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Deep sea salmon farming and the environment

We’re committed to protecting our environment for today, tomorrow, and the future.

BIM works with industry to help commercial sea fishing and fish farming industries to meet and exceed environmental regulations. As licence holder, we will ensure that the proposed fish farms maintains the high environmental standards that support Ireland’s reputation as a premium producer of organic salmon, and keep our waters and coastline pristine.

The west coast of Ireland 

Key environmental issues and the proposed salmon farm

We will strictly enforce the regulations we add to the farm contracts. The operators will be expected to comply with inspections by BIM, and annual environmental performance reports will be published on our website. We will also conduct investigations when or if local people contact us with legitimate environmental concerns about the farm’s operation.

We know that in order to meet a growing market need, along with a growing global need for affordable protein sources, aquaculture must expand responsibly. Inishturk application is a way to build on our existing mission to promote sustainable practices and accountability in the marine industries.

Preventing pollution from salmon farming

Because salmon farming involves keeping shoals of fish in one place, we need to ensure that the farm’s outputs don’t damage the environment around it. The marine environment is well suited to breaking down the products of fish excretion, as long as concentrations are not too high. We’ve also carried out investigations for the proposed Inishturk farm that ensure every precaution is taken and these will be published in the Environmental Impact Statement.

Fish faeces don’t contain the harmful bacteria or viruses (such as E. coli, Norovirus or Cryptosporidium) that are found in human or other animal faeces, so they pose no danger to bathing waters or blue flag beach status, nor will they cause any detectable change in the water quality.

A worker at the controls in a salmon farming feeding barge

Monitoring the wave climate

The farm structures themselves must be robust enough to withstand even powerful storms. The wave climate is also benign enough that it does not pose a risk to the people working there, nor the equipment used at the farm.

Treatment without the use of harmful chemicals and antibiotics

Chemicals are rarely used on today’s Irish fish farms. The only chemicals used would be medicines which, if needed, are administered by a veterinary surgeon and detailed in records that are routinely inspected by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Young salmon are vaccinated before being put to sea, which means that the use of antibiotics is almost non-existent.

Treating and minimising sea lice

We understand that there is some concern that sea lice larvae from salmon farms might attach themselves to wild salmon or sea trout and reduce their chances of survival. Sea lice affect the skin and occur naturally on wild fish. Marine Institute studies have shown that sea lice are not causing problems for Ireland’s wild salmon (Jackson et al., 2011[1] and Jackson et al.,2011 [2]).

Ireland has established strict precautionary controls that permit an absolute minimum of sea lice on salmon farms. State inspectors visit and inspect farms at least once per month, and any excess beyond the minimum must be treated. The only medicines approved for use in Ireland disperse on contact with seawater and do not build up in the marine environment. If the treatment doesn’t work for any reason, the farmer must empty the site of fish. Results of these inspections are posted on the Marine Institute's website. Visit the Marine Institute's website. The European Commission has commended Ireland’s sea lice control system as the best and most stringent in Europe.

Preventing salmon escapes 

Any structures used on a fish farm licenced to BIM will be required to use the most modern enclosures, specifically designed to prevent any escapes. The enclosures will be extremely robust and must have been tested to be able to withstand the most severe weather conditions likely to be experienced on the proposed sites.

While we will strive to ensure that the risk of an escape is small, the risk of consequences for wild fish is also very small. The Marine Institute has carried out large-scale studies that have shown that there has been no impact on wild stocks due to interbreeding (McGinnty et al., 2003 and McGinnity et al., 2009)

BIM will regularly inspect the farm to ensure that its equipment is robust and properly maintained. We will also require the operator to have recapture measures in place in the event that any fish do escape, including in the event of any emergency.

Protecting other marine life

BIM has taken every possible precaution in choosing the location for the proposed farm. In accordance with EU law, a Natura Impact Statement must be prepared and demonstrate that there is no significant risk to protected animals, plants or habitats. We also ensure that they avoid the location of any maerl beds or seagrass beds.

Irish wildlife

Marine mammals

The main marine mammals in the area are dolphins, porpoises and seals. Dolphins are sometimes attracted to fish farms to feed off of the scavenger fish that congregate around the enclosures.

The design of the farm, wave action of the area, and the low wastage of fish feed mean that scavenger fish are unlikely to congregate around the site.

Seals may attempt to “hunt” the fish in the enclosures, which is why BIM will require the operator to use a tensioned netting system that keeps them from attacking, and nets with a mesh fine enough to prevent any danger to the seals. If the operator wishes to use any seal scaring machines around the site, they will require a permit from the Minister of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Our commitment to environmental conservation

While it is important to protect Ireland’s reputation for organic salmon, it’s of the utmost importance to us that we uphold our responsibility to protect the environment for future generations.

If you have any further questions or you feel we have not covered an issue or concern in sufficient detail, please feel free to contact us at


Jackson, D., Cotter, D. ,ÓMaoiléidigh, N., O’Donoghue, P., White, J., Kane, F., Kelly, S., McDermott, T., McEvoy, S, Drumm, A., Cullen, A., Rogan, G. 2011. An evaluation of the impact of early infestation with the salmon louse Lepeophtheirussalmonis on the subsequent survival of outwardly migrating Atlantic salmon, Salmosalar L., smolts.Aquaculture 320: 3-4,159-163.

Jackson, D., Cotter, D., ÓMaoiléidigh, N., O’Donoghue, P., White, J., Kane, F., Kelly, S., McDermott, T., McEvoy, S., Drumm A., Cullen, A. 2011.Impact of early infestation with the salmon louse Lepeophtheirussalmonis on the subsequent survival of outwardly migrating Atlantic salmon smolts from a number of rivers on Ireland's south and west coasts.Aquaculture 319: 1-2, 37-40.

McGinnitty, P., Prodöhl, P., Ferguson, A., Hynes, R., Ó. Maoiléidigh, N., Baker, B., Cotter, D., O'Hea, B., Cooke,  D., Rogan, G., Taggart, T., and Cross, T. 2003. Fitness Reduction and Potential Extinction of Wild Populations of Atlantic Salmon, Salmosalar, as a Result of Interactions with Escaped Farm Salmon. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences270, 2443-2450.

McGinnity, P., Jennings, E., deEyto, E., Allot, N., Samuelsson, P., Rogan, G., Whelan, K, and Cross, T. 2009. Impact of naturally spawning captive-bred Atlantic salmon onwild populations: depressed recruitment and increased risk of climate-mediated extinction. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 276.

Contact Us

To learn more about this project, contact:

Mairead Mallon
Direct: +353 (0)87 9197312