Salmon farm operators in Connemara have been warned over the illegal extraction of water from a local freshwater lake.
Warning letters have been issued to two salmon farmers operating in Kilkieran Bay following the discovery of an illegal pump and piping system, siphoning fresh water from a nearby lake.
Galway County Council has written warning letters to Bradán Beo Teo and Marine Harvest regarding the detection of the unauthorised development of a pipeline and abstraction pumping system at Loch An Mhuilinn into Cloonawilleen Bay. It is part of the Kilkieran Bay, special area of conservation (SAC).
The Council was alerted to the unauthorised development and illegal activity after local inshore fishermen noticed that water was being extracted from a trout lake at An Muileann, Gorumna Island.
Last year, an enforcement noticed was issued to Marine Harvest to dismantle a piping and pump system at nearby Loughaunore Lake.
The owner of the latest unauthorised development is not yet known but the Council has issued warning letters to Bradán Beo Teo and Marine Harvest. They were given a month to respond. The Department has indicated Marine Harvest does not own the pipes.
The aquaculture licence section of the Department of Agriculture Food and Marine has also confirmed it will investigate the matter “as a priority”.
Last year Marine Harvest said it needed to extract water from Loughaunore Lake as an emergency measure to save their salmon stock from Amoebic Gill Disease (AGD). Bathing salmon in fresh water for three hours cures the fish of AGD.
It has not yet been established when the latest pumping system and pipes were developed at An Muileann but it has been there for some months.
Galway Bay Against Salmon Cages has called for a full investigation, and for hefty penalties if it is shown that the law was broken.
“This system has been put in without planning permission and without a foreshore licence. Whoever is responsible cannot be allowed to get away with this,” said Billy Smyth, chairperson of GBASC.
“When that pump is working, millions of litres are being extracted from the lake, which is a trout lake located in an SAC. The other serious thing about this is that the citizens of Ireland have been forced to pay water charges to Irish Water for the amount of water they use. And yet these people aren’t paying a penny for all the water they are using,” he said.
Údarás Na Gaeltachta are major shareholders in Bradán Beo Teo, the company that owns the two salmon farm licences in Kilkieran Bay SAC, one of which was leased to Marine Harvest for the last two years. GBASC says Údarás has questions to answer regarding this latest development.
“Is the board of Údarás aware that a company that they are a major shareholder in, may be implicated, through their ownership of the two licences, in the operation and construction of an illegal piping and pumping system?
“We are calling for an investigation into how this can happen. Salmon farm operators who break the law, should have their licences revoked and be heavily fined, otherwise this situation will continue year after year,” added Mr Smyth.