Ireland ’s coastal and marine waters continue to provide significant quantities of fish. The big concern, however, is the sustainability of this level of exploitation with many fish species being fished to dangerously low levels. If too many fish are removed there will be insufficient numbers left to renew fish stocks. There is now concern about the levels of herring, mackerel and whiting in open waters while, closer to the seabed, the levels of cod are so low as to be close to total collapse.
To compensate for this decline, fishing fleets have been catching fish in deeper waters, but many of these fish, such as ling, halibut and orange roughy, live for long periods and so are slow to reproduce.
Over-exploitation of our fisheries resources remains a significant environmental problem for Ireland. The graph below shows the volume and value of sea fish landed in Killybegs, Ireland's top fish landing port, from 2003 to 2009. In 2009 the landings at Killybegs accounted for a little over 120,000 tonnes. However, by 2012 this had risen by over 50% to 197,523 tonnes (SFPA, 2014), as can be seen in the accompanying table.
Over 1,700 people are employed directly in the primary sector of the aquaculture industry, over 80% of whom are located on the western seaboard. In 2015 the Irish aquaculture industry produced over 13,000 tonnes of salmon and trout, 10,000 tonnes of mussels and 8,000 tonnes of oysters (BIM, 2016). The value of aquaculture at a total first point sale value is €149m in this period, an increase of €33m on the previous year.
The risks posed by this industry to the environment relate mainly to waste deposits around fish cages, chemical use, sea lice infestation and escape and interbreeding with wild species. Overall however there is little evidence of damage to sea waters, as many cages are located in areas with good water flushing.
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