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IRELAND's Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food, Simon Coveney, is due to answer a written parliamentary question this week relating to the reported escape of between 60,000 and 80,000 salmon from a farm in Bantry Bay.
A statement issued by local group Save Bantry Bay yesterday confirmed the disaster occurred on 1 February, when a cage pulled its anchor and upended into another cage, allowing the fish to escape.
The local group, which said it had been monitoring the situation since the storm, issued a statement saying they were "surprised that the company has made no announcement" and expressed concerns because of the "very real likelihood of further escapees. The protective nets have been stripped by the gales and the seas are overtopping the cages, allowing salmon to escape and predators like seals to enter".
The written parliamentary question, tabled by TD Clare Daly on behalf of Friends of the Irish Environment last week, asked if Minister Coveney "will detail the damage to aquaculture operations during the recent stormy weather and in particular, the number of fish escaped as reported under the Licencing conditions for fin fish operations to his Department."
The question identifies the company in Bantry Bay and asks if the Minister can assure the Deputy "that he is satisfied that escapees from salmon farms have not and will not have an irreversible impact on the genetic integrity of native wild salmon stocks."
FIE Director Tony Lowes called the escape of farmed fish an "ecological disaster", adding "the number of maturing fish that escaped in Bantry Bay are twice the world wide total of escapes in 2012."
"Not only can farmed salmon pass contaminants, parasites and pathogens to wild salmon, but escaped farmed salmon threaten wild salmon because they compete for food and mates. Because farmed salmon are bigger and faster-growing, they often win out. And when farmed salmon succeed in mating with wild salmon, they are liable to produce genetically inferior offspring. The term "frankenfish" is not scaremongering," he continued.
Inland Fisheries Ireland reports that escapes "can lead to salmon extinction in their native rivers, particularly where wild stock numbers are low." Their 'Factsheet' reports that "In Norway, all classified wild salmon rivers have been negatively impacted by farmed salmon escapes. 8 salmon rivers have been critically threatened or have lost their native wild stocks."
The Minister's reply is due on Wednesday.