Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

National Strategic Plan for Sustainable Aquaculture Development: Discussion

4:30 pm

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I apologise for the delay but it was due to unforeseen circumstances. Gabhaim buíochas leis na finnéithe as an gcur i láthair maith atá déanta acu. Bhí siad ag fanacht tamall fada. Is dócha go bhfuil sé seo mar tús na díospóireachta ar an ábhar seo. This is the beginning of a process of dialogue in an area which, as Mr. Ó Cinnéide said, is contentious and can be divisive. We saw that in Galway in recent times with the development of the salmon farming project.

In a global sense, I accept there is a demand for food. The world population is increasing and there is an increased demand for aquaculture and seafood across Europe, which we are certainly not meeting at the moment. The plan from the Commission has been to develop alternative sources of supply and aquaculture has been one of those. I am generally a supporter of aquaculture but I would caution that we need to ensure all the most up-to-date scientific evidence, such as that carried out by the Marine Institute, is used to balance our approach, taking into account ecological concerns.

The proposal by BIM is revolutionary in seeking to increase the aquaculture industry hugely over the next eight years. According to the BIM figures, salmon farming contributed some 15,000 tonnes of aquaculture product in 2013, trout some 708, rope-grown mussels some 10,000 tonnes, bottom-grown mussels 5,500 and oysters and novel species approximately 50 tonnes. Growing from 37,000 or 38,000 tonnes in 2013 to almost 50,000 tonnes by 2023 will be challenging. On the one hand, it is an opportunity but my fear is that while a lot of projects, particularly salmon, are to be controlled by BIM, international investors will see this as a potential opportunity. That may not be a bad thing but how do we balance that against local employment opportunities and opportunities for Ireland Inc.? While development is certainly beneficial, how will we deal with the ecological constraints?

I spoke to some of the individuals involved in the plan in Galway and they have highlighted concerns on the part of BIM, the Department and the Marine Institute, which may not be valid in the eyes of the organisations but are concerns of the local community. There will be further concerns as projects develop for Mayo and Donegal which are in the pipeline at the moment. According to a 2013 report on aquaculture by the Marine Institute's Dr. David Jackson, it would appear that the State and BIM are taking a precautionary approach but the rigour with which the guidelines will be enforced in future years, depending on who is operating the plants, will be important.

This forum and the draft plan provide an opportunity for all the competing interests to make submissions but I agree with Mr. Ó Cinnéide on the need to be specific. If we are going to be specific about our global plans to develop aquaculture as part of Food Harvest 2020 and Food Harvest 2025, we must be specific about how we are driving the effectiveness and efficiency of the project from the point of view of public investment. It is important not just for the country but for the industry to be clear about how an investment of this nature will bring about value for money and opportunities for local communities.

I would hope that local interests would not be excluded from tendering for, or executing, these projects. In a public contract recently awarded by the Department of Justice and Equality for eight bundled projects, local contractors were excluded and it went to an international tender because the project was so big. Are we going to bundle these projects or isolate the contracts for tendering? I will accept it if the witnesses believe this question is not relevant at this stage but if we are developing aquaculture projects awarded by BIM on a design-build-operate basis, what companies or organisations are going to be big enough to carry out those enterprises?

I have a lot of thoughts on this area and we will be able to make submissions. Today has been a valuable opportunity to consider the issues, although it has been short. Other members are tied up this evening with votes in both Houses. Nevertheless, it will feed into the overall process and I thank the witnesses for appearing before us.


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