FISHING groups and the IFA have all welcomed the Government’s plans for a groundbreaking IDA-style "advance fish farm" site off the west coast to attract investment and create up to 500 much needed jobs.
The concept is to develop a deep-sea salmon fish farm, which could be worth up to €14 million annually to the local economy. A fish farm of this type would be a first for Ireland.
Working in tandem with the Marine Institute and BIM, the Department for Agriculture, Marine & Food is to investigate a number of sites off the west coast as possible locations.
Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive and chairman of the Federation of Irish Fishermen, said the fishing community welcomes any initiative that will create extra jobs in coastal areas.
Mr O’Donoghue said: "We welcome not only the news, but we also welcome the way that Minister Coveney has gone about this initiative in firstly talking with all the major stakeholders.
"We understand that this is a totally new concept in fish farming. I don’t think the first one will be off the Donegal coast. It will probably be further down the coast. If the first one is a success, there will probably be more down the road."
Based in Killybegs, Co Donegal, Mr O’Donoghue said that fishermen in the region would want to ensure that any new venture like this doesn’t have any knock-on effect on traditional fishing activities, such as the nets along the west coast. However, after meeting Mr Coveney, fishing groups said they were happy to see the project proceed.
Mr Coveney said: "This project is a major jobs initiative in the aquaculture sector which has the potential to create very significant sustainable jobs in vulnerable coastal communities."
The initiative has also been welcomed by IFA president John Bryan, who said that aquaculture in Ireland has huge potential for development, exports and job creation, but has been hindered by EU directives and national bureaucracy which has seen the licensing system come to a virtual halt.
Mr Bryan said: "The industry welcomes the new approach whereby the state is applying for the licence, ensuring all legal and environmental concerns are addressed, and then franchising the operation to a successful bidder under a contract ensuring the highest standards are maintained.
"Ireland’s reputation at home and abroad for the finest quality farmed seafood is renowned and the sector has put huge efforts into carving out a high-value niche through certification and quality schemes with BIM. The biggest frustration for IFA members right around the coast has been that under the stalled licensing system, they are not allowed to produce what the market demands."
IFA aquaculture executive secretary Richie Flynn said emigration in coastal areas had returned with a vengeance since these areas had been doubly hit by quota cuts in wild fisheries and the economic downturn.
Mr Flynn said: "A project such as this will see the return of opportunities for young people. We should export fish, not jobs.
"While moving forward with the new state licence initiative, Minister Coveney should keep in mind the hundreds of inshore fish and shellfish farmers who have been waiting for years for renewals and new sites, many of whom have built up Ireland’s aquaculture sector from nothing to a thriving business employing 2,000 people today."