites which are having an adverse effect on the successful survival of salmon and sea trout smolts or kelts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20261/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (9 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My question is straightforward and I would appreciate a straightforward answer. What actions are being taken by the Department to control sea lice levels at salmon farms which are having an adverse effect on the successful survival of salmon and sea trout smolts? I raise this question in the context of the commentary of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment regarding an unprecedented increase in sea lice levels. I am particularly perturbed by the levels at a key time in the bay mentioned by the Department and the overall doubling of sea lice as per inspections from November onwards.

The control protocols for the management of sea lice are operated by the Marine Institute on behalf of the State. All stocks of fish are inspected by institute inspectors on 14 occasions throughout the year. As part of this control strategy, farm operators are required to undertake treatments to control lice infestation levels once certain trigger levels are reached.

Mechanical methods of delousing are currently used in combatting instances of sea lice. In addition, several species of cleaner fish are used in Ireland as a method of controlling sea lice. The cleaner fish supplement their diet by removing and eating the lice. This biological method of control is very effective and can reduce the reliance on medicines to control sea lice.

In certain circumstances, treatments alone may not be the most appropriate strategy and, in a number of limited circumstances, an accelerated harvest may be required.

These protocols 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 inspection is published and made widely available and treatment trigger levels are set at a low level. The sea lice monitoring and control programme in Ireland has been acknowledged by the environment directorate of the European Commission as representing best international practice.

I do not have a copy of the Minister's reply to hand but I asked what I said was a very straight question. What actions is the Department taking with the reporting of an unprecedented increase in levels of sea lice? The Minister's Department has been written to by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which has pointed out the result of the monitoring system, indicating that orders to treat have repeatedly been given. Notwithstanding that, the levels of sea lice continued to increase and there were then orders to accelerate harvesting, which means all the stock was sold so as to start again.

I have a specific question relating to the unprecedented increase in levels of sea lice. It has doubled and tripled and in some cases salmon have 50 sea lice on them. There are implications for wild salmon and trout so will the Minister please answer the question? What actions are being taken by the Department?

The question asked is written in front of me. It refers to the "actions being taken to control sea lice levels at salmon farm sites" and that is exactly what I answered with respect to the role of the Marine Institute and the actions it takes. It is a critical matter for the industry to control sea lice and I appreciate the concern of the broader fishing industry that sea lice is having an impact on wild salmon and other marine species. We are acutely conscious of the obligation in that regard. The Deputy knows the Marine Institute is headquartered in her constituency and it is the lead agency in dealing with sea lice in aquaculture settings. As I stated, the independent inspectorate publishes its results and its protocols are quite clear and deemed to be very effective.

I do not mean to take the Minister by surprise as this matter is too serious for that. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has written to the Minister's Department. I asked the actions taken by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and these will clearly include actions taken following input from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the inspection of the independent Marine Institute. The sea lice levels are unprecedented, although I do not have the time to go into detail on them. It is really not relevant anyway as the relevant part of this relates to the fact that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine was asked to give an urgent update on this by 12 April this year. This followed the concerns raised by the independent assessment and the notice to treat. Following all the orders, the levels of sea lice continued to rise, with the most serious consequences. This rests firmly with the Minister's Department.

Again, I do not wish to put the Minister on the spot but his Department has been aware of this as a response had to be made by 12 April. The Marine Institute has an independent system and if I had time I would go into how it is reliant on the workers on the farms. That is for another day. For the moment, I want to know the action by the Minister's Department on the unprecedented levels of sea lice.

I am aware of the correspondence referred to by the Deputy and the requirement to respond to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The response was submitted by the Marine Institute to the Department on 11 April.

I appreciate that I am not entitled to ask another question but there has been some confusion. Will the Minister clarify if the response went from his Department to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment by the required date?

The Marine Institute is the competent authority and it functions at arm's length from my Department, lest we be seen as compromised because we promote the development of aquaculture. The Marine Institute is independent in the pursuit of its functions and it has replied in the necessary detail to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.