The bays referred to by the Deputy are designated as Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive and/or Special Protection Areas under the EU Birds Directive (Natura 2000 sites).
In 2007 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) declared in Case 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 that 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 ECJ judgement a process was agreed with the European Commission. This process includes the following steps:
- Data Collection in 91 Bays/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 (AA) – by the Marine Institute - of aquaculture/fishery activities against the detailed Conservation Objectives set, and
- Determination of Licences/Fisheries on the basis of the Appropriate Assessment and other relevant factors
Conservation Objectives have now 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 four bays have been assessed - Castlemaine, Dundalk, Roaringwater and Lough Swilly.
As outlined my Department has been working closely with the Marine Institute, BIM and 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 continuous review by my Department so as to facilitate the use of scientific and other resources on a flexible basis across the full range of bays, if deemed necessary. This approach is consistent with the maintenance of a prioritised list which includes Bannow Bay and the Waterford Estuary.
It is important for all involved in the aquaculture industry to understand that the sustainable development of the industry and the creation of long term employment from aquaculture into the future can only take place if there is full compliance with all EU and national legislation on environmental protection. Ireland’s reputation as a producer of top quality seafood is predicated on the implementation of a sound regulatory system which has the confidence of the public in general and also the EU Commission.
My Department continues to make every effort to expedite the determination of aquaculture licence applications including those in Bannow Bay and Waterford Estuary having regard to the need to comply with all relevant national and EU legislation.
The Above information has previously been conveyed to the individual referred to by the Deputy, both directly and indirectly. In addition officials from my Department would be available to meet with the individual in question to discuss the matter if this is considered helpful.