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
I welcome Mr. Donal Maguire, director of the aquaculture development division at Bord Iascaigh Mhara, and his colleague, Ms Catherine Morrison, project development manager. I also welcome Mr. Lorcán Ó Cinnéide, who is representing the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association. I thank the witnesses for attending today, at short notice, to discuss the national strategic plan for sustainable aquaculture development. I apologise for the delay in commencing the meeting, which was due to a series of votes in the Dáil. Unfortunately, we cannot predict when divisions will be called, but we will do our best to proceed as smoothly as possible.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call Mr. Maguire to give his opening statement, to be followed by Mr. Ó Cinnéide. Thereafter, I will invite questions from members.
Mr. Donal Maguire:
I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to address the committee. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, estimates that the European Union is currently running a seafood trade deficit of some €16 billion per annum. In effect, the EU is importing well over 60%, if not closer to 70%, of the seafood its population is consuming.
Plainly, this is not sustainable, either from a balance of trade point of view or from the perspective of ensuring that the Union has a secure seafood supply into the future.
The European Commission has recognised the urgent need to increase the supply of indigenously produced seafood raw material and has concluded that this objective can only be achieved by injecting renewed vigour into the EU's somewhat stagnant aquaculture sector, particularly as the wild catch is already at its maximum sustainable yield, MSY, in the case of most of the major fisheries that fall under the Common Fisheries Policy. Aquaculture affords coastal communities an alternative opportunity to diversify and can also alleviate fishing pressure on stocks. As part of its efforts to stimulate increases in output from aquaculture, the European Commission has required all member states, including Ireland, to provide a multi-annual strategic aquaculture development plan as an ex-anteconditionality of accepting their overall seafood development operational programmes under the European maritime and fisheries fund, EMFF, funding regulation. Those actions which member states may wish to take and fund using a mix of public and EU funding to encourage growth in their aquaculture sectors must be set out in their strategic aquaculture development plans if they are to qualify for EU co-financing under the EMFF funding regulation.
Ireland’s aquaculture sector is multi-species, involving both finfish production in freshwater and seawater and shellfish production in the sea. In 2014 it employed 1,833 persons on a full and part-time basis and the first sale value of the output was €115 million. BIM welcomes the publication, for public consultation, of the draft national strategic plan for sustainable aquaculture development by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In particular, BIM welcomes the draft report’s primary objective, which is to sustainably grow the annual production of the Irish aquaculture industry from the current level of approximately 37,000 metric tonnes per annum by a further 45,000 tonnes by 2023. The report outlines 24 specific actions in total, which represent positive initiatives for the development, growth and sustainability of the sector. Ireland has a favourable natural resource base for the development of aquaculture and BIM is of the view that this market-driven sector holds out significant potential for the creation of valuable coastal employment, increased export revenues and to act as a source of additional raw material supply to the seafood processing industry. The drivers and constraints acting upon Irish aquaculture enterprises are set out in the plan, as are a range of planned actions designed to address the problems that impinge upon its expansion.
BIM notes with interest the new scaling guidelines for offshore salmon farms provided by the Marine Institute in the draft report. These new guidelines may offer a route to achieving greater consensus among all marine stakeholders with regard to the planned growth of the marine salmon farming sector in Ireland. As the State agency with the primary responsibility for the development of Ireland’s aquaculture industry, BIM will reflect these guidelines in any future aquaculture licence application or development initiatives it is involved in, if and when the draft guidelines are adopted after the current consultation phase.
With regard to the long-standing application for a salmon farming licence in Galway Bay - which was submitted in 2012 by BIM with scientific support from the Marine Institute - BIM awaits the outcome of the current consultation process. Once that is complete, it will carefully reflect on such new policies as may emerge and it will then act appropriately and in accordance with Government and ministerial policy.
Mr. Lorcán Ó Cinnéide:
I am here on behalf of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association, IFPEA. In that context, we welcome the publication - and the initiative behind that publication - of the draft national strategic plan the Minister has issued for consultation. It was obligatory on the Minister to produce such a document under EU regulation but he is to be commended for it nonetheless. Aquaculture, by its nature and in the context of both the shellfish and finfish aspects, is processing intensive. There is a great deal of handling involved. The industry has significant potential in the context of employment, provided it operates on a sustainable basis and with the consent of the communities in which its activities are located. In addition, it must add to the quality of the portfolio of products already produced in and exported from Ireland.
