New fisheries declaration to control activity in Natura 2000 sites

Published by Dan Connell on

 September 28th, 2017

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed T.D, has introduced a new Fisheries Natura Declaration to regulate fishing activities affecting Natura 2000 sites.

Effective 30th November 2017, the use of dredge and trawling gear for scallop fishing will be restricted at Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) sites off the southeast coast of Wexford.

The Declaration sets down monitoring and notification requirements for boats that are fishing using dredge and trawling gear within the Hook Head and Saltee Islands SACs.

The measures were developed by the Marine Institute (MI) and Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), in consultation with the Inshore Fisheries Forum structures, to address risks to these sensitive habitats.

Industry members met with the MI and BIM during 2015 and 2016 to develop risk mitigation proposals for the fishery, following a risk assessment of sea-fishing activities in Natura 2000 sites in the Irish Sea, conducted by the MI in 2014.

The implementation of the new measures, and the status of other measures under review for important stocks such as lobster, brown crab, and razor clams were discussed at the 12th meeting of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum (NIFF).

Velvet Crabs

Regulations signed by Minister Creed during the NIFF forum also legislate for conservation measures concerning Irish velvet crab stocks.

Velvet crabs are fished all year, but mainly in the March to October period. Predominantly a ‘by-catch’ in the lobster fishery, landings of velvet crab into Ireland were 406 tonnes in 2015, higher than any year since 2004, and were valued at just under €808,000.

Over 80 per cent of velvet crabs are landed by vessels less than 10 metres in length. The inshore sector (comprising fishing boats of less than 12 metres in overall length) makes up more than 80 per cent of the fishing fleet and is predominately active within six nautical miles of the Irish shore.

From 1st January 2018, a Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) of 65mm for velvet crab will apply to Irish sea-fishing boats.  This measure was initially developed by the West Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum with advice from the MI.

The Inshore Fisheries Forum structures, which include NIFF and six Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums (RIFFs), were established to foster stakeholder-led development of proposals for the inshore sector.

RIFF members include inshore fishermen, environmental interests, marine leisure, marine tourism, and other marine stakeholders.

“Heading into their third year, the Forums have taken a lead in tackling conservation issues and changing practices with a view to long-term sustainability”, Minster Creed said during discussions on the implications of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention, which governs access to waters inside the 12-mile limit.

“While the implications of Brexit are far from clear, I will continue to highlight Irish fisheries concerns on the EU agenda and work with other impacted EU Member States and the Barnier team to ensure that fisheries are not isolated in the overall negotiations on a new EU/UK relationship,” he said.

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Dan Connell

Daniel is a journalist and contributor to Green News, whose focus is on marine conservation and environmental issues. He holds a BSc (Hons) in Marine Science from NUI Galway.