The report of the Licensing Review Group which reviewed the process of licensing for aquaculture and its associated legal framework was submitted to the Minister in May 2017.
The Review Group carried out a detailed investigation 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.
The report contained a number of recommendations, the most pressing being that the Department put in place a strategy to eliminate the backlog of licence applications. This has been the primary focus of the Department since the publication of the Report and has resulted in over 1,250 licence determinations being made since 2012. The backlog in shellfish licensing has now been eliminated as an issue affecting the industry. The elimination of the backlog was achieved using existing resources within the Department.
Key amongst the Review Group recommendations was the development of a ‘Web-based Aquaculture Application and Monitoring System’ on a single portal which would be integrated with scientific and technical data sets from both the NPWS and MI databases. This recommendation is progressing in the form of the Departments AQUAMIS (Aquaculture Management Information System) which is being progressed in two phases as follows:
Phase 1 (2020 – 2021): Development of AQUAMIS as a largely internal system that will allow DAFM and the Marine Institute to work together to develop a spatially-enabled licensing system. This allows applicants and the public to view licensed aquaculture sites and mapping information through a public portal. This 16-month project will be completed by the end of 2021. The implementation of this recommendation is being funded through a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) grant.
Phase 2 (2022 – 2023): Once the Phase 1 system is operational, it will be further developed over an approximate 24-month period to become a fully online system with all application information and supporting data being submitted electronically. This system will also be integrated into other Government systems, such as the National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) online portal and the wider marine spatial planning system, which is also likely to be hosted by the Marine Institute. The estimated costing for this element of the project is not available but it is expected that funding for Phase 2 will be included in the European Maritime , Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF 2021 – 2027) Operational Programme.
The Implementation of the Licensing Review Group Report forms an important part of the current Programme for Government and the 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 the Department and to the Agencies of the Department, having regard to the legislative, environmental, technical and public interest issues that arise. Estimated cost of implementation, over and above existing Departmental resources, will form part of the draft Implementation Programme.