My Department has received a number of applications for Aquaculture Licences from the applicant referred to by the Deputy in respect of sites located within Ballyness Bay which is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive (Natura 2000 site).
All aquaculture activities in Natura site areas require an Appropriate Assessment to be carried out before any aquaculture licensing determinations can be made. My Department is working with the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service to achieve full compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives through a multi-annual work programme. This data collection programme, which is substantially complete, together with the setting of Conservation Objectives, will enable all new and renewal aquaculture applications to be assessed.
Conservation Objectives have been set for Ballyness SAC. The next step in the process is the carrying out of an Appropriate Assessment by the Marine Institute. This is being progressed taking account of the need to facilitate the use of scientific and other resources on a flexible basis across the full range of bays. While the Appropriate Assessments are carried out on a bay by bay basis, each licence application within the bay must be assessed individually.
Addressing the issue of aquaculture licensing in Natura 2000 areas is a key priority for my Department and the Deputy can be assured that every effort is being made to expedite the completion of the process in Ballyness Bay having regard to all the complexities involved.