THE Marine Institute of Ireland has refuted claims by the Save Bantry Bay (SBB) group that the algal blooms, which have called a halt to shellfish harvesting along the west coast of Ireland, are attributed to nutrients discharged from salmon farms.
Over 7,000 homes on the Beara peninsula received leaflets, produced by the SBB, calling on the Minister for the Marine, Simon Coveney, to refuse to grant a new licence to Marine Harvest Ireland, who are seeking to increase the size of their salmon farming business in Bantry Bay.
Alec O’Donovan, SBB secretary said, “Bantry and Dunmanus, and other bays along the west coast, are currently closed because of algal blooms and any increase in salmon farming in Bantry Bay will cause the numbers of local lobster and crab fishermen to decline. Bantry, Glengarriff, Gearhies, Adrigole, Castletownbere, Ardgroom, Kilmakilloge and Dunmanus shellfisheries are all included in the most recent closure notices from the Marine Institute due to the danger of contaminated produce.
“Some of these closure orders have been in place for almost three months. Toxic algal blooms are fed by excessive nutrients entering the water and are caused in part by the waste from fish farms”.
The SBB also say that their claims are supported by numerous scientific studies, including UNESCO reports, which confirm that fish farms can exacerbate localised algal blooms.
“In 2008, the harvesting of mussels in Bantry Bay by one company led to a product recall in three countries and severe illness in more than 300 people in France and America. Such situations can have a devastating effect on the reputation and profitability of seafood products as well as damaging Ireland’s international ‘green’ image,” Mr O’Donovan continued.
However, a spokesperson from the Marine Institute of Ireland told Bantry Times that the algal blooms are a natural occurrence and are based on weather and sea current patterns.
“The species of micro-algae that cause shellfish closures around Ireland are not limited by availability of nutrients in the sea.
“These are low biomass natural blooms that originate offshore. There is no attributable cause other than natural cycling and relating them to salmon farming or other land-based discharges is incorrect.
“The same UNESCO reference cited [by the SBB] acknowledges this, stating that Dinophysis alexandrium and other micro-algae that cause shellfish toxins appear to be unaffected by coastal nutrient enrichment.
“The large non-toxic Karenia mikimotoi bloom highlighted in the press in recent weeks, is a common element of the natural annual cycle of phytoplankton flora that inhabit our coastal waters.
“The monitoring of shellfish for naturally occurring toxins is carefully controlled by the Marine Institute, Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, who work closely together with the shellfish industry,” the spokesperson concluded.