That said, the IFPEA will be making a submission to the Minister and the Department in respect of the draft national strategic plan by the relevant due date. What I am about to say probably represent a rehearsal of some of the comments we will include in our submission. Although welcome, the draft national strategic plan is flawed in a number of very important respects and I hope the position in this regard will be corrected before it is published in its final form. Some of the analysis it contains is barely intelligible. I will provide some examples whereby I just could not understand what is meant, which, I am sure, has proven to be the case for others. Despite the fact that it is a very good recital of most, if not all, the issues which need to be addressed in terms of licensing, research, coastal zone management, etc., the draft national strategic plan's central failure is that it does not contain adequate timelines or measureables in the context of what is envisaged. This means that if it were to be implemented in its current form, it would prove to be largely aspirational in nature. There are enough aspirational documents emanating from the State without adding this to the overall number. I am of the view that it needs to be beefed up, with specific milestones set down in respect of the various initiatives outlined. If, for example, a research project is to be carried out, we must know what will be the timeframe involved, how it will proceed and who will have responsibility for it. Such considerations must be covered in a document such as that under consideration in order for it to be credible.
The draft national strategic plan suggests that the development of aquaculture has been stagnant. It has not been stagnant; rather it has been regressing, and quite significantly so, for a long period. We have halved our production of farmed salmon and reduced our production in respect of a number of other species over the years. We are not at the races in terms of what needs to be done. The strategy document should include further information on the key mechanisms relating to the siting of aquaculture operations - be they in respect of finfish or shellfish or even if they are located on land - and that such mechanisms must take into account competing uses, the concept of consent and consensus among communities and a clear understanding of the concept of environmental monitoring. That in itself would provide credibility. We are of the view that the strategy requires considerable improvement in terms of how it deals with these issues.
As stated, there are parts of the strategy document which I did not understand. On page 19 it is stated, "The impact of the improved profitability has been increasing income with a less than proportionate increase in operating costs". What does that actually mean? It gives the impression that the industry is becoming more profitable, despite the fact that it has been shrinking in terms of scale. On page 26, the document states, "Since 2000, there have been both increases and decreases in salmon output". I do not think that adds greatly to our store of knowledge about the sector. On page 38 it states,"Notwithstanding declines in salmon production output [which is superfluous in itself], the Irish salmon farming industry maintains extremely positive market trends by delivering a product that is viewed as distinct and desirable". It is distinct and desirable but statements of this nature are far too woolly and hyperbolic to be useful.
We are of the view that this is a very useful process in a very contentious area. There is a great deal that needs to be done. Aquaculture is not automatically a good, although it is good if it works in terms of investors, exports, employment and communities.
The processing sector would be very supportive of its continued development and even of efforts to exceed some of the targets in this document, provided some of the deficiencies to which I have referred are addressed.
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.
I thank Mr. Maguire and Mr. Ó Cinnéide for their presentations. Anything that can contribute to helping the sustainability of rural Ireland through job creation is pushing an open door as far as I am concerned. I have concerns around certain aspects of the current proposals and over the Galway Bay project because of its size. If the fears of scientific people and fishermen are realised, there could be a catastrophe for natural salmon.
We always seem to go for things that are envisaged and then pushed through with a lack of consultation. For something to succeed in rural Ireland, one needs extensive dialogue with local communities and one also needs their buy-in. There is a need to dispel myths, such as those relating to the finfish farm sector, and to produce a dividend for local communities. If there is a dividend, it can go some way towards getting the buy-in of local people.
