The bay referred to by the Deputy is designated as a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive (Natura 2000 site). My Department is constrained by European law from issuing or renewing aquaculture licences for sites located within Natura 2000 areas (areas protected under the EU Birds/Habitats Directives) until such time as an ‘Appropriate Assessment’ has been conducted to assess the potential of the proposed aquaculture activities on the conservation objectives for that Natura site. The licensing process must take full account of the outcome of that assessment in reaching a determination on any particular licence application. Aquaculture operations that are covered by section 19A (4) of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997 may continue to operate. This allows aquaculturists who have submitted valid renewal applications to continue aquaculture activities, subject to the terms and conditions of the old licence, pending a decision on the renewal application.
My Department has been working closely with the Marine Institute, BIM, and NPWS to achieve full compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives through a multi-annual work programme.
This work programme entails the collection of necessary benthic, ornithological and other data in relevant marine Natura sites, the development of conservation objectives in those sites, the completion of Appropriate Assessments and the establishment of fisheries Natura plans and other arrangements so as to enable a progressive role out of consent determinations in line with the Natura obligations once all the requested pre-conditions are met. This process has begun to achieve meaningful results. Conservation Objectives have been set in respect of a significant number of bays, including Kenmare Bay. Appropriate Assessments have been completed in respect of a number of bays and it is anticipated that the Appropriate Assessment for Kenmare Bay will be completed this year. The completion of the Appropriate Assessment will enable my Department to move immediately on the licensing aspects.
To date sea fishing activities in Kenmare Bay have not been subject to restrictions by my Department as a result of the EU Habitats Directive. However, the Directive also contains obligations to take steps to avoid significant deterioration of habitats and disturbance of species. In that context, the multi-annual work programme also includes an assessment project which is currently underway to profile the risks which may be posed by sea-fishing to protected species and habitats. I understand that the risk assessment report from this work will be available in the spring. Where risks require mitigation, my Department will be obliged to develop measures which respond to the risk posed. On this aspect, efforts will be made to involve representatives of the fishing industry in this process.