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wildsalmonIRELAND has secured full market access to China for salmon exports – but the deal has been condemned by Save Bantry Bay campaigners.

The announcement of the agreement followed four years of negotiations with the Chinese authorities by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in conjunction with the Irish Embassy in Beijing.

Foreign affairs minister Eamon Gilmore said: "The conclusion of these negotiations by the SFPA, with the assistance of our Embassy in Beijing, represents an important step in the ongoing opening of the Chinese market for Irish seafood. Last year was our most successful ever for food and drink exports, which is proof of the quality of product Ireland has to offer. What's important now is to build on this deal, to further expand the range of Irish seafood available in China.

"International trade in food involves trust in food control systems, something which the Irish Authorities take very seriously. The SFPA work hard to maximise the benefit of the high standards which Irish seafood companies adhere to. We can see clearly this is paying dividends, with increased exports and jobs in Ireland."

However, the Save Bantry Bay group say that for Ireland to fulfil even the smallest increase in demand in China production would have to increase dramatically – as would the associated environmental impacts. Even if each person in China ate just 100g of Irish farmed salmon a year, they would be consuming nine times Ireland's current total output.

"I am horrified at this announcement," said Alec O'Donovan, secretary of Save Bantry Bay. "Before any deal was done the government should have addressed the controversies already boiling at home. We have government agencies at loggerheads, and increasing numbers of anglers, fishermen, tourism business owners, residents and holiday makers protesting around the country. Now the ink is dry, we can only ask how the government can commit to delivering massive tonnage of salmon while at the same time continuing to claim it is making 'independent' decisions on current applications to expand salmon farming."

Save Bantry Bay has urged the Irish government to undertake a full Strategic Environmental Assessment of salmon farming policy and review the current aquaculture licensing systems.

"Sadly, today's legislation allows for a single minister to blindly push forward with a reckless and ill-conceived salmon farming policy," said Kieran O'Shea, chairman of Save Bantry Bay. "This already signed deal makes it quite clear that government is dressing-up their so-called independent decision making in a ludicrous fig leaf of fair process. Now is the time for a full independent investigation into Irish salmon farming policy and systems."

Ireland already exports high volumes of mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting while recent years have seen growing demand for crab and boarfish. Irish seafood exports to China grew from €5.7 million in 2010 to €10 million in 2012.

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