The Farm in the Bay

It’s easy to forget, when you live on the Sheep’s Head overlooking Dunmanus Bay, that there is a famous stretch of water just over the Goat’s Path.

Unlike its sometimes forgotten neighbour, Bantry Bay has seen invading armies, Irish patriots, maritime disasters and the discovery of a long-lost sunken French man-of-war. All this and it is one of the deepest natural harbours on the planet as well. But now Bantry Bay and many of the people who live and work along its 35km stretch are embroiled in a bitter fight to prevent the development of a salmon farming project just off-shore from the little village of Adrigole.

A salmon cage in Bantry Bay with Hungry Hill on the Beara Peninsula in the back ground (photo thanks to Niall Duffy)

Bantry Bay already has two other salmon farms in operation but the protestors, a gathering of local pot fishermen, recreational anglers, concerned residents and fish consumers, hospitality business owners and environmental groups say that the Bay, and indeed the livelihoods of many, will be damaged for generations to come if this salmon farm is granted a licence.

In these times of recession, the peninsulas and the surrounding region need jobs. More and more people are being forced to emigrate in an effort to find work. Surely new jobs in the area would generate much-needed income for the local businesses and retailers? The salmon farm company envisages 10 new jobs, eight during the construction phase and two permanent jobs when the farm is operational. The company will also commission a new vessel, which will be built locally and will service the up-and-running fish farm.

I get the chance to have a closer look at a salmon cage that is home to almost 40,000 salmon (photo: Niall Duffy)

On the other hand, local pot fishermen say that some of their traditional fishing grounds will be out-of-reach because of the salmon cages, while they fear that pollution created by the salmon farm (faeces and uneaten food pellets) will decimate the stocks of crab and lobster. Salmon anglers, who have seen a regeneration of the wild salmon stocks in the rivers that flow into Bantry Bay, warn that a salmon farm at the proposed location would all but destroy the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn and force the fish already in the system to run a gauntlet of sea lice before they make it to their feeding grounds in the Atlantic. Tourism ventures that line the seashore along the Bay fear that their businesses will suffer and close because of the proposed salmon farm. Kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, swimming and even walking along the Sheep’s Head Way and the Beara Way will all be adversely affected by the placing of another salmon farm in the Bay. Meanwhile, environmentalists say that Bantry Bay, while deep, does not have the flow capacity to ‘flush’ all the contaminants they say salmon farming produces out of the Bay.

Beautiful Bantry Bay

The two sides are indeed split, as are many of the residents who live beside this wonderfully scenic part of southwest Ireland. It all boils down to this: will the creation of 10 new jobs through this venture actually end up causing more unemployment in an area struggling to hold on to the jobs it already has? Will this new salmon farm project damage the tourist industry, which is a lifeline for many local families and business owners? Will the location of the salmon farm spoil the scenic beauty and water quality of the area? Or are all these concerns to be dismissed because of the potential extra jobs that the salmon farm MAY create in the years to come? As one local man whose son had just emigrated to Canada said, ‘We have to consider the future, you can’t eat the scenery can you?’

A farmed salmon from Bantry Bay (photo: Niall Duffy)

So what do you think? Should the people of Bantry Bay put the economic future of the area first or should its environmental future take priority? Or are the two inseparable? Can both fish farming and tourism exist side-by-side?

Do any of these issues cross your mind when you eat farmed salmon?


6 thoughts on “The Farm in the Bay

  1. Great article Brian, hope ok to share as you cover both sides excellently. Of course, I’m totally against the proposed farm, here’s hoping the planning is turned down!

  2. When I purchase salmon for cooking at home, it’s always wild caught. However, farmed salmon probably finds its way into my stomach when I’m eating in restaurants. If there are already two salmon farms in the bay, when will enough be enough? Ten jobs are not many. And eight of those are temporary.

  3. Hi Brian,
    A very thoughtful piece indeed. To show my some of my hand at the start of the game, I have just finished eating farmed salmon, spinach and potatoes for my evening meal. How I see it is as follows; The 8 jobs are a nonsense and have no place in the argument. They are of no long term benefit to the area. The two permanent jobs are a pretty poor trade off for the decimation that fish farms can cause. Over the years, I have seen the devastation that can be caused to communities by the loss of wild salmon. If the bay is not appropriate and can’t flush, then the farm should be housed elsewhere.

    To show the rest of my hand; I grew up beside Dun Laoghaire and I have seen the awful mess that uncontrolled commercial fishermen have made of the fish stocks in Dublin Bay and all along the East Coast. As a young fella, I used to water ski off the back of the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire. We would often see the beam trawlers dragging everything off the bottom, often in waters that were too shallow to ski in. The result was no breeding fish in Dublin Bay. Because of the geology of the bay, this practice along with total over-fishing helped the destruction of much of the costal angling along part of the East Coast.

    Commercial fishermen, large and small have also been responsible for a lot of the destruction of the angling based tourism on the West Coast through drift netting and total overfishing of the now almost defunct wild salmon stocks. These drift netters and river poachers are also part of the communities that protest the salmon farms.

    On balance, I would like the farms to be properly run, properly regulated and only located where they can have minimal impact on the environment. But, also on balance, the communities need to face up to what their own people have been doing over the years and not blame it all on the fish farm.

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