Scientific assessments of sea-fish stocks are carried out by the Marine Institute, the statutory body whose function is (inter alia) to undertake sea-fisheries research, assess and advise on the sustainable exploitation of the marine fisheries resources in the waters around Ireland and on the impacts of fisheries on the ecosystem. My Department’s role in sea-fisheries is to manage fishing opportunities available to the Irish fishing fleet and to prepare and oversee implementation of relevant policies in keeping with the Common Fisheries Policy.
Under European food safety law, harvesting of shellfish, such as cockles, for placing on the market must only take place from classified production areas. The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) is Ireland's competent authority for the classification of live bivalve mollusc production areas. I have no role in relation to this process and, by law, the SFPA is independent in the performance of its functions.
If fishing for cockles is proposed for an area within or adjacent to sites protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 environmental legislation, then the proposed fishing activity needs to be assessed to determine the potential impacts of such fishing on the features of those Natura 2000 sites. The process governing the assessment and consideration of fishing activity within or adjacent to Natura 2000 sites is set out in the European Union (Birds and Natural Habitats) (Sea-fisheries) Regulations 2013 (S.I. No. 290 of 2013).
I am not aware of any requests to develop a new commercial fishery for cockles at this time. I would encourage members of the fishing industry looking to explore the potential for a viable fishery to bring their proposals to their Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum for discussion and consideration. Further information on the Inshore Forums can be found online at www.inshoreforums.ie.