Monday, 3 March 2014

OMBUDSMAN TO INVESTIGATE SEA LICE COVERUP

17th September 2013 - ' Friends of the Irish Environment' Press Release.
OMBUDSMAN TO INVESTIGATE SEA LICE COVERUP

The Irish Ombudsman’s office has opened an investigation into possible mal-administration by the Department of Agriculture Food and Fisheries [DAFF] during the recent EU investigation into sea lice and salmon farms. The decision comes after an examination of an extensive dossier provided by the environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment. The investigation will determine whether DAFF intentionally withheld information from the European Commission, thereby influencing the outcome of EU investigations. During their investigation the European Commission sought the ‘express views of the agency responsible for wild fisheries’. Inland Fisheries Ireland [IFI] provided these views to DAFF in October 2010, strongly criticising the position DAFF had made to the Commission. However, in November 2011 DAFF told the Commission they had not received any IFI Report.

The IFI Report stated that the Irish system ‘does not constitute good sea lice control’. It said DAFF’s position that ‘no empirical evidence has been made available suggesting the presence of sea lice in salmon fish farms has a significant impact on the protected species’ is ‘not consistent with available information’. It concluded that ‘the potential exists for sea lice transfer from farmed salmon to outward migrating wild salmon smolts in any estuary with a marine salmon farm present’. After Simon Coveney became Minister for Agriculture, in June 2011 DAFF told the Department of Communications Energy and Natural Resources [DCENR, IFI’S Department] that ‘transmission of your Department’s observations to the Commission would not only be misleading but would also cause confusion in the public mind regarding sea lice controls and possibly undermine the state’s regulatory system.

For these reasons I would ask you to withdraw the formal observations of your Department and to support the observations supplied to the Commission by DAFF.’ As late as November 2011, DCENR continued to ‘categorically and emphatically disagree with DAFF position’ stating: ‘This is their [IFI] valued and considered expert advice, accepted by this Department’, DCENR concluded that ‘there appears to be no useful purpose in continuing this debate in correspondence as there clearly is a fundamental differing of views on the salient issues…’ However, less than a month later a single page from IFI supporting DAFF’s position was given to European Commission investigators by DAFF, leading to the closing of the case by the EU in October 2012. Meanwhile, sea lice levels continue to rise.

Marine Harvest, responsible for 80% of the country’s farmed salmon, have reported a tripling of sites infested with sea lice above the permitted level in the last three years. According to Marine Institute documents, in 2012 five ‘cell interventions’ were made by the Irish authorities in Galway and Donegal for persistent breaches of sea lice levels in spite of repeated pesticide applications. Two sites were fallowed and three subject to ‘accelerated harvesting’, with a ‘significant commercial impact for the companies concerned’.

Click the links below for further information:

Ombudsman letter confirming investigation
Press Release (long version)
Index of documents
EU correspondence
Friends of the Irish Environment on Fintan O’Toole in Irish Times 16th September
Fintan O'Toole's article in Irish Times, 17th September - 'if you can't win the scientific argument suppress it'