Dáil debates

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Sustainable Seaweed Harvesting: Motion [Private Members]


2:45 pm

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

The main source of raw material for companies comes from the seaweed harvested by traditional harvesters while the main income derived by traditional harvesters from selling seaweed comes from companies. They are linked together and it is a question of how we bring that relationship forward and develop it so everyone gains but, more importantly, so the communities gain and so we can create jobs in this area and develop the sector in the many towns and villages the Deputies represent.

It is in this context of listening to all views that I have agreed to meet with the different stakeholders to hear their viewpoints. I recently met with a processor of seaweed and had hoped at this point to have met with Coiste Cearta Cladaí Chonamara, a group of traditional harvesters from the Gaeltacht area in Connemara, and the Ascophyllum nodosum processors group, which represents a number of the larger producers. Given the recent weather conditions, however, we did not get a chance to meet, but we certainly will do that, as well as meeting the group from Bantry Bay. We want to get everyone's views in order to find a balance.

It is also our view that the need to prevent the over-exploitation of this valuable resource while also providing for an environment that will support the growth of valuable jobs in local areas is the principle that must underpin the regulation of wild seaweed harvesting. All leases and licences granted by my Department under the Foreshore Act include clauses specific to sustainability of the resource, environmental protection and compliance appropriate to the activity and the area in which it is granted.

I believe the amendment I am proposing on behalf of the Government today will allow for the interests of all stakeholders to be taken into account. It acknowledges the importance of wild seaweed harvesting in rural communities, particularly along the western seaboard. It recognises seaweed harvesting as one of the sources of income for some families in rural communities, while it also recognises that in order to continue to grow the seaweed industry in Ireland, we must look to the production of high value products that will provide graduate and PhD level opportunities in these communities. It focuses not only on traditional harvesters but also on those companies that have the ability to turn a naturally occurring marine resource into cutting edge products which can be supplied to global markets. Again, this can be done by working together. The Government amendment also highlights the fact that all harvesters of seaweed, whether a traditional harvester or a company, equally share the responsibility for ensuring the sustainability of this valuable natural resource. It notes and reaffirms the ongoing work of my Department to progress the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill, which will bring much-needed reform to the regulation of all development and activity regulated under the Foreshore Act 1933.

I want to take this opportunity to once again assure everyone that no decisions have yet been reached on the commercial seaweed harvesting applications which have been received by my Department. These 17 applications are essentially on hold while my officials continue to work on this complex legal issue. Again, I am happy to engage with Deputies and Senators in the Houses around this process in the weeks ahead, if they so want. I reaffirm my commitment and that of the Government to the work necessary to bring clarity to the regulatory regime in regard to wild seaweed harvesting, and while this work is now in its final stages, I hope to be in a position to make an announcement in the next two months.

While I cannot support all aspects of the motion from Deputies Connolly and Pringle, I am very conscious of the traditional role played by seaweed harvesters up and down the west coast of Ireland over many generations. I am very aware, as is my Department, of the economic value and the positive economic contribution which their efforts have made to their communities and their families. I respect the heritage of seaweed harvesting and the way in which the harvesters have protected and safeguarded the resource through sustainable harvesting practises. I am deeply conscious of all of these aspects and the integral part that seaweed harvesting has played in people's lives along the western seaboard. As I outlined earlier, I look forward to hearing about these issues at first hand when I meet with representatives of traditional harvesters in the weeks ahead, before any decisions are made.


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