I have been told by various agencies that inland farm finfish production is extremely costly and not financially viable. The reason for that is the enormous energy costs involved. A bit of imagination is required. Alternative energy could be generated which would make the endeavour cost-neutral. Alternative energy itself would go some way towards ensuring that. I am told there are some projects around the country that involve such development, but if BIM intends to go down that road in conjunction with other parties, a pilot project is required that can show what can be done. It must include the use of alternative energy - either wind energy, solar energy or another energy source. There are such advances in alternative energy that such an approach could be taken. That would be one way of building the necessary confidence, and it would also build on the credibility of people who I believe are doing their best and have had their credibility challenged. In many instances the challenge is based on myths and rumour. I have listened to the debate on the Galway Bay site. If one were to believe everything one hears, one would conclude that it was a deliberate attempt to destroy natural salmon. On the other side, there are people who have no personal or vested interest but want to do the right thing. There must be buy-in from communities to get it across the line.
I went to Scotland, along with Deputy Ó Cuív and some others, primarily to have a look at the projects in operation there. They have the luxury of long inlets and well-sheltered bays, which takes away the fear of escape and its repercussions. The delegation was led by the Chairman. Such an environment includes protection from the west and the north west in particular, which is where the strong winds and gales come from. In Scotland there is buy-in from communities as well. Consultation was widespread. People put myths about in Scotland as well. One can get a scientist anywhere in the world who will say what one wants him or her to say. The same is true of an issue such as fracking. One can dig up an expert somewhere in the world who can substantiate one’s argument. That is the way a vested interest does things. It is not for the common good. We have to act for the common good. That is our job.
Concerns have been expressed about sea lice, escapes and cross-contamination in the context of finfish farming, as well as the effect on the life cycle of wild salmon. It is surprising that 60% of fish must be imported into Europe. I assume Ireland is comparable, even though we should have a considerable export market. As Mr. Ó Cinnéide knows from his previous work as a fisherman, which is something we have in common, lack of quota is a problem. We started from a very weak base and there was no investment in the fleet. We have been paying the price ever since for the consequences of political trading in terms of farming and fishing. Disgraceful trading was done and our fishing rights were given away from the beginning of our membership of the EEC.
Mr. Ó Cinnéide said there were a number of flaws. He referred to timetables and targets and said they were aspirational, and that as a result the plan lacked credibility. He also referred to the environmental consensus. I share his concerns but I believe we can get this right, collectively, if we approach it with an open mind, and also by having the interest of rural Ireland primarily at heart. Rural Ireland is a very depressing place if one loves it. That is the best way I can describe it. If one grew up there and one loves to live there and if one has a connection to it, it can be very depressing to see what is happening to it and what needs to be done. In politics, unfortunately, policy is determined by numbers. Areas with the biggest representation and the most people hold sway. The fishing community in rural Ireland is very low down the scale of priorities for attention from the Government because it is a small constituency. Small constituencies are really forgotten about, which is sad. It is an indictment of the political system in this country that there is such neglect.
I would like to hear about a pilot scheme for inland finfish farming in order that people could see it working. Vested interests and big companies in particular are only interested in profit. They are not interested in the environment or how coastal communities would be affected. They do not give a damn about rural Ireland. Their main motivation is profit. We must try to turn that around. I believe we can do it. I thank the witnesses for attending today. Unfortunately, not all committee members are present, but those of us who are present take an interest in the matter. Others who are interested unfortunately cannot be present. It is essential that we get it right because rural Ireland could be a much better place to live in for those who come from there and live there.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. My expertise in fishing and aquaculture is not great but I have a considerable interest in it. I agree with my colleagues, who are all from along the western seaboard, that we should support anything we can to create jobs in the area.
Aquaculture appears to have huge potential to create more local jobs, according to the documentation presented to us. We should do anything we can do in that regard. It is worrying that salmon farming has halved in recent times, according to Mr. Ó Cinnéide. In recent years we could have increased salmon farming. The Galway Bay initiative is dragging on. Some years ago we thought the project was close to being developed, and it is a pity that it has not progressed. The question is what incentives can be given to help companies to develop aquaculture along the western seaboard or elsewhere.
I might pose one question. I thank members for their questions. Much of the concern that has been articulated, and not just at the committee, has been about buy-in and agreement with local communities. The committee has done a number of reports, but Deputy Ferris referred in particular to the visit to Scotland. The aim of the report in question was to develop an economic model for rural, coastal and island communities. Aquaculture was one pillar on which the foundation could be built. Another committee report was generated when we were in a previous guise, with a communications and natural resources remit, on oil and gas. An important point of the report was the concept of buy-in at the earliest possible point from local communities in order that people would have a sense of ownership. I am not sure about the new guidelines. Is it possible for the regional inshore fisheries forums to become a partner to establish joint ventures with companies?
