Residents call on Minister Coveney to block mechanical harvesting of seaweed in Bantry Bay

Published by Catherine O'Toole on

26th April 2017

A local campaign group is calling on the Minister for Planning, Simon Coveney, to reverse a decision to grant a mechanical harvesting licence for 1,860 acres of seaweed in Bantry Bay.

Over 3,500 people have signed an online petition calling on Minister Coveney to halt any mechanical harvesting until a public consultation and Environmental Impact Assessment is completed. Seaweed has been harvested by hand in Ireland for centuries and provides employment, mainly part-time, in many coastal areas.

The group behind the petition, Bantry Bay — Protect our Native Kelp Forest, believe that mechanical harvesting on this scale will do catastrophic damage to the kelp and ecosystem on which it depends. The group also fears that not enough research has been carried out as to the impact of mechanical harvesting on the local marine environment.

A ten-year license was granted to Tralee-based company BioAtlantis Ltd in 2014. The total licence area is split into five zones covering an area of roughly 1,860 acres. The harvesting plan is on a four-year rotational basis, with a little under 500 acres set to be harvested each year, according to BioAtlantis.

A spokesperson for BioAtlantis Ltd told The Green News that recommendations from a 2004 Marine Institute study were followed closely in the creation of the application, while  “consultations with a range of experts in Ireland” were sought during the application process.

By law, no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required for the approval of the application. As the site in Bantry Bay is not a protected Natura 2000 site, the need for an EIA was not deemed necessary. This is seen as a huge oversight by Deirdre Fitzgerald of Protect our Native Kelp Forest, as a large number of species, as well as local fishermen, rely on the kelp beds for their livelihood.

“We have White Tailed Eagles resident in the bay, whales, dolphins, seals, otters, and so many bird species that rely on this bay for food,” she recently told The Irish Examiner. “What will be the impact on juvenile fish as a food source for all these species once this kelp is removed from the bay?”

Ms Fitzgerald also said that the public advertisement for the application was not sufficient as it did not outline the scale of the operation or that it was to be a mechanical harvest. She added that no public meetings were held to inform locals about the application, with many residents only finding out about the plans when they were discussed on a recent episode of RTE’s Eco Eye.

Local TD Michael Collins recently wrote to Mr. Coveney indicating that the advertising was inadequate. He also indicated that no concrete information was provided to Cork County Council in relation to the development

The letter states: “Minister (Coveney) I ask that you revoke the license issued to BioAtlantis, Tralee without delay on the basis that your department did not advertise this license with sufficient detail, it did not engage in consultation with local stakeholders and it failed to respect the Bantry Bay Coastal Zone Charter.”

In a statement, the Department of Planning said that normal public consultation procedures were followed. “The application was advertised in the Southern Star and was available for inspection at a local Garda Station for a period of 21 days. No submissions were received from members of the public,” the statement reads.

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Catherine O'Toole

Catherine is a contributor to the Green News. She has a BA in Photography from DIT and has a keen interest in conservation photography.