By Stephen Cadogan
Elimination of a shellfish farm licensing backlog in 2019 will be a game changer and will provide a solid footing for the industry, according to Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.
He told a recent meeting of the joint Oireachtas committee on agriculture, food and the marine that his department has reached a target of 300 licence determinations in 2018 two months ahead of schedule, and is committed to similar progress in 2019, to effectively eliminate the shellfish licensing backlog.
Shellfish farmers will then be operating under 10-year licences, and can access developmental funding and supports available from the State.
He said the rate of determinations of aquaculture licence applications this year is almost three times the level of decisions that were made in previous years.
His department prioritised shellfish licensing because it represents by far the greatest number of aquaculture operators, who are mainly small family-run businesses.
The minister said Irish aquaculture output in 2017 increased to 47,147 tonnes of “farmgate” produce, worth €208.4m, including €100m of finfish and €60m of shellfish.
He said processing of finfish licence applications is significantly more complex due to the requirement for operators to produce environmental impact statements.
His department will shortly request finfish operators to submit environmental impact statements in respect of licence renewal applications.
The overall industry employed almost 2,000 directly on some 280 primary production units in 2017.
Mr Creed said Irish aquaculture production is generally in the organic sphere, so it is not as intensive as aquaculture in other countries. He acknowledged that Irish production was higher in the early 2000s, and said a collapse of the European market wiped out many of the early Irish operators.
In 2003, production was 23,000t, by 2012 it fell to 12,000t, and it has recovered to 19,305t in 2017.
Mr Creed said there is an insatiable global demand for seafood products.
“Aquaculture is critical to meeting this demand. In fact, production from farmed fish, whether shellfish or finfish, rather than the wild-catch sector, is likely to be the majority source of meeting this major global demand.”
“We have a specific niche market operation, primarily on the finfish side, on organic status, and certified organic status product commands a premium relative to other production systems.
During the Oireachtas committee debate on aquaculture licensing, Mr Creed paid tribute to IFA aquaculture representative Richie Flynn, who passed away recently. “He had given many years of sterling service to the aquaculture sector, and his unfortunate and untimely passing is a great loss to the aquaculture sector and to everybody in the IFA.“