Saturday, 11 March 2017

Remarks by Niall Greene to the Salmon Watch Ireland conference at Salthill Hotel, Galway on Saturday 18th February 2017.

Remarks by Niall Greene to the Salmon Watch Ireland conference at Salthill Hotel, Galway on Saturday 18th February 2017.

We have had some interesting and thought provoking presentations here today on the general theme of whether salmon farming can be regulated in a such a way that the industry no longer constitutes a threat to wild salmonids.

Ciaran Byrne has outlined the sorry tale of the decline in our salmon stocks over many decades.  In this we are generally no different than virtually all other salmon jurisdictions in the North Atlantic and it has happened despite the dramatic step taken by the Irish government in banning all salmon exploitation at sea in 2007 and serious efforts to manage our stocks on a river by river basis.

Tony Lowes illustrated very clearly that the negative impacts of salmon are not confined to those on wild salmonids but that under a wide number of headings other parts of our environment are suffering from the side effects of the industry.

Eanna Mulloy has done a masterly job in dissecting the current legislative framework within which salmon farming is supposed to be regulated.  It is clear that it is a shambles and as well illustrated at this week’s hearing in Bantry not in synch with important parts of EU legislation and jurisprudence.

We are grateful to Roar Olsen for his exposition of a system of regulation in the Faroes which has teeth and actually works in limiting the sea lice scourge.  There are those who will object that in the Faroes they are controlling for a much higher level of sea lice than we could tolerate – as their main concern, not having juvenile wild salmonids to worry about, is that bad husbandry should not spread to effect other farms – but the fact is that they have demonstrated that the policing of hard laws has a real place in the regulation of salmon farming.

Finally, Liam Carr described for us a participatory and integrated approach to environmental management and the results of extensive research in the West of Ireland about attitudes to and beliefs about salmon farming.

With some 12,000 tonnes of production annually and direct employment of less than 300 people spread over some 24 farms, Ireland’s salmon farming industry is minuscule by world standards.  But it’s locations in Donegal, Connemara and the South West results in enormous and disproportionate damage to salmon and sea trout populations in adjacent rivers through the impact of sea lice concentrations which are generated by the farms and of escapees.  In addition, there is damage to the rest of the marine environment resulting from the use of pesticides and other chemical treatments to control pests and diseases.

That is why we have continued to campaign for almost thirty years for a proper rule based system for regulating salmon farming and eliminating its impacts on the rest of the environment. 

There has been a good deal of focus here on national and EU law in so far as it concerns or should concern salmon farming.  But there is another, wider international context framed by the decisions of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation.

NASCO is an intergovernmental organization whose objective is to contribute through consultation and cooperation to the conservation, restoration, enhancement and rational management of salmon stocks in the North Atlantic taking into account the best scientific evidence available to it.  NASCO has developed a range of agreements and guidelines in relation to the management of salmon fisheries, habitat protection and restoration and aquaculture and related activities.  It has to be emphasized that these agreements and guidelines are negotiated and decided decided at intergovernmental level, usually with significant input from the NGO community of which Salmon Watch Ireland is one participant.
NASCO has been concerned about salmon farming since it adopted a resolution on best practice in 1994.  This was amended over the years and the definitive statement is now enshrined in the Williamsburg Declaration of 2006 in the development of which the salmon farming industry itself were closely consulted – it is not just a wish list of those of us concerned with the welfare of wild salmonids.

Williamsburg, inter alia, has this to say:
·        ‘Each Party……should require the proponent of an activity covered by this Resolution to provide all information necessary to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not have a significant adverse impact on wild salmon stocks or lead to irreversible change’.
·        ‘[Each Party shall take measures to]….minimise escapes of wild salmon to a level that is as close as practicable to zero through the development and implementation of action plans as envisaged under the Guidelines on Containment of Farm Salmon (CNL(01)53)’.
·        ‘[Each Party shall take measures to]….minimise the risk of disease and parasite transmission between all aquaculture activities, introductions and transfers and wild salmon stocks’.

In addition to the principles set out above Williamsburg goes into some detail on how they should be implemented.  The measures in the Annexes in respect of salmon farming cover issues to do with location of farms, the establishment of ‘wild salmon protection areas’, the designation of exclusive ‘aquaculture regions’, separation distance between sites and the disposal of dead and dying fish and infectious material.[1]  Notable among these guidelines and measures are those that propose that:
·        ‘[T]agging or marking or inventory tracking systems will be used to facilitate the identification of farmed salmon in the wild and their separation from wild fish, to determine the source of escapes and to assess the interactions of escaped salmon with wild stocks.  These systems could be coupled with river monitoring and recapture systems that allow holding and close examination of returning fish in the rivers’.[2]
·        ‘Procedures should be established for the early identification and detection of, and rapid response to, an outbreak of any new disease or parasitic infection likely to affect wild Atlantic salmon’.[3]
·        ‘[T]here is a need to strengthen and amend disease controls to minimise disease transfer between aquaculture activities and wild fish’.[4]

Finally, Annex 3 of Williamsburg goes into considerable detail on ‘Guidelines on Containment of Farm Salmon’[5] covering site selection, equipment and structures, operations, verification and record keeping, action plans and reporting and a requirement that ‘each jurisdiction should advise the Liaison Group [of NASCO and salmon farming industry representatives] annually on progress in implementing its action plan(s)’.
In 2009 NASCO adopted further more precise guidelines on sea lice and containment in consultation with the salmon farming industry.[6] This guidance was ‘intended to supplement the Williamsburg resolution and to assist the Parties and jurisdictions’ in managing salmon aquaculture and in preparing the Implementation Plans and Annual Progress Reports that are an essential part of the NASCO system. 

