The Independent Aquaculture Licensing Review Group carried out a detailed examination of the existing aquaculture licensing process, undertook comprehensive stakeholder consultation and examined comparative national and international consent systems to determine best practice for managing a complex licensing process in a transparent, environmentally appropriate and legally robust manner.
One of the main drivers for the Review was the backlog of aquaculture licence applications which arose as a result of a negative judgment against Ireland for breaches of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. A key recommendation of the Report was that my Department put in place a strategy to eliminate the backlog of licence applications. This has been the primary focus of my Department since the publication of the Report and has resulted in over 600 licence determinations being made in the period to the end of 2019. The backlog in shellfish licensing has now been eliminated as an issue affecting the industry.
Significant progress has also been made in relation to the backlog in finfish licensing and my Department is currently awaiting the submission of Environmental Impact Statements, a statutory requirement, from operators. My officials expect a number of these Statements to be submitted in 2021 and further progress can then be made in respect of these applications.
In addition, my Department has secured funding from the European Maritime Fisheries Fund to undertake the development of GIS modelling, to include, the spatial mapping of aquaculture sites. This key technical infrastructure is required to underpin the development of an on-line aquaculture licensing facility, as recommended by the Review Group.
The implementation of the Licensing Review Group Report forms an important part of the current Programme for Government and my Department is currently preparing an Implementation Programme in respect of the remaining recommendations of the Report with a view to their implementation, both as they apply directly to my Department and to the Agencies of my Department, having regard to the legislative, environmental, technical and public interest issues that arise.