ANGLERS in West Limerick have added their voices to a growing chorus of concern about the impact that a planned super-size fish farm off the Galway coast could have on already-depleted local salmon stocks.
With salmon numbers on the River Feale already approaching an all-time low, prompting fears that all fishing on the river could be banned as early as next year, local anglers believe that a planned 456-hectare fish farm near Inis Órr could have disastrous consequences if it is approved.
Brendan Danaher of the Brosna-Mountcollins Anglers said that the farm could lead to “an explosion” of parasitic sea lice which would prey on wild inland salmon making their way to Greenland to feed.
“We could be looking at a huge battle over this. I was at an anglers’ meeting last week, and there’s more coming up next week. If this thing gets built, there’ll be an explosion of sea lice attracted to the cages. They’ll treat the cages with chemicals, but the lice will still do serious damage to wild smolts.”
Earlier this year Bord Iascaigh Mhara made an application for a deep-sea fish farming licence off Galway bay.
The Government and Inland Fisheries Ireland are supporting the proposal, which it is claimed will see up to 15,000 tonnes of salmon harvested and create as many as 350 jobs.
However the plans have attracted fierce opposition from inland fishing groups across the country, who fear that Ireland’s already-depleted salmon stocks will be prey to the fields of sea lice that the super sized farm would attract.
Recent figures taken on an official fish counter on the Feale near Listowel showed that in the first six months of 2012 there were just 1,055 salmon on the river, a fall of more than 50% from the same period in 2011.
To place that figure in context, the same counter reported 14,301 salmon on the Feale in 2007. For conservation purposes, the Feale needs to reach a quota of 4,323 salmon this year to allow for licensed angling and net fishing to take place there in 2013.
Mr Danaher said that local anglers’ concerns about the potential impact of the farm have intensified following the recent publication of an international study by the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, which found that on average 39 out of 100 wild salmon are killed by sea lice.
“That’s an astonishing figure”, said Mr Danaher, adding that anglers fear that any jobs created by the farm would be offset by the loss of angling tourism to the country.
An environmental impact survey regarding the Galway proposals is open to public consultation until December 12, and submissions can be sent until that time to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.