I must advise the Deputy that he appears to have been misinformed on mussel seed fishing activities in Castlemaine Harbour, Co. Kerry. Records on file in the Department show that fishing was permitted to take place in each of the years from 2014 to 2018 with the sole exception of 2016.
EU environmental legislation, namely the Birds and Habitats Directives, provides protection for certain species, birds and habitats Ireland has designated approximately 80 marine Natura 2000 sites primarily located in coastal bays and estuaries where sea-fishing activities may occur. Castlemaine Harbour includes two Natura 2000 sites.
Mussel seed fishing is subject to a prior consent process; accordingly any mussel seed fishing which may impact on Natura 2000 sites must undergo screening for and, if necessary, appropriate assessment to determine if the activity will have a significant adverse impact on the features of the Natura 2000 site. In order to assess the potential impact, the local fishing industry is invited to submit a Fisheries Natura Plan for assessment and consideration. The most recent Plan was undergoing assessment in 2016. Further details on the assessment and plan process can be found online at: http://www.fishingnet.ie/sea-fisheriesinnaturaareas/
In August a survey by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) of the Castlemaine Harbour identified a seed bed overlapping with an area indicated as "unsuitable for fishing" in the Fisheries Natura Plan. As this area had been previously deemed unsuitable for fishing by industry it had not been the subject of screening for appropriate assessment in the first instance. The local industry was invited, if it wished, to have this area considered for fishing activity, to submit an amendment to the Fisheries Natura Plan to be screened and, if necessary, undergo appropriate assessment.
With assistance from BIM, the amendment was submitted to my Department on 17 September and referred to the Marine Institute for screening. The results of the screening report identified that the characteristics of the seed bed fall within the parameters of the Appropriate Assessment that was carried out on the Fisheries Natura Plan in 2016 and that a further assessment of the amendment to the Plan was not necessary. Accordingly, I adopted the amendment to the Plan and I directed that the reasons for this decision and the related documents be published online. The effect of this is that fishing will be permitted, subject to certain conditions.
It is important that the Deputy is aware that the process described above has been taking place for a number of years and that my Department and the marine agencies have been working closely with the industry representatives in Castlemaine Harbour to manage the fishing activities effectively with regard to the Natura 2000 requirements.