You are here: Home > News & Events > “Significant opportunities exist for local enterprise and rural development in Irish aquaculture”

“Significant opportunities exist for local enterprise and rural 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), 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.

Note to Editors

The report was circulated to Government departments and noted by the Cabinet at its meeting on the 21st May 2016. The full report will be published on the NESC Website, on Wednesday 15th June.

For further information please contact Dr Rory O’Donnell, / +353-87-6595619 / +353-1-8146332.


The report is based on over thirty interviews with departments and agencies, fish farmers, representatives of seafood processing companies, marine scientists, representatives of Irish environmental NGOs and local campaign groups. It shows how the local is shaped by global market dynamics and by EU and national regulatory frameworks and policies.

The report is structured as follows:

  • Part 1: Council Comments:  The Council Comments raises some key questions and makes observations on the research report, both in relation to the aquaculture sector and possible broader implications.
  • Part 2: The Dynamics of Environmental Sustainability and Local Development: Aquaculture: Research Report by Dr Patrick Bresnihan.

One example of local development: Taste the Atlantic: A Seafood Trail

The Seafood Trail links seafood farmers and small producers based in counties Mayo and Galway with a broader tourist initiative, the Wild Atlantic Way. Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) and Failte Ireland collaborated to map out local producers and integrate the provenance of food with local restaurants and businesses. The first pilot project of the Wild Atlantic Way Seafood Trail took place in summer 2015. A number of small producers, retailers and restaurants were chosen in an area that stretched from Achill Island down to South Galway. The producers were mostly oyster and mussel farmers, several artisan smokehouses and a couple of lobster fishermen. As well as producing a map and a guide for the Trail, BIM also made a short film showcasing the producers and the area in which they work.  The aim was to communicate to tourists and visitors that these are ‘real’ people producing ‘real’ food and artisan products.

For further details on the research, contact Dr Patrick Bresnihan, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin, (+353) 851288836,

About the National Economic and Social Council (NESC)

The National Economic & Social Council (NESC) was established in 1973.  Its function is to analyse and report to the Taoiseach on strategic issues relating to the efficient development of the economy, sustainable development and the achievement of social justice.  The Council is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach.  It comprises representatives of trade unions, employer bodies, farm organisations, community and voluntary organisations, environmental organisations, key Government departments and has eight independent experts.

Follow this #NescAquaculture

Follow us @nescireland

Image by Kush