Fine Gael TD for Galway West & Mayo South

PQ – 29th January – The use of Closed-Contained Systems in Fish Farming

Seán Kyne TD asked the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his Department will support the use of closed containment systems in fish production in order to guard against any negative impact on our natural wild fish stocks within our rivers and lakes; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I wish to ask the Minister of State with responsibility for natural resources his views on the use of closed containment systems in aquaculture as an alternative to sea-based systems, and as a means of protecting native fish stocks.

Minister of State, Joe McHugh:
I thank the Deputy for tabling this question. Policy on the development of the aquaculture sector is a matter for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.The consistent position of Ministers and Ministers of State in my Department and Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, the State agency with responsibility for the inland fisheries resource, has been to support aquaculture development which is environmentally sustainable and which meets the obligations of domestic, EU and international legislation, particularly the EU Habitats Directive and other environmental requirements.

I understand that a significant number of land-based salmon farms have been introduced in Norway and Denmark. Land-based salmon farming is also being developed in North America and in Europe with plans to initiate Europe’s largest such installation in Scotland. I am advised, however, that the development of closed containment systems in fish production internationally is at a relatively early stage.

I am also advised that analysis of land-based salmon farming demonstrates advantages of closed containment system land-based salmon aquaculture. From the perspective of IFI’s statutory responsibilities for the conservation and protection of wild salmonids, that is salmon and trout, the use of these systems would mean that segregation of farmed fish from wild species is assured and longstanding issues concerned with interaction are less likely to arise.

Other advantages identified include controls on water quality and temperature. In addition, bio-security, diseases, parasites and the delivery of daily husbandry are much easier to manage in closed systems. The elimination of threats of escapes of farmed fish into the wild environment is also cited. All of these expected benefits would be of assistance in protecting wild stocks.

As I indicated at the outset, policy on the development of aquaculture is a matter for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The State’s seafood development body, an Bord Iascaigh Mhara, may be in a position to advise on other aspects of developments and trials of closed containment aquaculture systems in Ireland and internationally.

Deputy Seán Kyne:
I thank the Minister of State for his reply, and I appreciate that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is primarily responsible for aquaculture. Concerns have been raised about the evolution of fish farming over the years, including salmon cages and particularly large-scale ones. There have also been concerns about escapes, lice and the effect on native stocks. Anglers are concerned about the deterioration of numbers of salmon smolts returning to our rivers. From an angling tourism viewpoint this area is hugely important.The Minister of State listed a number of advantages of these systems and I appreciate that they are at an early stage internationally. However, there are advantages in terms of control of light, temperature and effluent, as well as the collection of nutrients from salmon.

They also provide protection from predators and losses resulting from bad weather. In addition, there is no need for pesticides or antibiotics. I accept that there are also obvious disadvantages in the context of extra costs relating to heating, pumping and lighting. However, consideration should be given to utilising these systems. Will the Minister of State and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine examine the possibility of supporting any projects relating to land-based systems which might be forthcoming?

Minister of State, Joe McHugh:
We must always be vigilant. Any opportunity for my officials and those of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, to collaborate on an interdepartmental level is welcome. The experience in Canada and Scotland in respect of closed containment systems indicates that major upfront capital investment is required. This approach is at the development stage. Opportunities relating to it will obviously present themselves in the future as both the science and the technology move forward. It should be noted that closed containment systems are not necessarily located in coastal areas. Such systems merely need to be situated close to a readily-available freshwater supply. The Deputy suggested that we continue to engage in dialogue. If any collaborative opportunities arise for my Department and that of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, in the context of developing sustainable aquaculture,