SEAWEED aquaculture is an emerging industry to a large extent and, in that regard, safeguarding actions need to be put in place in the interests of existing traditional practices and the environment, Fianna Fáil Deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahony told the Dáil.
Speaking during a lengthy debate on seaweed harvesting, she said the management of seaweed harvesting is key to ensuring this industry is allowed to prosper. There are, she said, many issues pertaining to regulation that lead to a serious lack of consistency in the issuing of licences.
Deputy Murphy O’Mahony said she had a major concern in relation to the 10-year licence granted to a company for the mechanical harvesting of 1,860 acres of native kelp in Bantry Bay. ‘It is proposed that this area will be divided into five zones, four of which will be harvested,’ she said. ‘Essentially, the fifth zone will serve as a safety net for the company in the event that one of the other zones becomes inaccessible for reasons such as adverse weather. Since last May, I have attended numerous public meetings organised by concerned stakeholders and I am in constant contact with a group, Bantry Bay Protect Our Native Kelp Forest.’
Deputy Murphy O’Mahony said she had submitted parliamentary questions on this issue but received no satisfactory response. ‘The reply to one of those questions indicated that the licence would be mitigated by the fact that one of the allocated zones is a stand-by zone, thus reducing the overall area for harvest. In other words, because only four of the five zones are to be harvested, suddenly everything is going to be okay. The reply also states that the licence is subject to strict monitoring but that this monitoring commences after the first three years of harvesting. Retrospective monitoring is inappropriate and irresponsible.”
In effect, she said, this licence was granted without consultation or debate and without any requirement on the licensee to appear before local stakeholders to explain the situation. ‘The planning advertisement in the newspaper was barely visible. Most importantly, this licence was granted in the absence of an environmental impact assessment,’ said the deputy.
Independent Deputy Michael Collins said the licence that allows BioAtlantis to harvest mechanically vast amounts of kelp in Bantry Bay is experimental and the effects could cause huge damage to West Cork. ‘This is the first licence in Ireland or Great Britain to allow the mechanical harvesting of seaweed and the effects could be detrimental to wildlife, tourism and employment in Bantry,’ he added.