by BRIAN MOORE
CONCERNS have been expressed over plans to commercially harvest a large area of kelp seaweed in Bantry Bay.
The licence to harvest the seaweed, on an industrial scale not seen before in Irish or UK waters, has been granted to BioAtlantis Ltd, who are based in Tralee.
The company plans to begin harvesting kelp over 1,800 acres in Bantry Bay later this year. However, following the project being highlighted on a recent EcoEye programme on RTÉ, many residents, fishermen and environmental groups have expressed their surprise at the plans.
‘This is truly shocking,’ Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment told The Southern Star. ‘What about the Bantry Bay Charter which was set up to prevent just this type of unwanted and potentially harmful development?’ he asked. ‘The licence for this project – like the proposed Shot Head salmon farm – is based on outdated 1997 legislation that gives neither the community nor the natural environment rights under EU law established since then. The Minister must use his powers to suspend this licence until the community is consulted under the Aarhus Convention and the necessary assessments under the Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats Directives have been done.’
Local fisherman Kieran O’Shea, whose family has fished in the area for three generations, was also concerned at the lack of consultation. ‘I knew nothing about this until a fellow fisherman, who saw the EcoEye programme, mentioned it to me. The kelp forests provide food and shelter for a huge variety of marine life, and removing this could potentially have a huge effect on the local lobster and crab fishing in the area,’ he claimed. ‘We need to know more about this planned harvest before it can be allowed to go ahead.’
BioAtlantis Ltd applied for a foreshore licence for the mechanical harvesting of seaweed in 2009, when an advert advertising the planning application was placed in The Southern Star on December 12th. The licence was granted on Friday, March 21st 2014.
John T O’Sullivan of BioAtlantis told The Southern Star that he was also shocked when he saw the EcoEye programme. But his concern was due to the way his plans to harvest kelp in Bantry Bay were portrayed.
‘We were never contacted by RTÉ before this programme went out, and I have to say that I was shocked to see our national broadcaster had decided to destroy us before we even got started. The report was, as far as I am concerned, completely sensationalised and in some cases factually incorrect. I am trying a create business and jobs in rural Ireland (with 58 people employed) and the hatchet job by RTÉ is seriously demoralising,’ Mr O’Sullivan said.
‘We have completed all the necessary procedures with the regulating authorities, and we have been granted a trial, or conditional, licence to harvest kelp using a method not seen before anywhere in the British Isles,’ he explained. ‘We have complied with every requirement of Inland Fisheries, the Marine Institute and the Department of the Environment. Our process will cut the kelp 25cm before the hold fast and will not just rip the seaweed from the sea floor. There will then be a review after three years, and again two years later to monitor the condition of the kelp and to examine if harvesting should continue,’ Mr O’Sullivan said.
When asked if this method of harvesting would damage sealife and the seaweed in the areas earmarked for this project Mr O’Sullivan said: ‘We have a trial licence and the work will be monitored and accessed. Will this have an effect on sealife? No, as we are not removing all of the seaweed. Will the Kelp suffer? Potentially, yes. We don’t know, and that’s why we have a trial licence.’
Mr O’Sullivan said that harvesting in Bantry Bay should begin at the end of May, or early June this year.
‘To be absolutely clear, we do not want to damage the kelp, we want it to continue to grow so that BioAlantis can harvest it again. We are not out to destroy the seaweed and leave, we want to create local jobs in rural Ireland and to sustain or business,’ Mr O’Sullivan said.
The area planned for kelp harvesting covers over 700 hectares (1,800 acres) and stretches along sections of the Beara and Sheep’s Head peninsulas.