“Given the appalling handling of inshore designations since the 1990s by the State which has resulted in hundreds of job losses and a flight of serious investment from our coastline, marine users are very sceptical about these new proposals,” said IFA Aquaculture Executive, Richie Flynn, who called the meeting.
“Our experience of the Irish Government’s application of the EU Habitats Directive has been a saga of mismanagement, foot dragging and buck-passing which has left over 500 fish farming licences in limbo for over 10 years and a backlog of red tape and bureaucracy which could see producers waiting until 2020 and beyond for simple renewals which are vital to underpin their businesses.
"These new offshore Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) will have the same effect of preventing any fishing, marine energy or aquaculture being carried out in these areas if left in the hands of the same agencies to manage. The spirit and letter of EU conservation legislation is not to stop economic development but Ireland is unique in completely ignoring job and export potential around the coast. Our experience of these designations has been uniformly negative and the seafood sector has had to watch in complete frustration and astonishment as civil servants weave a complex web of bureaucracy and carry out costly complex assessments unmatched elsewhere in the EU.”
The meeting, which was attended by shellfish and finfish farmers, fishermen and marine energy companies and representative organisations as well as state agencies, was addressed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The event heard many individuals and companies express their lack of confidence in the efficient and transparent application of clear assessment guidelines for development in SACs.
All sectors expressed their disappointment at the absence at the meeting of the licensing authority (Department of Agriculture, Marine and Food). Shellfish producers in particular were extremely worried about the 2013 seed mussel fishery in the Irish Sea and the impact on licencing other fisheries off the west coast covered by huge swathes of these designations.
Irish Shellfish Association Chairman, Jerry Gallagher said at the meeting: “It is clear that before any designations are decided, clear conservation objectives and guidelines for appropriate assessments are published and discussed. It appears now we will have to wait years before these vital tools are available, during which time yet more employment and export potential from our greatest natural resource will be lost to bureaucracy.”
The Marine Sectors called on all Irish agencies and departments to show respect for fishermen and fish farmers who are expected to meet tight deadlines imposed every day by the State and to urgently clear the backlog of licences in a co-ordinated manner immediately. Ministers Coveney and Deenihan must give clear direction on these issues to their officials and stop the blame being put back on DG Environment in Brussels when quite clearly the delays are being caused at national level.