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feedbargeSEA lice infestations on Irish salmon farm sites are continuing to increase, according to campaign group Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE).

A spokesman for FIE says the 2012 Marine Harvest Annual Report shows that Ireland's largest operator of salmon farms has seen the number of sites exceeding the Irish government's 'Trigger Treatment Level' for sea lice increase from 6 per cent in 2010 to 13 per cent in 2011 to 20 per cent in 2012.

Ireland's minister for agriculture Simon Coveney has been under increasing pressure after receiving a letter in May from Dr Mark Costello, a leading scientist in the field. Costello told Coveney that he felt "conscious-bound"' to make it clear that sea lice are "linked to mass fatal parasite infestations on wild salmon and trout in Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Canada" to counter "misinformation appearing in the Irish media".

Coveney recently told the Irish Oireachtas that "systems in place in Ireland to control sea lice and salmon farms are probably the best anywhere in Europe. As far as we are concerned, the sea lice issue is no longer significant".

The FIE say statistics contradict the Department of Agriculture's claim during a recent investigation by the European Commission on the sea lice issue that there was a "decreasing trend" in the general level of sea lice on salmon farms.

Marine Harvest is the world's largest salmon farming company with operations in Norway, Scotland, Ireland, the Faroes, Chile and Canada. In Ireland the company produces 9,000 tons of salmon a year, 80 per cent of the Irish national production. The company employs 137 full time and 117 temporary workers at its eight Irish salmon farms.

While Marine Harvest reported an increase in 22 per cent of production worldwide, its Irish operation reported a decrease of 3 per cent, the only country in the multi-national to report a fall in production.

A spokesman for Friends of the Irish Environment said: "While disease and pollution remain significant problems, there are three solutions to the sea lice issue: move the pens from the paths of migratory salmon; contain the pens, controlling all input and output, or change species."

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