Challenge over State's decision to allow farmed fishing of foreign oysters in Lough Swilly

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A High Court challenge has been brought by a group representing oyster fishermen over a decision to grant licences allowing the farmed fishing of oysters in Lough Swilly.

The action has been brought by the Co Donegal based Lough Swilly Wild Oyster Society Ltd (LSWOS) whose members have been engaged in the fishing of native oysters in Lough Swilly for over 25 years. It fears the lack of proper controls over the farming of oysters in the Lough is an "environmental disaster".

The group, represented in court by Peter Finlay SC, claims the licences, awarded by the Minister for Agriculture and upheld on appeal by the Aquaculture Licence Appeals Board last February, allow the farmed fishing of a species in Lough Swilly known as Pacific Oysters.

LSWOS claims the farming of these foreign oysters is eroding the natural occurring fishing grounds and are having a detrimental effect on their ability to fish for native species.

They claim licences were given to parties to farm Pacific oysters that were either abandoned or neglected. This resulted in a mass of untended pacific oysters that have spread out and taken over the beds of the native oysters.

The State, it is claimed, has done nothing to control the proper farming of oysters in the Lough, LSWOS claims.

The aquaculture and foreshores licences at the centre of the actions were granted to Mr Alan O'Sullivan and the Lough Swilly Shellfish Growers Co-Operative Society Ltd.

LSWOS says it makes no criticism to make of the proposed licences and says that in principle it has no objections to the granting of properly regulated licences to farm oysters in Lough Swilly.

Mr Finlay told the court his clients claim the decisions to award the licences are flawed and should be set aside, on various grounds including the appeals board refusal to grant his client an oral hearing after LSWOS lodged its appeal against the Minister's decision in 2017 to grant the licences.

Counsel said there was a lack of fairness in the manner in the process which the appeals board adopted when considering his client's appeal.

Counsel added that contrary to the EU Habitats Directive the appeals board also relied on information concerning the Lough Swilly that was some six years out of date and did not take into account the proliferation of the Pacific Oyster in the Lough.

In judicial review proceedings, the LSWOS seeks various orders and declarations including an order quashing the decisions of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, as well as the decision by the Aquaculture Licence Appeals Board confirming the Minister's decision.

They also seek a declaration that the decision to grant the licences is in breach of natural and constitutional justice, damages and for a stay to be put on the licences.

Both Mr O'Sullivan and the Lough Swilly Shellfish Growers Co-Operative Society Ltd are notice parties to the action.

Permission to bring the challenge was granted on an ex parte basis, by Mr Justice Seamus Noonan.

It will come back to court in July.

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