Irish Farmers Association president Joe Healy described it as a significant and serious blueprint for the survival and development of a key food sector.
He said the report particularly addresses many of the deficiencies and delays in licensing which has cost the industry millions of euro and hundreds of jobs.
“The reform needs to be comprehensive in scope and focus both on immediate actions which can produce results in the short-term as well as initiatives which will bear fruit in the longer term,” he said.
The review committee was set up by Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Michael Creed to examines the process of licensing for aquaculture and its associated legal framework. This was in keeping with actions identified in Food Wise 2025 and Ireland’s National Strategic Plan for Sustainable Aquaculture Development.
“Our aquaculture sector has enormous potential to sustainably grow its production of seafood to meet the opportunities presented from growing world demand for safe, sustainable seafood,” said Mr Creed.
“Ireland’s National Strategic Plan for Sustainable Aquaculture Development aims to sustainably grow our production across all species by 45,000 tonnes.”
Mr Creed said to achieve that goal, there is a need to revamp the aquaculture licensing process as well as its associated legal frameworks. This move would ensure that an operator can have a decision on an aquaculture licence application within timeframes that compare favourably to our competitors.
“But any changes must ensure that all stakeholders can participate in a transparent licensing process and have confidence that any licensing decision complies with all EU and national legal requirements and protects our oceans for future generations,” said Mr Creed.
The review group is comprised of retired senior civil servant Mary Moylan, chair; Lorcán Ó Cinnéide, chief executive of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association; and Ken Whelan, the adjunct professor in the School of Biology and Environmental Science at UCD.
They were tasked with making recommendations to improve the existing licensing system and to undertake steps to review the legislative framework. They received 385 submissions.
Mr Creed said the report was commissioned against a backdrop of a licensing process which had accumulated a significant backlog and, it is fair to say, considerable stakeholder frustration on many sides.
“I have no doubt that the Independent Review Group has undertaken a considerable journey to understand the complex issues involved in this process and to reach the 30 recommendations in the report that I will now need to examine,” said Irish Shellfish Association chairman Michael Mulloy, welcoming the report, said gaining a 20-year licence term was very significant for the sector — allowing for proper business management and succession planning in the industry.
In addition to a pre-assessment procedure, he welcomed more transparency in public consultation and the emphasis on seeking managerial and financial assurance in advance of new licences being granted.
Irish Salmon Growers’ Association chair Damien O’Keeffe said the report contains many welcome proposals for simplification and increased transparency and customer service for both land-based and marine finfish farming.
There was also a warm welcome for the report from Marine Harvest Ireland, founded in 1979 as Fanad Fisheries by a group of Irish shareholders led by Anthony Fox.
It is now part of the Marine Harvest Group, the world’s leading seafood, company based in Norway, and the largest producer of farmed salmon. MHI managing director Jan Feenstra said the publication of the report represents a significant milestone for the future development of Irish aquaculture.
“Our company intends to invest between €20mand €25m in a number of sites off the west coast of Ireland,” said Mr O’Keeffe.
“However, we can only proceed if afforded certainty around the licencing process and regulatory regime here.
“There are many positive aspects of the report which mirror what we had proposed in our detailed submission as of the consultation process.
“We compliment the minister and the members of the Independent Review Group but of paramount importance now, is acting on the 30 recommendations contained in the report.
“It is now the minister’s prerogative to outline what becomes of the report. We would implore him to set out a clear timeline regarding the implementation of the report’s recommendations.
“Otherwise, the hard work of the Review Group will be in vain and our aspirations to create hundreds of new jobs will flounder.
“We must believe that this report has the potential to herald a new dawn for Irish aquaculture.
“The industry has been smothered in red tape and inertia for much too long, preventing it from prospering and delivering the targets set out in a swathe of Government reports and strategy documents.”
Marine Harvest Ireland contributes over €15m to the domestic economy annually with some 800 Irish suppliers presently doing business with the company here.
Meanwhile, data from Bord Iascaigh Mhara shows that 2016 aquaculture production rose 9% in volume to 44,000 tonnes.
The value of production at first point of sale also increased by about 13% to €167 million and the industry contributed to providing over 1,900 jobs, a notable 6% increase on 2015.
Oysters are aquaculture’s single largest employer — they account for nearly 1,300 of these positions.
Professor Alan Renwick noted in a 2015 report for the Irish Shellfish Association that oyster farming is a relatively young industry in Ireland. Many of those involved are first generation producers.
This has meant that they have been on a steep learning curve. However, the report added that those in the industry have now developed the skills to produce more consistently the quality of oyster required by the market.