Thursday, 14 November 2013
11. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in view of the fact that there are serious delays in the assessment of suitable sites for oyster farming, his views on whether it would be a good investment on the part of the State to invest more resources in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48211/13]
The Special Bannow Bay Shellfish company in Wexford has applied for a licence for oyster farming in Bannow Bay and Waterford estuary. The company applied in 2010. We are only six weeks away from 2014. It seems crazy and I do not understand how things could be so slow. If there is a lack of staff to deal with the delay, would it not make sense to hire more people to deal with the issue?
The majority of areas for which these oyster licences are sought are designated special areas of conservation or special protection areas under the EU birds directive.
In 2007 the European Court of Justice declared in case No. C418/04 that by failing to take all measures necessary to comply with Article 6.3 of the EU habitats directive in respect of the authorisation of aquaculture programmes, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under the directive.
As most aquaculture activity takes place in Natura 2000 areas, it is necessary to undertake an appropriate assessment of the effects of aquaculture activity on these areas before any new licences can be issued or any existing licences can be renewed.
In the negotiations to address the European Court of Justice, ECJ, judgment a process was agreed with the European Commission. This process includes the following steps, namely, data collection in 91 bays and estuaries, detailed analysis of the raw data collected, setting of conservation objectives by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, in respect of each site, carrying out appropriate assessments by the Marine Institute of aquaculture or fishery activities against the detailed conservation objectives set and determination of licences or fisheries on the basis of the appropriate assessment and other relevant factors
Conservation objectives have been set for a significant number of bays. The appropriate assessments are being carried out by the Marine Institute on behalf of the Department and to date five bays have been assessed, namely, Castlemaine, Dundalk, Roaringwater, Lough Swilly and Donegal. It is expected that successful completion of the appropriate assessment process will facilitate significant licence determinations. In the region of 40 aquaculture licences have issued this year in respect of Castlemaine. The licensing process in Roaringwater Bay is at an advanced stage, with applications at the public and statutory consultation phase.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
As outlined, my Department has been working closely with the Marine Institute, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, and the NPWS to achieve full compliance through a multi-annual work programme. A key factor of this work programme is the identification of prioritised bays, based on the number of aquaculture sites, the ready availability of scientific data and other factors. The prioritised list of bays is kept under continual review by my Department to facilitate the use of scientific and other resources on a flexible basis across the full range of bays, if deemed necessary. The appropriate assessment process represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State. The issue of resources is kept under continual review having regard to the importance my Department attached to this issue.
The appropriate assessment process is moving at a snail's pace, which simply makes no sense. Production and employment are being held up. These people could take on additional staff were they to get permission, and four years is a long time to be waiting. I understand this is a complicated process but I also believe the Marine Institute has carried out its assessment work. People are waiting for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to set the conservation objectives. Apparently, the next step is to go to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. A major problem in this regard is that while many people are involved in this process, no one is driving it. Can the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine take a more active position on this process and drive it? It is frustrating for people who are trying to make the industry work and create local employment. All they are getting is bureaucracy by the bucketful and no solutions.
The Deputy's points are exceptionally well made and Members encounter this issue daily in different areas. I have sympathy with what the Deputy has said. I note that while this area is not within my brief, as the Minister, Deputy Coveney, normally deals with this aspect, I will talk to him on this matter to ascertain what can be done to alleviate the frustrations. If jobs are at stake or can be created, this is something the Government will be behind and will wish to help and support. If, as the Deputy has observed, this backlog is moving at a snail's pace, I certainly will talk to the Minister and someone will revert to the Deputy today.