Marine Harvest Ireland (MHI) has welcomed the decision by Simon Conveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to grant aquaculture and foreshore licences at Shot Head, Bantry Bay which it had applied for in June 2011.

The company plans a €3.5m investment in a new salmon farm that will create eight long-term jobs, post-construction. MHI currently operates a fish production site at Roancarrig on the western side of Bantry Bay.

MHI Shot Head

A visual impression of the proposed development looking south-west over the cliff above Mehil Head

By developing a second site for organic salmon, ongoing stock development, harvesting, fallowing and rotation programmes can be advanced in compliance with international best practice, according to the company.

“This is a very positive step forward for our company and for the aquaculture industry as a whole. Our seas have rightly been identified as a key component of our economic recovery and sustainable growth,” remarked managing director, Jan Feenstra.

Construction will commence “as soon as possible” and is expected to be completed within 14 weeks. MHI currently engages roughly 800 local suppliers across its coastal locations, worth in excess of €15m to local economies. MHI is also proposing a €22m investment at other sites and to double its workforce to 500.

Irish organic farmed salmon is a premium product in Europe, particularly in France, Germany and the UK where on average it commands a 50% premium on farmed salmon produced elsewhere. The single biggest issue facing Irish salmon producers is demand outstripping production capability.

Shot Head

The proposed new farm will hold a maximum stock of 2,800 tonnes of salmon at a peak stocking density of 10kg/m3. Peak stock will occur from February to March of year two in each production cycle.

According to MHI, the stock density limit of two full-grown fish per cubic metre of water is low by international salmon farming standards and is in line with their high animal welfare principles and organic salmon farming standards.

Smolt will be transferred to the site from October to November every two years, and reach average harvest weight of 4.5-5.6kg within 22 months. The site will be fallowed after harvest for no less than two months and is then restocked for the next cycle.

The larger overall seabed area is required to moor the anchoring pens and for feed barge access. It also affords sufficient space to move the pens to new ground within the overall site area, enabling improved fallowing if required. MHI confirms the additional seabed area required does not represent a physical boundary, nor does it obstruct use of the area by other water users.

The company believes Ireland’s position as a high quality, low-volume supplier of organically certified salmon from Europe’s westernmost Atlantic coast has received a boost with this announcement.  

“The site will complement existing farms and see the implementation of an environmentally sustainable regional production system for the south west as well as meeting strong consumer and smokehouse demand while growing vital employment.”

Welcoming the Minister’s decision, IFA Aquaculture executive Richie Flynn noted that the four-year wait highlighted the complexity experienced by applicants of the Irish licencing system.

“This is the first decision in many years to grant a new marine salmon farm licence and must be the start of a process to relieve the logjam that has plagued the industry and has cost Ireland dearly in lost jobs and export markets. IFA has been consistent in calling for a major overhaul of the licencing system.”

He added that after 40 years of data-gathering and experience, the generic issues associated with every licence application were “straightforward and easily assessed. There is simply no need to re-run the entire process of justifying the why and how of farming from scratch each time.”

Site specific issues are dealt with in detailed Environmental Impact Studies that accompany every application.

“The relevant State Agencies must be held accountable to specific timeframes within which to query or comment on this. Instead, the current system gives endless scope for circular and bureaucratic analysis which only serves to delay decision making. What applicants want is a decision – one way or another but on time – because delays cost jobs and lose customers.”

According to Flynn, the application process for licences in Norway and Scotland is very different.

“Our colleagues in those countries complain when only a year has passed between application and decision making. Ireland’s competitive edge and credibility is at stake, and this demands an immediate review of our licensing system.”

The decision is now open for anyone to appeal to the Aquaculture Licence Appeals Board.

“Given the low workload on ALAB over the past seven years because of delays at departmental level, it is imperative this independent body has the resources to deal with appeals within the statutory timeframe,” he stressed.