Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Topical Issue Debate

Seaweed Harvesting Licences

7:05 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Collins for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to set out some background and context to the licence and the concerns that have recently arisen. My Department regulates seaweed harvesting in accordance with the Foreshore Act 1933. It aims to ensure that wild seaweed, which is a valuable resource, is managed appropriately to ensure that it remains sustainable and that the marine environment is protected. The use of wild seaweed has the potential, if sustainably managed, to feed into the development of new products or to enhance existing products or services and stimulate further economic activity in rural areas. Seaweed has been harvested by hand from the foreshore for generations and its harvesting and processing have been important components of some coastal communities' way of life for many years. It is economically and culturally very significant and I understand, therefore, the genuine concerns that have arisen in regard to this licence.

I want to give some context to decisions that have been made in this case. There have been a number of applications over the years to mechanically harvest seaweed but this is the first application to be granted a licence. Until the monitoring data that the licensee must provide is analysed, it is not envisaged that further licences to mechanically harvest seaweed will issue. The indigenous Irish company that has been granted this licence had previously applied to harvest in Kenmare Bay. No licence issued in that case because the expert view at the time was that any future application should focus on an area outside of a special area of conservation and also include a commitment to conduct a detailed programme of monitoring. The licence to harvest in Bantry Bay, originally received in June 2009, met with that criteria and was processed in the same way as other foreshore lease and licence applications received around the same time. Normal public consultation procedures were followed. The marine licence vetting committee recommended that a licence should issue and approval, in principle, was given by the former Minister, John Gormley, in 2011. In 2014 the final legal papers giving effect to the decision were authorised by then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Kelly, the direct predecessor of the current Minister.

The licence is of a trial nature and was granted for a period of ten years which commenced on 21 March 2014. It allows for the mechanical harvest of kelp species laminaria digitata and laminaria hyperborean within five specified zones but with only one zone to be harvested in any one year. The planned rotation is four years with the fifth zone being a stand-by zone to be used only if weather prevents access to a zone in any particular year. The stand-by zone is almost 100 ha, reducing the overall area for harvest to a maximum of approximately 650 ha. The licence is subject to strict monitoring and control provided for in the specific conditions attaching to the legally binding agreement of both parties.

A baseline study prepared by the licensee has been submitted to my Department for approval and is still under consideration in conjunction with marine experts. The agreed monitoring programme is available to view on my Department's website. In addition, the licensee is required to submit an annual report of harvesting activities to include the area and quantities harvested and measured regeneration rates of the seaweed. Should unacceptable impact on the environment be observed, I will have no hesitation in exercising my right under the licence to modify or restrict harvest practices and schedules as necessary.


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