At present there are in the order of 600 aquaculture licence applications awaiting determination. This number comprises of both new licence applications and applications in respect of renewal applications for existing licences.
The backlog has developed over a period of approximately nine years and largely arises because the majority of areas for which aquaculture licences are sought are located in areas designated as Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive and/or Special Protection Areas under the EU Birds Directive (known as ‘Natura areas’). In 2007, the European Court of Justice issued a judgement against Ireland for a breach of the Birds Directive which is indicative of the seriousness of this issue and the need for full compliance with the relevant Directives.
To ensure compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives, all applications in ‘Natura 2000 areas’ are required to be appropriately assessed. This has required the putting in place of a significant work programme which has considerable time and resource implications. An additional factor is that all aquaculture applications now undergo Environmental Impact pre-screening assessment which requires significant input from the Department’s scientific and technical advisors.
My Department, in conjunction with the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, is engaged in a comprehensive programme to gather the necessary baseline data appropriate to the conservation objectives of ‘Natura 2000’ areas. This data collection programme is substantially complete. Analysis of the data, together with the setting of appropriate conservation objectives by the NPWS, will enable all new, renewal and review applications to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. This work represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State in resolving this issue. The Appropriate Assessment of aquaculture applications is being dealt with on a bay-by-bay basis.
It is expected that successful completion of the Appropriate Assessment process in respect of the above over the summer/early autumn period will facilitate between 180-200 licence determinations this year.
In addition to the continued progress made in relation to Natura areas, 115 Ministerial determinations were made in 2012 in non-Natura areas.
My Department continues to make every effort to expedite the determination of all aquaculture applications having regard to the complexities of each case and the need to comply fully with all national and EU legislation .