The Irish Shellfish Association has put a strong case to Minister Simon Coveney outlining the severe crisis in the mussel production sector in west Cork and Kerry as a result of highly unusual algal blooms this winter.
‘Some bays have been forced to close down for five consecutive months and farmers have had to watch their crops wash away during the winter storms instead of fetching premiums in top supermarkets and restaurants,’ said the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) aquaculture executive Richie Flynn.
Producers from Castlemaine to Dunmanus Bay have been affected.
‘By closing their harvesting operations, the mussel farmers ensured the consumer and food safety comes first, but unfortunately they have no control over the length of time these natural blooms can persist in the ocean.
‘Producers are not arguing with the science or criteria which closed them down. In fact, IFA members [including the shellfish association] work very closely with the agencies such as the Food Safety Authority, Marine Institute, HSE and BIM to ensure we have the safest shellfish system in the world.
‘The EU has recognised this major sacrifice can be extremely painful and must be balanced by a special scheme to allow producers to stay in business.
‘That official recognition was enshrined in EU regulations over seven years ago. Minister Coveney [pictured] must use these EU rules now to find a scheme to help dozens of small family businesses along the south west coast to stay in business.
‘Accurate figures on each producer’s production can be accessed from Gatherers Documents records held by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA).’
The IFA’s analysis shows that up to 10,000 tonnes of top quality mussel crop has been lost to the elements or is now unusable.
Flynn said: ‘This crop should have been sold in November, December and even January. But some bays have been closed continuously since mid-2014 due to an extremely rare occurrence where algal blooms which should have disappeared stayed within the bays making the shellfish unsafe to consume.
‘Even if the bays were opened in the morning, prices have entered the annual cyclical slump and most of the crop has lost its quality appearance and size as it prepares for the spring spawning season.’
The Irish Shellfish Association chairman, Jerry Gallagher, said he was appealing to the minister to find a financial solution to the problem as allowed under the EU Fisheries Fund rules.
‘This is the minister’s chance to make a real difference and keep open a successful indigenous industry in an important economic black-spot.
‘With the expertise of BIM and other agencies, such as the Marine Institute, a full assessment of the damage is possible and a legal and justifiable scheme can be implemented without delay.’