THE people of Bantry are determined to do whatever it takes to have a licence for large scale seaweed harvesting in their bay suspended until a proper study on its effects is carried out.
That was the message from a meeting held in the town last Sunday, which drew a crowd of over 250 concerned locals and speakers.
Controversy has surrounded the decision to grant a licence to Kerry-based Bioatlantis Ltd last December. The firm plans to harvest 1,822 acres – or 753 hectares – on a trial basis in Bantry Bay, in what opponents called a ‘shocking’ move.
At Sunday’s meeting in Bantry, several fishermen, tourism and hospitality business owners, environmentalists, community groups and residents all pledged to continue to campaign until an independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is carried out.
Member of the Bantry Bay Protect Our Native Kelp Forest committee Declan Bevan said: ‘We feel that should have been done before any licence was issued. But perhaps this is an opportunity for the government and BioAtlantis, in conjunction with the concerned groups and communities of Bantry Bay, to co-fund this independent EIA.’
Local inshore fisherman Kieran O’Shea, claimed at the meeting that if the mechanical harvesting goes ahead, the lobster and crab fishing in the area will be devastated.
‘I am appalled and deeply saddened that Minister Murphy would grant a licence that will have such a devastating effect, not only on the fishing in this area, but also on the many active tourism businesses that bring many thousands of people to Bantry Bay every year,’ Mr O’Shea said.
‘Kelp is of enormous importance to the local inshore fishing industry. The kelp provides homes and protection for the species we fish for. Removing this, even for one or two years, will see a major decline in not only lobster, crab and shrimp, but also in the thousands of other species that rely on this seaweed.’
A local sustainable seaweed farmer, Paul Cobb, said there is the potential in Bantry Bay, and indeed along the west coast of Ireland, to create a seaweed farming and harvesting industry that would be on a par with mussel farming.
‘There is an alternative to mechanical harvesting,’ Mr Cobb said. ‘Given the political will and support, kelp and other species of seaweed could be farmed sustainably which would provide jobs and income for remote communities.’
Speaking at the meeting, Deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF) said that she was appalled at the treatment that the people of Bantry had received in Dublin. She said committee members who travelled to Dublin to meet Minister Murphy, did not get to see him.
She said: ‘I have, on a number of occasions, brought this matter to the Minister and each time I have been ignored and frankly treated with contempt. I want the Minister to meet with the people of Bantry immediately and I want the licence suspended until an EIA is carried out.’
Deputy Michael Collins (Ind) said: ‘In the Daíl when I raise this issue, I am constantly told that the licence is granted and that all necessary procedures have been carried out. They are using Bantry Bay as a guinea pig and they have no interest whatsoever because they have a job done on this. The licence must be suspended, this harvesting must not go ahead without an EIA, and the people of Bantry Bay must be listened to.’
Deputy Jim Daly, who was out of the country at the time of the meeting, said he accepted people’s concerns: ‘However, I also have to be honest with the people. I have been advised there is no avenue available to me or indeed Minister English, politically, to repeal this licence. What we are asking the developer here is akin to a local authority granting permission for a development of houses, or possibly a factory, and cancelling that planning permission just as the developer is about to start building.’
By time of going to press, there was no comment from BioAtlantis.