To be honest, they are the ones that have the wherewithal. If they get buy-in from a type of joint venture co-operative model, that might be the best way to progress this and get real traction in terms of growth, rather than meeting resistance everywhere we go.
The other aspect is the environmental designation of many of the inlets and bays that are best suited to setting up salt-water farms. Where stands that process? That is one of the reasons many of the farms either no longer operate or operate on a tenuous licence. I am not quite sure of their status, but it is not solid.
Mr. Lorcán Ó Cinnéide:
To respond to Deputy Ferris's question about credibility and the aspirational aspect of the plan, the flip side of that in terms of the committee's interest in it and the fact that it is out for consultation is that this is a draft which has encouraged this discussion, and it is capable of being improved. I would hope that in the final manifestation of this document I will not be addressing those shortcomings but will be able to say that because some of those were addressed, this is now a substantial blueprint that we can use.
All of the concerns the Deputy mentioned can be met. For example, on the question of confidence, there must be confidence for investors. How do we give investors, be they local or international, certainty in terms of providing a framework for our zoning, a clear path towards licensing and a clear policy? If we want to give communities certainty we need some examples to show them. One of the difficulties is that there has been so little that is new for so long. People do not have the benefit of seeing these projects done. Perhaps we should do them on a more modest scale, see how they develop, have tight monitoring of various parameters and have those results published. Organisations such as the Marine Institute and BIM would be on top of that. In doing that, over time, we can build a degree of confidence.
In terms of incentivisation, the country needs to make a choice as to the mix of enterprise types. Are we to have multinational companies coming in which have a pure profit motivation? Intel does, and it is located here. We need to have them coming into this country, and we need to set the parameters in terms of how they come in and the standards to which they operate so that this profit-at-all-costs approach cannot be allowed. We would not be supportive of that approach.
The second point is about local and small-scale operators. Many of the members I represent are small-scale operators who are already investing their own money in this business. We could have a model that would cluster large- and small-scale operators around them. I refer to people working together, technology transfer, mentoring and so on. There are a number of models that we as a country should be considering which will enable this process to progress in a way that is not always confrontational and can produce the jobs and deliver. People are cynical because there has been plan after plan year after year, but nothing has happened. That is the worst thing we can do to people.
Mr. Donal Maguire:
To respond to some of the remarks from Deputies and Senators, from a BIM perspective, we share those aspirations entirely. I am a west Clare man. Ms Morrison is from the western isles of Scotland, so she knows more than anybody else the positive influences that can come from correctly practised aquaculture in communities.
The first point I would make is that the aquaculture industry is not just about salmon farming. Salmon farming is a very valuable part of it, but there is a lot more to it than that. We have a very successful oyster farming industry. That section is doing very well, and please God it will continue that way. We would like to see a resurgence in success, particularly in the bottom-grown mussel industry and in salmon farming.
The great aspect is that this is a market-driven sector. We just cannot get a large enough supply of raw material to give to the members of Mr. Ó Cinnéide's association and to other people. If any other sector had the same market opportunity and market pull, they would be highly envious of it. That factor of market opportunity and the fact that it will last into the foreseeable future - because of the increases in wealth we are seeing in the Asia Pacific region, the purchasing power and the desire to buy top-class Irish seafood - exists throughout Europe and the world. The question is whether we in Ireland want to come to terms with some of the difficulties required to exploit this opportunity.
