My Department's European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Operational Programme is the vehicle for financial supports to the seafood sector for the period 2014 to 2020. The Programme delivers a wide range of supports including marine biodiversity initiatives through a suite of schemes.
The Programme is co-funded by the Government of Ireland and the European Union and provides €239.3 million in funding - an investment of €91.7 million provided by the Government of Ireland and €147.6 million provided by the European Union.
The Marine Biodiversity scheme, to which my Department has allocated €9.4 million up to the end of 2020, aims to promote good fisheries and aquaculture management and to protect biodiversity in marine habitats in support of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and compliance with the Habitats and Birds Directives (Natura 2000) and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
The scheme is currently in its fourth Operation. The first Operation was implemented in 2016 when eight projects were completed at a cost of €278,000. Projects focussed on the compliance of fisheries and aquaculture in and close to Natura sites and included:
- Assessing fishing impacts on vulnerable habitats;
- Monitoring of fishing footprint and catch composition of vessels <12m close to Natura sites;
- Appropriate Assessments of aquaculture activities in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protected Areas (SPAs);
- Investigations of bird use and aquaculture practices in Natura sites;
- Measuring the effectiveness of mitigation measures of managed activities (aquaculture) carried out in Natura sites.
The second Operation was implemented in 2017 with 12 projects, which were completed in 2018 at a cost of approximately €3.2 million.
Projects in the second operation widened their scope to include species and habitat restoration, MSFD and biodiversity support and Informatics to support the ecosystem approach to fisheries.
The third operation was implemented in 2018 and four projects are ongoing until the end of the programme and include species restoration (native oyster) and habitat and species monitoring to support Natura and MSFD.
Activities and projects which commenced under Operation 2 will continue in a second phase under Operation 4 with further projects currently implemented for MSFD support and deepwater biodiversity.
Further details all marine biodiversity projects can be found on the following website at: https://emff.marine.ie/marine-biodiversity
In 2017, there was an underspend in EMFF Marine Biodiversity projects of €478,091 in relation to actual spent vs. 2017 estimates. The following reasons were provided to my Department by the Marine Institute:
- Procurement lag for a number of projects.
- One project was withdrawn;
- Funds from other agencies which led a reduced drawdown.
- Some project costs were lower than originally anticipated.
Despite this underspend, the Marine Biodiversity Scheme has been very successful and is a very important scheme to understand Ireland's Marine biodiversity and the impact of the seafood sectors on it. I expect that the full allocation of €9.4 million will be spent at the end of 2020.