Inland Fisheries Ireland chief executive Dr Ciaran Byrne has said that the evidence is “pointing towards” moving fish farms onshore for a more sustainable aquaculture industry writes Lorna Siggins.
Dr Byrne was responding to a decision by the Danish government to halt any further fish farming in coastal areas.
Denmark’s environment minister Lea Wermelin said late last month that future licensed fish farming would be based on land.
'the evidence is “pointing towards” moving fish farms onshore'
Danish newspaper Politiken reported Ms Wermelin as explaining that the move was for the sake of the marine environment, as she believed coastal areas and inland waters were “overloaded” with nitrogen.
Some 60 per cent of Danish farmed fish is rainbow trout, with 27 per cent produced in sea cages developed since the 1970s. Over 200 freshwater farms are mainly based in the Jutland area.
Ms Wermelin’s move overturns a decision by a previous Danish government to permit more fish farms in coastal areas if facilities could guarantee removing nutrients, particularly nitrogen, released into the water column.
A new administration voted in last June is led by Social Democracy, Ms Wermelin’s party, with the support of three other political parties.
“We have major challenges with oxygen deficiencies, and we can see that nitrogen emissions are not falling as expected. Therefore, it is the government’s position that there is no room for more or larger facilities in Denmark,” Ms Wermelin said.
Her decision was welcomed by the Danish Anglers Association, which described it as a victory for the marine environment and for wild fish stocks.
However, the Danish Aquaculture organisation described it as a “sad decision” and one which was very serious for the entire aquaculture sector in Denmark.
Dr Byrne said that Inland Fisheries Ireland, the State organisation managing publicly-owned freshwater fisheries, had “always argued for a sustainable aquaculture industry, one in which farmed fish are not negatively impacting on wild fish”.
“This can be achieved in tightly controlled circumstances - however with increasing climatic and environmental variables, this is becoming more difficult to achieve and sustain,”he said.
“ As a result, the evidence is pointing towards onshore fish farms as the appropriate method towards ensuring a sustainable industry,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Michael Creed said he would not be commenting on a Danish government decision.
Danish aquaculture production of rainbow trout amounted to over 45,000 tonnes in volume in 2016 and over €156 million in value.
A report three years ago for the Irish aquaculture industry said that capital costs were too high to attempt land-based projects in Ireland.
The study for the Irish Salmon Growers’ Association (ISGA) by Danish-born fish farming pioneer Ivar Warrer-Hansen explained how rearing salmon in closed containment is perceived as being more attractive than at sea.
This is due to reduced interaction with native or wild stocks and greater control over the immediate production environment, including disease risks and protection from coastal storms.
Land-based farming of finfish species such as eel, tilapia and catfish has developed internationally, while there has also been some success with sea bass, turbot and perch.
Pilot-scale projects in Canada and in the US have proved it is possible to rear salmon to “market quality” in these systems, and Norway, the European leader in salmon farming, is one of a number of countries investigating land-based options.
The study for the ISGA calculated the capital costs for land-based aquaculture in Ireland at around €33 million for a 5,000-tonne farm, based on 2015-16 cost figures.
Capital costs would make it “difficult to be competitive, especially during those regular periods where production costs rise above-market prices”, Warrer-Hansen’s report stated.
Norway’s largest land-based salmon farm plans to have with an annual capacity of 50,000 tonnes when built, and it was recently reported that Norwegian entrepreneur Geir Nordahl-Pedersen wants to detonate a mountain to create a 500m x 90m basin which would accommodate about 30 cages.