I understand that the Deputy is referring to correspondence he submitted to me on 26 March 2013 on behalf of mussel farmers in Lough Foyle who are having trading difficulties. That correspondence notes declining market prices for mussels and the lack of a mussel seed spat fall in Lough Foyle in recent years and requests assistance for growers.
Mussel seed spat fall is a naturally occurring phenomenon. I am informed that scientific knowledge in this area continues to evolve and the reasons for the variability in spat fall from year to year are not well understood by scientists or operators. However, it is believed that climatic factors, such as cold seas and storms in recent years, may have contributed to lesser spat falls. Nevertheless, over 30,000 tonnes of seed was fished in the last 3 years, including over 26,000 from Irish waters. Authorisations to fish mussel seed are issued annually to operators who have access to aquaculture plots for on-growing. These authorisations allow the holder to fish for seed in Irish waters and are not restricted to Lough Foyle. In addition, authorised vessels are permitted to fish for seed in Northern Ireland waters.
Under the current measures, there is no provision in the European Fisheries Fund Regulation (1198/2006) allowing financial aid to operators affected by lower market prices or lack of local seed supply.
However, I have asked BIM to provide any other technical assistance that it can to assist operators in Foyle. I understand that BIM has discussed with operators possible alternative sources of seed mussel, including use of long-lines and purchase of seed from third parties. BIM will continue to provide all technical assistance possible.