No operators have been granted any rights to farm mussels or any other species in Lough Foyle to date because the necessary legalisation to enable aquaculture operations to be managed and controlled under licence is not in place. Under the British-Irish Agreement Act, 1999, responsibility for the development and licensing of aquaculture in Lough Foyle was conferred on the Foyle Carlingford Irish Lights Commission, one of the six North-South implementation bodies established under that Act.
The British-Irish Agreement Act provided that the necessary legislation to enable the FCILC to carry out functions regarding aquaculture would be brought forward in both jurisdictions. This draft legislation is being finalised by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, with a view to publication later this year.
In the absence of a legislative framework for aquaculture in the lough, public funding has not been made available to operators to support the development of commercial operations. However, in 1998 BIM made payments to operators for the relaying of mussels throughout Lough Foyle to enable a scientific survey to be undertaken, aimed at determining the mussel growing potential of the lough. At the time all operators were entitled to participate in the survey and it was also made clear that receipt of public funding did not confer any rights whatsoever in relation to any area where mussels were relayed.
When the necessary statutory provisions are in place, which will entail parallel legislation being enacted in the Oireachtas and in the Northern Ireland Assembly, it will then be a matter for the FCILC to determine who will be awarded aquaculture licences in Lough Foyle. Any parties aggrieved by decisions of the FCILC will have a right of appeal to an independent aquaculture licence appeals tribunal, the establishment of which is also being provided for in the proposed new legislation.