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 (i.e. areas protected under EU Birds/Habitats Directives), 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
The carrying out of detailed surveys of marine habitats and species has been completed. Conservation Objectives have now been set for over 60 bays. Appropriate Assessments have been completed in respect of Castlemaine Harbour, Dundalk Bay, Roaringwater Bay, Lough Swilly. Donegal Bay and Dungarvan Harbour. Appropriate Assessments are currently underway in a further six bays.
This process is achieving meaningful results. In 2013, I made a total of 137 licence determinations, of which approximately 120 were in respect of sites in 'Natura' areas. I expect to be in a position to make in excess of 200 determinations in 2014.
The Appropriate Assessment process represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State.