The application for the aquaculture licence referred to by the Deputy is in respect of a site located in Castlemaine Harbour, which is designated as a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive and a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive (Natura 2000 site).
All applications in ‘Natura’ areas are required to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of environmental compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. My Department, in conjunction with the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is engaged in a comprehensive programme of gathering the necessary baseline data appropriate to the conservation objectives of ‘Natura’ areas. This data collection programme is substantially complete. This is followed by data analysis and the setting of appropriate Conservation Objectives by the NPWS. Once this process is complete all new, renewal and review aquaculture applications can be appropriately assessed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.
The Appropriate Assessment of Castlemaine Harbour has been completed and the relevant licensing determinations have been made. The specific application referred by the Deputy was submitted to my Department subsequent to the completion of the Appropriate Assessment process of this harbour. Accordingly, the application has not been assessed against the designated conservation objectives of the harbour. This assessment will take place as soon as possible having regard to the need to use the available scientific and technical resources across a wide range of bays.