The ‘International Goals’ of the document were stated to be (a) ‘100% of farms to have effective sea lice management such that there is no increase in sea lice loads or lice-induced mortality of wild salmonids attributable to the farms’ and (b) ‘100% of farmed fish to be retained in all production facilities’.  Precise courses of action are then set out under each objective which if rigorously applied would make a major impact on reducing the negative effects of salmon farms.

The conclusions of at least two further NASCO-related documents need also to be taken into account:

The report of the conveners of a NINA/NASCO/ICES conference held in Bergen in 2005 stated that ‘The Convenors propose that interactions between farmed and wild salmon need to be virtually eliminated, not just reduced….progress in addressing the sea lice problem has been made….but it is clear that difficulties remain, particularly with regard to protecting wild sea trout populations….The prospect of resistance developing to the available sea lice treatments are a real concern…..Progress has been made in reducing escapees but their numbers remain large relative to the wild stocks and they may be irreversibly damaging the stock structure and diversity of the wild Atlantic salmon….If physical containment cannot be achieved then the use of sterile salmon may be necessary’.
The rapporteurs of the 2011 NASCO/ICES ‘Salmon Summit’ in La Rochelle note that ‘the following international goals will need to be vigorously pursued:  100% of farms to have effective sea lice management such that there is no increase in sea lice loads or lice-induced mortality of wild salmonids attributable to the farms [and] 100% farmed fish to be retained in all production facilities’.

It may be objected that a lot of these statements are quite a high level of generality and that they are not directly binding on the parties to the NASCO convention.  But they are, to repeat the point, declarations by governments including five salmon farming jurisdictions – Canada, Faroes, Ireland, Norway and Scotland.

None of these jurisdictions are acting in conformity with the NASCO declarations with Ireland and Scotland probably being the most egregiously delinquent.

The reactions of the salmon farming jurisdictions within NASCO range from openly recognizing that there are sea-lice, escape and disease problems and attempting to find technical and management solutions (Norway); to not caring about whether there is a major threat to wild salmonids (Scotland); to living in a fantasy land where it is asserted that all the problems have been solved (Ireland). 

In none of these jurisdictions, even the best, does policy or practice come even close to the ‘minimise escapes….to zero’ and the ‘minimise risk of disease and parasite transmission’ of Williamsburg. 

Why is this the case? 
One reason, maybe the dominant one, is that many governments (or at least the parts of government promoting salmon farming) have got themselves into a position where they believe that wild salmon conservation and farmed salmon development cannot be reconciled and that the socio-economic and, therefore, political benefits of farming trump all else.   The deep advertising and PR pockets of the salmon farming industry help to bolster the benign image of salmon farming as a form of regional development. 

It would be wrong, of course, to deny that salmon farming does bring some benefits, not major ones but some, to remote coastal communities. But as the production of salmon becomes ever more automated and more and more concentrated in the hands of major multinationals, those benefits are increasingly confined to relatively small pockets of highly marginalised employment which is prey to a vast array of market, technical and disease risks. 

Arguments about bio-diversity, the protection of heritage and wild salmon conservation generally, find it hard to get any real traction in this world.
In most of our jurisdictions those of us with a wild salmon interest, both inside and outside government, are fighting with at least one arm tied behind our backs.  The system of licensing and regulation of salmon farming, such as it is, largely sidelines wild salmon advocates whether governmental or private. 

For those of us in the European Union, the European Commission offers a route to a more objective assessment of the competing interests.  Salmon and Trout Conservation (both UK and Scotland) lodged a complaint with the Commission last year about the Scottish government’s failure to address the impacts of sea lice produced by salmon farming.  We look forward with interest to seeing how this develops and hope they have more success than Salmon Watch Ireland had with its’ 2009 complaint.

What is to be done?
The settled view of the salmon conservation community is that there has to be as rapid as possible transition to recycling and closed containment systems.  There are now sufficient examples of such systems operating in Europe and North America to confirm that they are viable methods for producing high quality farmed salmon economically.  But the vast open cage salmon farming industry is not going to transition to closed containment overnight and it is vital that it be regulated so as to immediately mitigate its negative environmental impacts, including on wild salmonids.

Something approaching 2.0 million tonnes of farmed salmon are produced in the North Atlantic each year and, however much we might wish it, we recognize that is not going to be dismantled overnight in a world where wild fish food stocks are rapidly declining.  Part of that decline in wild stocks is, of course, due to the direct and indirect effects of the vast harvesting of salmon forage fish that goes on just to feed the fish in the salmon cages.
We are not good at regulation in Ireland.  That is illustrated all too frequently by scandals that mushroom into political crises. 

