The groups are seeking a full review of the current aquaculture licensing system to ensure transparency and the right to an independent review of any decisions.
"Under the current system", says Alec O’Donovan of Save Bantry Bay, "the Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine hold responsibility for all stages of the aquaculture licensing process, has almost total control over the appeals process, and are responsible for policing compliance with the licences. To have a single Minister responsible for all these stages of an industry that has such serious pollution issues associated with it, as well as the potential to devastate valuable salmon and sea trout stocks, is inappropriate and open to abuse."
The groups claim this is demonstrated in the case of Galway Bay where the Minister is continuing to push for a the biggest salmon farming development programme in Irish history in spite of objections from other Government agencies, conflicting research, and non-compliance with EU legislation.
Under EU legislation a Strategic Environmental Assessment was taken of the Irish Seafood National Programme 2007 – 2013 and a moratorium of further development of salmon farming was agreed in July of 2010.
"To simultaneously have a moratorium established under EU law while a government body proposes to double national production demonstrates the current conflict of interest. The projected growth of salmon farming is greater than any other area of food production, and yet The Department of the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency who could protect the environmental are currently cut out of the entire process."
"This not only makes a mockery of EU law but highlights a worrying lack of concern for the environment," said Kieran O’Shea, Chairman, of Save Bantry Bay.
The appeal to the TDs is to require the Government to undertake a new strategic environmental assessment of salmon farming policy as required by EU law and to revise the current aquaculture licensing system to ensure transparency and remove conflicts of interest before any decision is made on the proposal by Minister Coveney.
"None of the groups opposing the expansion of salmon farming can receive a fair hearing while this situation remains. This in turn divides communities and escalates the conflicts. It is for this reason so many different interest groups are calling for a comprehensive review of current aquaculture licencing process and the adherence to the decision made under an EU Directive to establish a moratorium of salmon farm development until the key environmental issues are resolved," said Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment.
The groups behind the initiative include: Save Bantry Bay, Salmon Watch Ireland, Friends of the Irish Environment, No Salmon Farms at Sea, Inis Oirr Tourism Network Inishere, Cumann Slat Iascairi Na Gaillimhe Agus Arann, and Cumann Iascairi Cois Costa.