Wednesday, 7 March 2018
Sustainable Seaweed Harvesting: Motion [Private Members]
I am sharing my time with Deputies Connolly and Pringle. I am delighted to be able to speak briefly on this motion on the preservation of seaweed harvesting rights, brought forward in the name of my Independents 4 Change colleagues Deputies Pringle and Connolly. I congratulate them on this very timely and important motion. My colleagues are calling for a national strategy at last for the promotion of the sustainable development of our seaweed sector, ensuring that traditional seaweed harvesters are protected. They want to stimulate job creation among rural, coastal and island communities and have the Government undertake an economic analysis of the sector. Above all, they want the sector to be regulated in a fair and sustainable way. The national strategy should also include the potential climate change benefits associated with the growth and promotion of this sector. The motion rightly calls for the suspension of the granting of licences until such a strategy is published and, most important, for responsibility for the sector to be solely under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, where it clearly should be.
I have learned that approximately 40,000 tonnes of seaweed is harvested in Ireland annually, with around 185 full-time equivalent workers, or 400 part-time workers, and that the sector is valued at approximately €18 million per year, some €6 million of which is attributable to exports. The current uses of this wonderful natural resource include food, cosmetics, thalassotherapy, spa treatments, biomedicines and biotechnology.
One of our seaweed-processing factories, Arramara Teoranta, had been in existence since 1947 but was bought by Acadian Seaplants in 2014. The company is currently processing between 25,000 and 30,000 tonnes of seaweed annually. It does not have its own harvesting licence but it has applied for a licence to allow it to harvest up to 40,000 tonnes per year. There are fears that this company wants to use mechanical harvesting. Sustainability of seaweed harvesting and traditional methods, which Deputies Pringle and Connolly have brought to our attention, are the key concerns in this debate.
There are currently 23 applications for seaweed cultivation sites and already six aquaculture grow-out sites with licences, those being at Bantry Bay, Roaringwater Bay, Ventry in Kerry, and Clew Bay in Mayo. I have got to know Bantry Bay, in particular, very well over the years. I believe the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has already reviewed the independent aquaculture licensing review group’s report. The Minister of State referred to it earlier. When will the report be brought before the Dáil, and when will action be taken on it?
BioAtlantis got approval for mechanical harvesting in a huge area, comprising 1,860 acres, in Bantry over a trial period of ten years. There has been grave concern in the Beara Peninsula and surrounding countryside. People have submitted a petition to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. There is a call for a pause on the permit until there is proper consultation.
We have been talking a lot about the Foreshore Act 1933. The Minister of State has already replied but I wonder why we are still using such ancient legislation. I remember asking the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, umpteen times about aspects of the Act in regard to wind turbines. It is incredible that we are still talking about that.
The Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries' Report on Promoting Sustainable Rural, Coastal and Island Communities, published in January 2014, found that in the short to medium term, the two industries that these rural communities are likely to continue to have the most reliance on are inshore fishing and aquaculture. We are still awaiting action on some of the recommendations in this report. The Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht published "Report of the Committee on Developing the Seaweed Industry in Ireland" in May 2015 and put forward eight recommendations, many of which echo the calls by my colleagues in the motion. Most important is the first recommendation, which calls for the adoption of a national strategy to promote the development of the seaweed industry, focusing in particular on the Gaeltacht and counties of the western seaboard. The other recommendations would also be very valuable to the sector.
I strongly support the terms of my colleagues' motion. There are useful exemplar regulations in areas such as the Canadian provinces. In British Colombia, for example, there are strict conditions concerning harvesting, and the indigenous First Nations are required to be consulted. In Nova Scotia, there are similar provisions. In Scotland, there is the "Seaweed Cultivation Policy Statement". The Minister has some work to do in this regard. As matters stand, I welcome warmly the confirmation that licence applications will remain on hold until there is full legal clarity for traditional harvesters, who really need to be protected, and concrete moves by the Government to develop a national sustainable seaweed harvesting strategy.