Salmon farming is a very expensive business. Multinational pockets are needed to run it successfully because it is so sophisticated, but we must consider the experience in Ireland. The biggest seafood company in Ireland is Marine Harvest Ireland. It is also the biggest salmon farmer. It has been in operation for 35 years. With the exception of the managing director, who, although he has a foreign name, grew up and went to school in Ireland, every other person in that company was born and reared in their own locality. I accept that it has a profit motivation, but it has strong corporate and social responsibility values, and they are rooted in their particular locations. I am sure that is the same model the members saw replicated in Scotland. The nature of the business is that it has to be located in the community. The employment is there, and if one can get the raw material going out to the processors, it is a win-win situation that suits everybody. It is not like a situation in which someone can decide to take it away in the morning. Irish salmon or Irish oysters have to be from Ireland. If we can get over the difficulty - and many of the actions set out in the plan are designed to get over that difficulty - I have no doubt this can make a great contribution to reversing some of the trends Deputy Ferris pointed out, which are lamentable in rural Ireland. It could help to rejuvenate fortunes in some of those areas.
Also, the aquaculture side of things can be put together with inshore fishing, and it could provide a powerful engine for restoring the former abundance of stocks such as lobster, as well as other inshore fishery stocks. Done correctly, that could have a big effect.
With regard to shore-based aquaculture, as mentioned by Deputy Ferris, we studied that very carefully. There are a number of recirculation aquaculture system, RAS, projects in Ireland. Most of them are in freshwater rather than in seawater projects. The technology for RAS seawater projects is not advanced enough to be reliable as yet. A number of experiments have been done around the world but none of them have proved viable to this point. We have a number of clients looking at it. Nobody has bitten the bullet yet in terms of being prepared to invest in it, but we are very interested. As soon as we believe it is a live prospect we will jump, so to speak. It is probably more suited to lower-volume, higher-value species than to mass production of big volumes of something like salmon, but we have no preconception against it. We are doing a lot of studies and are staying very much on top of it.
On the other point raised by Senator Ó Domhnaill, ironically, the environmental worries, particularly around salmon farming, have led to the point at which applications for salmon farms are so sophisticated that the science involved just to complete the application is enormous. That makes it very difficult for local communities to be the ones bringing forward the projects. In many ways, it has become the preserve of State agencies or large multinational, but there can be many models as to how those businesses can be developed thereafter once an application is successful and if and when a licence is brought forward. We can accommodate both of those aspects, but it is worth saying that the degree of rigour and scrutiny to which a marine salmon farm licence is subjected in Ireland is extraordinary. For example, it is far easier to establish a wastewater treatment plant for a town and pump sewage into the sea than it is to get a licence for a salmon farm. The environmental impact statement, EIS, for a salmon farm is that thick in terms of size, but the EIS for a wastewater treatment plant is thicker. There is something odd about the way we are looking at some of these aspects, and that is driven by the concerns and the politics of it.
Many of the comments made with regard to this plan are not particularly for BIM, because it is the Department's plan and it is out for public consultation. We had a certain input into it.
We see that must be done to allow the full seafood operational programme to move forward. It is a technical document as much as a public document to allow the greater seafood operational programme to move forward.
Perhaps Mr. Maguire might be able to give me a more detailed explanation. He has stated that it is for on-land finfish farms or whatever and that the technology is not there to do this in salt water but it can be done in fresh water.
Mr. Donal Maguire:
Sea water is a really difficult medium in which to work. It is highly corrosive and it reacts very badly, as does the equipment, if one is obliged to heat it and one must control the temperature in these issues; the water chemistry is completely different. The technology pertaining to recirculation technology in fresh water is largely driven by the Danes, who are really good at this when it comes to trout farming. They have taken this to a fantastic level where it really is very reliable and the systems all work. As for trying to do it with sea water, it has not yet proven feasible to do it at an economic level, although there have been some very big ambitious projects. A number of projects are trying it at present but as yet, the jury is out. Thus far, all who have tried it have been obliged to stop, redesign, and rebuild and none of then have proved to be sustainable from a technical or an economic point of view. I am sure they will be; it just has not got there yet.
I do not believe there is a problem with commitment as enough trials and work are being done on it. As for the type of equipment one uses, one can adapt and change it to meet those requirements.
It probably is the same analogy as getting a car washed after the roads have been gritted. One gets one's brake callipers fixed very quickly before they heat up or one will be in trouble. Salty water, when it heats up, is highly corrosive.
