Sustainable Development in Irish Aquaculture

There is great potential for Ireland to develop its aquaculture in the coming decade, with a rich and varied marine landscape, and a long coastline. However, the sector is small in scale, relative to Scotland or Norway, and has been in decline somewhat over the last decade, as it has been across Europe.

Today’s report from the National Economic and Social Council, Sustainable Development in Irish Aquaculture (NESC report No. 143) [pdf 1.99MB], argues that future Irish aquaculture development can be achieved that balances economic, environmental and social goals. The report, which includes a qualitative study on sustainable development in Irish aquaculture, was commissioned by NESC as part of its sustainability remit. The research, by Dr Patrick Bresnihan, examines how the dynamics of environmental sustainability have been experienced and managed within Irish aquaculture.

Three key themes came out of the research:

1. Diverse economies for development are required

There is potential for aquaculture to provide safe, nutritious food and other materials, to sustain livelihoods in coastal areas, and to ensure and even enhance the quality of the marine environment. Opportunities for the future can be grasped in relation to the quality of Ireland’s marine environment, both in terms of its protection and preservation, but also as a unique selling point for the industry.

2. Environmental risk requires building resilience

The business of aquaculture depends in a fundamental way on an ability to manage environmental risks. In aquaculture these can have a particularly detrimental impact on production and the viability of a business. Local actors can play a critical role in identifying and avoiding risk through early identification. For these producers, sustainable livelihoods, quality of life and environmental integrity are inseparable.

3. Conflict resolution, engagement and decision-making can be improved

Aquaculture is a highly contested sector and conflicts have arisen over its development and the way decisions are made about the allocation and use of the foreshore. There is a need for a focused approach to finding, testing and adapting suitable forms of public participation for natural resources management. Different, often competing, perspectives and values need to be articulated and negotiated. There is still a gap in our understanding of the kind of structures, processes and agencies that can best progress constructive engagement, and this is evident across many different areas of policy.

Dr Rory O’Donnell, Director of NESC, stated that ‘while not easy, it is possible to deliver local job creation and enterprise, development and growth, strengthening of exports—while at the same time deepening environmental protection and sustainable development.’

He added that ‘this research points to the importance of community resilience, rural development and the use of local knowledge and skills for a sustainable economy- a model of development which integrates and builds on local enterprise has potential.’

The overarching question for further consideration is: what needs to be put in place, locally and nationally so that diverse forms of aquaculture can prosper in Ireland’s coastal areas? It suggests that we can learn from the experience of rural co-operatives and other collaborative models, such as the Wild Atlantic Way Seafood Trail.

Many of the themes and issues raised are not unique to aquaculture, but touch on wider concerns of sustained regional development, environmental sustainability and environmental policy integration. NESC will continue to work on issues of sustainable environmental, economic and social development.