By Joe Dermody
New applicants for seaweed harvesting licences have been told that the Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government cannot license any new seaweed harvesting in an area where there is an existing right to harvest seaweed.
“Existing seaweed rights holders can continue to exercise their right to harvest seaweed and do not require consent under the Foreshore Act, although they must respect relevant national and European environmental legislation,” said Damien English, the junior minister for housing and urban development, announcing the results of his department’s ongoing assessment of the legalities of seaweed harvesting rights.
Some 6,000 landowners in Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, and Donegal have rights relating to seaweed, specified in Land Registry folios.
Earlier this year, there were 17 applications for licences under the Foreshore Act, 13 of which are from companies that wish to harvest and process wild seaweed, for products ranging from artisan food products to animal health products to high-grade fertiliser.
This reflects seaweed becoming a useful raw material.
The department had put applications on hold while officials worked on the complex legal issues surrounding rights to harvest seaweed.
There is no definitive number for those who are already engaged in traditional harvesting of seaweed, but it is estimated that between 250 and 400 of the 6,500 rights are being exercised.
The Government’s policy on seaweed was the subject of a Dáil vote defeat last March, when the Government’s amendment to a private member’s motion, from Independent TD Catherine Connolly, was defeated 80-42.
Ms Connolly’s motion called on the Government to suspend seaweed licensing pending publication of a national strategy for the seaweed sector with particular focus on the interests of traditional harvesters.
She said the value of the sector is €18m per annum, €6m of which is in exports.
At the recent Our Ocean Wealth Summit in Galway, Mr English said he has written to all existing applicants setting out the position and would work with them.
He said there is great potential to develop the wild seaweed sector.
“I will be working with my colleagues to identify the most suitable body to develop and implement a strategy to underpin the development of this sector which will need to include a robust and transparent licensing system.”