In 2014, wild capture fisheries landed 93m globally; this figure has remained stable for over 25 years. 

Over the same duration, global per capita demand for seafood has risen from 14 to 20kg person. To meet this demand, aquaculture, which now provides more than half of all seafood destined for human consumption, has intensified. In Ireland, salmon aquaculture has been cited as a ‘growth area’,  with government estimates suggesting a 78% increase in farmed production by 2020, is achievable. 

NUIG Liam Carr

Author, Liam Carr

Such growth however carries ‘concomitant environmental and socioecominic impacts’ says Dr Liam Carr, Whitaker Institute, NUI Galway, and author of ‘Fishing for salmon farming consensus in Ireland’ which studied the views of 86 ‘high level well-informed stakeholders who rank-sorted 56 statements’ covering six interrelated salmon aquaculture discourses: Regulatory Oversight; Spatial Conflict; Environmental Impacts; Technology; Ecosystem Functionality and Market Drivers.

Using Q-Method, (a research tool used in psychology and social sciences to study people’s viewpoints), five group perspectives were identified: aquaculture; wild salmon; green; regulatory; and local champions.

Respondents broadly believe that the licensing process needs updating and that regulatory oversight should improve transparency. Cross-group agreement also suggests salmon farming threatens the environment and that farms ‘harbour infestations of the parasite Lepeophtheirus salmonis (sea lice) which negatively impact wild salmon and sea trout’.

There is less agreement for prioritising aquaculture technologies or market growth for farmed salmon ‘until environmental and regulatory uncertainties have been more completely addressed’.

Policy implications in Ireland

Stakeholders believe that salmon farming is hindered by ‘regulatory uncertainty; legitimate but disputed levels of harm to wild salmon; the environment and entrenched views.’

The report also notes the licensing backlog and says the industry is therefore stalling.

‘Irish authorities have a unique opportunity to modernise salmon farming. Adaptive, ecosystem-based and community-inclusive policies should be enacted and Single Bay Management and CLAMS programmes strengthened.’

The report identifies priorities that include: science; monitoring and regulatory compliance; managing aquaculture alongside other sectors, e.g. tourism. It suggests establishing ‘site-by-site’ sea lice treatment trigger level standards that account for the intensity and scale of operators ‘as well as the unique dynamics, processes and ecological thresholds of bays where farming occurs.’