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To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to address the delays in the carrying out of appropriate assessments of Natura 2000 sites in order to assess their suitability for Oyster farming; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace.

For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 19th June, 2013.

REPLY

The European Court of Justice declared in case C418/04 that, by failing to take all the measures necessary to comply with Article 6(3) of Directive 92/43 (Habitats Directive) in respect of authorisation of aquaculture programmes, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under that Directive.

In the negotiations to address the judgment a process was agreed with the European Commission which would lead to full compliance by Ireland with the relevant EU Directives.  This process includes the following steps:

  • a detailed data collection in 91 Bays/Estuaries
  • detailed analysis of raw data collected
  • setting of Conservation Objectives by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in respect of each site
  • carrying out Appropriate Assessments of each licence application/fishery plan against the detailed Conservation Objectives set, and
  • determination of Licences/Fisheries on the basis of the Appropriate Assessment and other relevant factors.

The data collection programme is substantially complete.  Analysis of the data, together with the setting of appropriate conservation objectives by the NPWS, will enable all new, renewal and review applications to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.  This work represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State in resolving this issue.

While the Appropriate Assessments are carried out on a bay by bay basis, each licence application within the bay must be assessed individually.  Factors to be considered include location within the bay, species, scale etc.  In addition to the Natura requirements, under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive all licence applications must undergo an Environmental Impact pre-screening assessment. This requires significant input from the Department’s scientific and technical advisors. All applications, in compliance with the requirements of the Aarhus Directive, are advertised in order to facilitate public consultation, and submissions or observations received must be considered as part of the licence application determination process.

Conservation objectives had been set in relation to a significant number of bays and Appropriate Assessments have been carried in four bays (Castlemaine, Dundalk, Lough Swilly and Roaringwater).  I am pleased to inform the Deputy that as a result of the above process I have made aquaculture licence Determinations in respect of applications in Castlemaine.

The prioritised list of bays is kept under continuous review by my Department so as to facilitate the use of scientific and other resources on a flexible basis across the full range of bays including those where oyster farming takes place.

It is important for all involved in the aquaculture industry to understand that the sustainable development of the industry and the creation of long term employment from aquaculture into the future can only take place if there is full compliance with all EU and national legislation on environmental protection.  Ireland’s reputation as a producer of top quality seafood is predicated on the implementation of a sound regulatory system which has the confidence of the public in general and also the EU Commission.

My Department continues to make every effort to expedite the determination of aquaculture licence applications having regard to the need to comply with all relevant national and EU legislation.

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