Wednesday, 26 February 2014
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine who is unable to attend. I perceive aquaculture to be a crucial component of the Government's Food Harvest 2020 strategy. To expand the production of Irish organic farmed salmon, I tasked BIM to investigate the creation of new fish farming production areas in deeper waters. The placement of farms in deep waters is designed to ensure that there is no impact on Natura 2000 sites, no significant environmental or visual impact and no interference with migratory salmonids, wild sea fisheries, navigation or tourism interests. BIM has estimated that just one of these production areas could generate more than €100 million in exports per annum and create 350 direct jobs. A further 150 jobs will be created indirectly in the service sector, supplying fish feed, netting, transportation and other services.
There always is a strict separation between the duty of the Minister to promote sustainable development of the industry, as evidenced by a wide range of initiatives he has taken in the last two years, including deep sea aquaculture, and his ministerial role as a decision-maker in respect of aquaculture licence applications.
I regard this separation of duties as extremely serious and it is strictly observed at all times.
In 2012 BIM submitted an application to my Department for an aquaculture licence for the cultivation of finfish near Inis Oírr in Galway Bay. The application and its accompanying environmental impact statement are being considered under the provisions of the 1997 Fisheries (Amendment) Act and the 1933 Foreshore Act, which provide for extensive consultation with stakeholders and also for a period of general public consultation. The public consultation stage of the assessment process in respect of the application is closed and a total of 410 valid submissions were received by my Department.
All aspects of the Galway Bay application are currently being examined by my Department in conjunction with its scientific, engineering, technical and legal advisers . All submissions received as part of both the statutory consultation stage of the process and the general public consultation stage will form an integral part of my Department's consideration of the application. It is important to note that the legislation provides for extensive consultation with stakeholders, including Inland Fisheries Ireland, which has responsibility for wild salmon stocks. It is important for all parties to understand that, as the application is under active consideration as part of the statutory process, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the merits or otherwise of the application pending the completion of the formal assessment process by my Department. The application process is governed by legislation and must not be subject to parallel discussions by me as Minister of State or my Department which could be misconstrued as indicating a predisposition by my Department in respect of the application. No such predisposition exists and the formal assessment process will take into account and evaluate all observations received from stakeholders and the general public in respect of the application. It must also be borne in mind that any person submitting a licence application to my Department has an entitlement in accordance with fair procedures to have the application fully considered in accordance with legislation.
The legislation also provides for appeal of the ministerial decision to the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board, an independent authority for the determination of appeals against decisions of the Minister. I assure the Senator that the public interest is well protected under the provisions of the relevant legislation and I am conscious of the importance of proceeding fully in line with statutory requirements.