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Written Answers. - Aquaculture Development.

Wednesday, 6 February 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 547 No. 4

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 49. Mr. Dukes Information on Alan M. Dukes Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey  if he will accede to the request of the Save the Swilly group to commission an independent comprehensive baseline study of the situation in Lough Swilly and a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the impact of aquaculture expansion and fisheries development on the Lough; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1151/02]

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey The public campaign launched by the Save the Swilly Group in opposition to the further development of aquaculture in the lough has raised a number of issues relating to the approach which has been taken in respect of licensing aquaculture and the sustainable level of aquaculture operations within the lough. The campaign gives the impression that Lough Swilly is overwhelmed by aquaculture.

The reality is otherwise. The surface area of Lough Swilly is 15,400 hectares and the total water of Lough Swilly which, on average, exceeds two 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 mussels or the growing of oysters in bags on trestles, amounts to just over 1% of the surface area of the lough. 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 which does not require any equipment in or on the water and, therefore, has no visual impact whatsoever. Most of the these licences date from the 1980s and with no evidence of adverse consequences.

This means that over 91% of the area of the lough remains entirely free of aquaculture of any sort and for the forseeable future the great bulk of it will stay that way. The few remaining licence applications currently on hands, which amount to approximately 280 hectares in total, will be 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, of course, 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 wat[1575] ers. Only one such project exists in Lough Swilly and has existed for decades without evidence of adverse consequence.

It should also be noted that under the legislation governing the licensing of aquaculture, 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, Bord 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 and any party who is still unsatisfied is fully entitled to seek a judicial review of the board's decision within three months thereof.

In all the circumstances, it would be is difficult to justify State funding of a costly and lengthy study of the kind sought by the Save the Swilly Group.

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