Mr. Donal Maguire:
In addition, a very difficult technology is used in recirculation to strip out the nutrients in the water and it does not work properly with salt water because one must use bacteria in a living system. It is a bit like using a giant septic tank system, if members will pardon the indelicacy, to clean the water. As for making such a system work in sea water, they are getting big crashes whereby the system works for a while and then stops working all of a sudden. One then gets toxicity in the water and the fish die. The other thing is that to make these recirculations systems work, the fish are stocked at extremely high densities. In a salmon cage in the sea in an Irish organic salmon farm, there are 10 kg of salmon to a cubic metre of water, so that is 1% salmon and 99% water. They must stock them at ten or 20 times this density to make these tank systems pay. Therefore, if the system does not work perfectly, one gets a giant fish mortality really fast. Therefore, it is quite high-risk stuff and highly technologically based and if there is any slight fault, there can be huge consequences for the farm.
Mr. Donal Maguire:
I beg the Deputy's pardon. The Chairman raised that as well. Progress is being made in this regard although regrettably it is slow. While this is not something on which Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, has the prime lead, we provide a lot of services to assist in that and we carry out the aquaculture profiling as part of that. It is grinding its way, slowly but surely, around the coast and we probably will see quite a lot of progress this year. Dungarvan Bay will have been completed, as will Clew Bay, and Lough Swilly should come through fairly quickly. The process is in place but it is proving to be extremely complex and no sooner does the system get through than some other hurdles have arisen. It looked, for example, as though Dungarvan Bay was ready to be licensed and then it suddenly was realised there were issues to do with archaeology and it was necessary to conduct an entire archaeological survey for national heritage to clear that hurdle. It has proven difficult to foresee in advance what are all the hurdles and just when one thinks one has gotten there, another hurdle had come up. At this stage, however, it is pretty well understood and it is getting there but even when the Natura 2000 issues have been resolved, there still is quite a gap between that and the determination of individual licence applications.
There appear to be fewer objections regarding shellfish farming and salmon compared with finfish and I understand there is far more of it. I know about the position in Dungarvan, extending back as far as Helvick Head, as people were working on it there approximately 20 years ago. The same is true in respect of Kenmare Bay, in large parts of County Donegal and all those areas where there was mussel and oyster farming. Communities were working on it and it appears as though communities have bought into it far more than they have in respect of the finfish farming.
Mr. Donal Maguire:
That probably is true, Deputy, because the barrier to entry to get into the business is much lower as the costs involved are much lower. One can operate successfully as an oyster farmer or a mussel farmer at a lower level. That has meant there is much more community ownership and with that community ownership has come buy-in.
Interestingly, we carried out some studies with IFA Aquaculture recently and we conducted a big national survey asking whether people had a difference in attitude and acceptance between finfish farming and shellfish farming. The greater population are very relaxed about either form of farming and did not perceive any real difference in acceptability between salmon farming and either mussel or oyster farming. What we did find, which was very interesting, is that the great mass of people in Ireland have no objection whatsoever to any form of aquaculture. They are very relaxed about it and if it creates jobs, they are for it. They want to buy the product in the supermarket and what we really have is a small, vociferous and highly effective minority who are strongly against salmon farming because of their worries regarding its interaction with sport angling. This, in particular, is where the issues lies. However, the vast bulk of people are broadly positively disposed towards the sector.
I thank Mr. Maguire for that information, which it is nice to have flagged for members.
I again thank the three witnesses, namely, Ms Morrison, Mr. Maguire and Mr. Ó Cinnéide, for bearing with us. There is a general consensus that having a strategic plan in draft form for consultation is a good thing but the point is it should not become just another plan without an implementation process and with targets and milestones set. Members note the deadline is 24 July, which means the joint committee has a few more witnesses to appear before it, which include IFA Aquaculture and, to be fair, some representatives of the environmental pillar. All going well, the joint committee will make a submission to the Department ahead of the deadline. The document covers multifaceted points, some of which I outlined about structures regarding how it could be rolled out or some things that could be models for developing the industry. However, there is a lot of technical detail that must be dealt with first, as well as knowledge and awareness. The truth sometimes is the hostage to the debate.
As there is no further business, the meeting is adjourned until tomorrow morning when the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, will appear before the joint committee.