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.
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.
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.
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?’
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?