Written answers

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government

Seaweed Harvesting Licences

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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628. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the role he and his Department have in the licensing of kelp; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30795/17]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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629. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if the process for licensing for kelp is the same for commercial kelp as it is for smaller groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30796/17]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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630. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the mechanical harvest of 1,860 acres of kelp in Bantry Bay; if the licence was properly advertised at local and national level; if public consultation took place; if an environmental impact assessment was or is to be taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30797/17]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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631. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if he or his officials have policy concerns regarding the impact mechanical harvesting of over 100 acres of kelp in Bantry Bay will have on juvenile fish, lobster and other species; if a study has been taken on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30799/17]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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632. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if he or his officials have concerns regarding the impact of over 1,000 acres in Bantry Bay being used for a mechanical harvest of kelp will have on angling tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30800/17]

Photo of Eoghan MurphyEoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 628 to 632, inclusive, together.

The role of my Department in relation to the harvesting of seaweed is to regulate the activity in accordance with the Foreshore Act 1933, as amended. All applications, regardless of whether by an individual or a company, are assessed in accordance with the provisions of the Act and any environmental legislation in force at the given time.  In regulating this activity there is a need to ensure, in so far as possible, that the resource is managed appropriately with the twin aims of protecting the marine environment and allowing for a sustainable level of harvesting of seaweed.

The Deputy's questions relate to a specific license granted to an indigenous Irish company . In 2008, the company submitted a foreshore license application to harvest in Kenmare Bay. No licence issued in respect of the Kenmare Bay application. However, the Marine Licence Vetting Committee, a group of marine experts who advise the Minister of the day on the technical and environmental aspects of foreshore applications, recommended that any future application by the company, should focus on an area outside of a Special Area of Conservation and include a commitment to conduct a detailed programme of monitoring.

The license to harvest in Bantry Bay, originally received in June 2009, met with these and other criteria and was processed in the same thorough way as other foreshore lease and license applications received at that time. Normal public consultation procedures were followed with the application being advertised in a local newspaper (The Southern Star) and it was also made available for inspection at a local Garda Station (Bantry) for a period of 21 days. No submissions were received from members of the public during the consultation period.

In line with the usual procedures, the application was also circulated to various bodies for their views and input.  Submissions were received from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Underwater Archaeology Unit of the then Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Marine Survey Office, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board, the Central Fisheries Board and the Marine Institute. The Marine Licence Vetting Committee considered all material pertaining to the application and concluded that subject to compliance with specific conditions the proposed harvesting was not likely to have a significant negative impact on the marine environment. This would include no significant impact on juvenile fish, lobster and other species.

The Marine Licence Vetting Committee recommended that a licence should issue and approval in principle was given by the then Minister in 2011. The final legal papers, the licence between the State and the company giving effect to the decision were completed by the then Minister in 2014. 

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive applies to a wide range of public and private projects. It is a mandatory requirement for project types listed in Annex I of the Directive. For project types listed in Annex II, it is up to the consenting authority to determine if an EIS is required by carrying out EIA screening based on criteria set out in the Directive.  An EIA may also be required where the thresholds set out in the Directive are not met (sub-threshold EIA) or where the project or activity is proposed to be carried out in a Natura 2000 site. 

If the consenting authority determines that the EIA Directive applies to a project, it requires that an applicant must prepare and submit an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), following which, the consent authority would carry out an EIA.  In this case, the proposed project was not within a Natura 2000 site, was not of a class set out in Annex I of the Directive nor does it fall into Annex II.  An EIS was not required and while it was open to the Minister at the time to carry out an EIA, it was not considered necessary.

The licence allows the company to harvest specific quantities of specific species of kelp seaweed on a rotational basis in Bantry Bay. The licenced area is split into five distinct harvesting zones and not all of the seaweed in the bay will be harvested. The total area licenced is 750 hectares (roughly 1,850 acres). The licence provides for a four year rotation of zones with a stand by zone only to be harvested if weather is adverse (99 hectares/240 acres). On average, some 175 hectares/432 acres will be subject to harvest annually, less than 1% of the area of the bay.

The rotational harvesting plan, ensures that only a portion of the bay is harvested each year.  To strengthen the sustainability of the harvesting plan for the licenced area within the bay, the harvesting is also subject to a strict monitoring programme, and requires approval of a baseline study prior to commencement of operations. All costs associated with the baseline study which was carried out in September 2016 and costs associated with the monitoring programme were or will be fully borne by the licensee. 

The monitoring programme includes comparisons between harvested and non-harvested areas in each zone for density and height of kelp together with quantitative measurements of flora and fauna prior to commencement of harvesting (2016) and in years 3 (2019) and 5 (2021) for 15 areas within each zone.

All details of the application and determination are available on my Department’s website at .

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