Extract form the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine record on 26.6.12

Chairman:    The Senator is right about that. The representatives of FISSTA were anxious to address the committee today and to express their concerns on foot of the presentations we have had from the Minister and BIM. We will also be inviting representatives of the Donegal islands and other island fisheries to share their views, because that is part and parcel of the discussion. Deputy Noel Harrington has given an overview of the broader issue and referred to the concerns of the different parties, whether drift-net fishermen, anglers or the aquaculture sector. It is undoubtedly a complex issue. In fact, the more one learns the greater the realisation of just how much one does not know.

Deputies Michael Colreavy and Harrington and Senators Martin Comiskey and Mary Ann O’Brien raised several specific points to which Mr. Carr may now respond.

Mr. Noel Carr:  The Chairman will be glad to know that I have taken notes. I do not want to be a killjoy, but the reality is that aquaculture is not the great white hope that will solve all the problems in coastal communities and replace all the jobs that have been lost there. I am from Carrick – 11 miles from Killybegs – and in 90% of our hinterland, from Burtonport down, all of the jobs are fish factory jobs. We have a crab factory on our river, Errigal Seafood, which produces GB £25 million worth of seafood per year. Effluent from that factory goes into the river on a controlled basis, and we can work with that. Fish factories and fish production units can work quite well. Interestingly, this company actually invested in a treatment plant because it recognised that it was necessary for the survival of the river. With EU standards and guidelines and advice, the river was allowed to sustain itself every year. I take this opportunity to congratulate Errigal Seafood on being 50 years in operation. It was founded as a vegetable factory by Father James McDyer as a means of providing local employment for young people. That river has had 555 fish above the quota this year, which is a commendable achievement for the company. It is not a fish farm industry but a seafood production unit and it supports almost 200 jobs in our area.

The answer to the problems we are discussing can be found in that type of enterprise, and we need more of them. Instead of damaging the environment, this type of activity and co-operation protects and respects it. Farmers have shown the same willingness to engage with us. Years ago we had a serious problem with the spawning beds, when it was common for mountains to be overgrazed. Some of us here will remember mountains in Mayo and Donegal specifically where this was a particular problem, with spawning levels very much down. Instead of objecting to the grants coming from Europe, we sought to work with the Irish Farmers Association at that time. It was out of this engagement that the farm waste management scheme was eventually introduced. I am not saying we were responsible for it, but it was partly as a result of lobbying by the European Anglers Alliance in Brussels and everywhere else that the waste management scheme and rural environment protection scheme, REPS, were devised. Our partnership with farmers worked to the advantage of both, with spawning levels restored and farmers receiving the same money, albeit under a different scheme. There are ways that we can work in partnership together to ensure a sustainable environment for all. We have had a great deal of that in the past 30 to 40 years.

I was asked a broad range of questions, but I remind members that I am an amateur in this area. The rod licence costs €100 for my area and we pay that to Inland Fisheries Ireland every year, in return for which it works with us to protect the rivers. Whether or not we object to some of the positions it takes, we respect IFI as an arm of the State whose function is to protect our rivers. It also has a role, along with the Irish Marine Institute, in monitoring farms. The regulations are not dissimilar to those in operation in Norway, according to BIM’s presentation. I do not want to say that what was proposed in this regard is impossible or that it cannot work. However, the way it is currently structured makes things difficult, with BIM saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with the fish farming sector. We have spoken about the decrease in the incidence of sea lice in the past five years, but the amount of chemicals required to achieve that decrease has grown significantly. This has a serious impact on the environment in a variety of ways and not just on salmon and sea trout. There is a joke that fish farmers should now be called fish “pharmers” because of the amount of chemicals they use