Conflicts of interests between the regulator and the regulated often lie at the heart of these failures.  In the case of salmon farming the lack of any clear separation and creative tension the role of government agencies has been pointed out by many of us for many years.  Everything to do with the official management of salmon farming now falls into the sphere of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and its’ agencies:  the promotion of the industry is managed within the same framework as the bodies that are supposed to determine licensing decisions and enforce the rules (such as they are).  This is the same kind of highly conflicted structure that the Cohen Commission examined and criticized in Canada[7] in 2012.  We should learn from that report.

So, if we are serious about regulating salmon farming and protecting our environment generally, and our wild salmonids in particular, the first essential step that must be taken is to totally separate responsibility for promotion from the licensing and regulation activities.  Without that separation and creative tension between two entirely different functions then there will never be the necessary tension to ensure that regulation is effective in enforcing the rules under which licenses are issued.  We all know of cases where the negative findings by lower level civil servants about particular salmon farms or incidents have been suppressed further up the chain of command for essentially commercial reasons.

Aside from that threshold issue of separating promotion and development from licensing and regulation we need a number of other major steps to be addressed:
·        With no disrespect to the three people involved, it has to be said that the salmon conservation community has low expectations about the outcome of the deliberations of the Independent Aquaculture Licensing Review Group appointed by the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine at the end of 2016.   To begin with its terms of reference are too narrow:  there is limited value in reviewing licensing conditions and the process by which they are applied to individual applications if there is no consideration given to how they are to be policed and whether there is, in fact, any will or capacity to police them.   However, we should not be totally dismissive of the potential for them to move things along to a better place in areas such as:
Ø converting the current protocols into hard law at least at the Statutory Instrument level so that they are clearly enforceable in a court of law;
Ø  the separation of farms from salmonid rivers;
Ø limits on total bio mass in bays and the assessment of the cumulative effects of farms in an area on the environment;
Ø the financial and managerial capability of license applicants to run a farm within the terms of its license.
·        We need a coherent government plan, in conjunction with the salmon farming industry, to transition salmon farming to closed containment systems.  We acknowledge that the technology is still evolving and that the business and financing models are different from open cage farming.  However, even if there were no problems associated with what open cages export to the environment, there are problems of diseases and parasites that the cages import and which in an environment of rising temperatures demand solutions that only closed containment can offer to the farming industry itself.  Some of the large farmers in Norway are moving towards closed containment – but with little sign of them doing likewise in their operations in Ireland.

·        By the hostile attitude of its official agencies to methods other than open cage salmon farming, Ireland with its’ advanced fish sciences and engineering research and development resources is, in fact, missing out on a major opportunity to shape a foothold in the movement towards recycling and closed containment of aquaculture.  There are probably a lot more jobs to be created in such development activities than in open cage salmon farming.

·        A regime of enforced hard law is needed to govern the location, operation and regulation of fish farms.  We recognize that on the one hand we cannot dismantle all current farms overnight but on the other hand we cannot live with the extremely lax arrangements that currently exist.  What we are demanding is the type of hard law regime that applies to terrestrial farming and not one based, as in Ireland, on soft law non-justiciable protocols, guidelines and calls for the adoption of best practice.  Just because salmon farming takes place beneath the waves is no justification for the absence of effective regulation.  As one appellant in the oral hearing on the Shot Head license in Bantry said during the week, terrestrial farmers would be prosecuted for allowing the release of animal excrement into rivers that salmon farmers release into the sea.

·        Wild salmon interests, official and private, need to be given a direct and legitimate role in the licensing and regulation processes, which must include the legal statutory protection of wild salmonids in statute and not just the welfare of farmed fish.  It is not widely known that the limited voice which Inland Fisheries Ireland had in the licensing process was eliminated by a legislative sleight of hand and their monitoring role in sea lice inspections of farms suppressed by administrative action of the Marine Institute.

·        We need much greater clarity about the identification and notification of diseases and the assessment of the side effects of treatments used to suppress them.  Bodies such as the Food Safety Authority, the Health Products Regulatory Authority, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the Environmental Protection Agency need to start taking a serious and systematic interest in these issues and to publish their results irrespective of the commercial sensitivities of the farmers.

These are just a sample of the kind of measures that we think are necessary to bring open cage salmon farming under control.  But it comes back to political will and in the absence of it we will have little option but to continue to take the expensive route of recourse to the courts.


[1] Williamsburg (fn 2) Annex 2, section 1.
[2] Ibid Annex 2, section 1.6.
[3] Ibid Annex 2, section 2.5.
[4] Ibid Annex 2, section 2.6.
[5] The terms of Annex 3 Guidelines on Containments of Farm Salmon was originally adopted as NASCO resolution (CNL(01)53.
[6] (2009)  Guidance on Best Management Practices to address impacts of sea lice and escaped farmed salmon on wild salmon stocks (SLG(09)5, NASCO.
[7] Commission of enquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, British Columbia River (Government of Canada, Ottawa, 2012) – ‘The Cohen Commission’.