Thursday, 25 January 2018
Seaweed Harvesting Licences
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá mé an sásta gur tháinig sé isteach. No more than me, he is probably wondering why seaweed harvesting falls under his planning brief. That question has already been raised.
I would say that the Minister of State is a great man for eating spuds that have been grown with seaweed, though. Strangely enough, we previously discussed this issue, which affects many coastal areas.We have the historical situation where seaweed is owned by the State but there are traditional types of seaweed harvesting rights. Quite a number of people might have land and a folio which would give them appurtenant rights to harvest seaweed on a foreshore close to their homes for domestic use, etc. Seaweed is a wonderful resource which can be harvested and create employment in rural areas. Many traditional harvesters do this difficult manual labour regularly and use it to supplement other forms of income. It is a vital resource and asset which benefits people in rural areas.
Seaweed harvesting is an issue in Connemara which I have raised with previous Ministers on several occasions. There is a review of the foreshore licensing regime which has come on foot of several issues. The largest seaweed processing plant in Ireland, Arramara Teoranta, which was a State-owned company, was sold to a Canadian company, Acadian Seaplants. There are several other companies working in this area. There are 13 applications with the Department seeking leave to harvest more seaweed in a commercial manner. They are under consideration, pending review of the legislation in this area.
We were trying to ascertain how many people would have the legal right to harvest seaweed in their area. The Property Registration Authority, PRA, was asked to do an audit of all the folios in the State to see how many have such rights. Has the Minister of State an update on this, as it was meant to be done a long time ago? That would, in turn, affect where licences could be issued. The licences are subject to certain limitations. We know a licence was recently granted to BioAtlantis for the harvesting of seaweed in County Cork which has raised a certain amount of controversy among locals there. There can be limitations around when, where, how much and what types of seaweed can be cut.
The whole area has been up in the air for the past several years because of lack of clarity around the legislation and the licensing regime. I know it is the Government's intention to overhaul it. It is high time we had an update on when this will happen. My concern is that we want to ensure the rights of the traditional harvesters are maintained. I have suggested to them that they should band themselves together in a co-op style organisation to ensure fair trade. Collective bargaining with the different companies would also ensure the best price for their harvests. Such a set-up would be appropriate and would benefit the companies too. We need proper management plans in place in areas to ensure seaweed is harvested properly and in a sustainable manner to ensure it will grow quickly again to be there for future generations.
I look forward to the Minister of State giving us a comprehensive update on this matter.
Originally, I was scratching my head when I learned this matter came under my Department's remit. However, I now understand why it does because it is important, from a licensing point of view, that this resource is managed properly and in a sustainable way. If one reads through the case in Bantry, one will realise we take this job seriously and put much work into ensuring our seaweed resource is managed in a sustainable way. As that licence was originally granted in 2011 by a Green Party Minister, I am sure a green approach was taken. In 2014, the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, added to that licence. My job in the past year in dealing with that case has been around the conditions of the licence and the monitoring of it to ensure harvesting is carried out in a sustainable way. If anybody steps out of line on that, we will deal with it. That proves the Department’s credentials, as well as mine and my team’s, in how we take our job seriously in this area.
That is another reason we are also developing a marine strategy for the next 25 years, similar to the national planning framework, examining the long-term ways of managing our marine resources. Like all the work we do in government, we take a long-term view on this. We deal immediately with live issues as they come across our desks we also plan ahead for 30 years.
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I am aware he met with officials from my Department on 20 December 2017 when he was given an overall briefing on this issue.
The role of my Department in the harvesting of wild seaweed is to regulate the activity in accordance with the Foreshore Act 1933. In carrying out this task, there is a need to ensure the resource is managed appropriately, with the twin aims of protecting the marine environment and allowing for a sustainable level of harvesting.
Seaweed harvesting has a long and honourable tradition in this country. I recognise the valuable role seaweed plays in the environment, culture and economy of coastal communities, particularly along the west coast. Seaweed harvesting has provided a source of income to traditional harvesters and their families for generations. However, the image of hand harvesting of small quantities for domestic use, for example, is no longer reflective of the actual situation. It has changed from harvesting for personal use to primarily being harvested for sale.
Seaweed represents a valuable natural resource which, if sustainably exploited, can maintain and stimulate further economic development in some rural areas. While acknowledging the contribution this has made to household income over many years, the reality is that seaweed is now the key raw material required by certain cutting edge bio-pharma and similar type companies. These businesses face many challenges, one of which is security of supply of their most essential ingredient, seaweed.
My aim is to bring clarity to the regulatory regime applying to wild seaweed harvesting, seeking to balance existing rights and commercial potential, while also ensuring sustainability of the resource and compliance with the State's obligations under domestic and EU environmental law. The need to prevent the overexploitation of this valuable resource is the principle which must underpin the regulation of wild seaweed harvesting.
The key part of this exercise is to fully establish the implications of the interaction between these existing seaweed harvesting rights and the applications for licences by companies. In that regard, my Department has met with the Attorney General's office on several occasions to examine these issues.
To try to establish the extent and the nature of existing rights to harvest seaweed, my Department engaged with the PRA to attempt to establish the extent of appurtenant rights specified in Land Registry folios to harvest seaweed which may exist. On foot of this request, the PRA has provided my Department with data detailing the extent of the rights in seven of the western seaboard counties, namely, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo and Donegal.
No decisions have yet been reached on the commercial seaweed harvesting applications which have been received by my Department. My Department is continuing to work on this complex legal issue. I hope to have made substantial progress on the matter by March or April 2018.
There are merits in the Senator's suggestions for harvesters coming together in a co-operative structure. When I was in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, we looked at that model. It would have great benefits for everybody involved. It would also help in managing the seaweed resource in a sustainable way and maximising its potential for local areas. Seaweed has much to offer in many areas and certainly in medicinal products. As a country with so much of it, we should be in that space.
I welcome the Minister of State's comments, particularly around the co-operative approach. The PRA report has been there for some time. Is it possible for the Minister of State to publish those findings or make them available to me as an Oireachtas Member to allow me go over them? Can we expect some clarity on the legislative proposals within the next two months?