Licensing for aquaculture has been highlighted by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney as one of his great frustrations since his appointment.
Mr Coveney recently told Oireachtas members that Ireland’s aquaculture industry has been under the European Commission’s microscope.
He said: “Other EU countries do not have the pressure we have from the commission regarding putting a gold-plated aquaculture licensing system in place.”
The aquaculture industry estimates that over the past five years, at least €60m in public and private investment has been lost to coastal areas because aquaculture producers awaiting licence decisions could not access public funding of 40% of capital expenditure.
The licensing backlog is blamed for fish farmers not switching to more lucrative species and not being able to access capital expenditure funding or bank loans for the best available equipment, needed to secure farms against bad weather.
A European Court of Justice judgment against Ireland in 2007 has largely determined the progress of aquaculture licensing in most Irish bays. Two licences were issued in 2008; four in 2009; three in 2010; six in 2011; 137 in 2013; and 115 in 2012.
“Had we not been as loose about this licensing system in the past, we would not be under the microscope now, but I have to deal with what I have to deal with as a minister,” said Mr Coveney.
“We are assessing bays as quickly as we can. If a bay or harbour is a special area of conservation, we have to go through a process of environmental assessment before we can even accept an application for an aquaculture licence. That means our department, working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Irish Marine Institute, getting the science done on those bays before we can assess the aquaculture applications.
“People who seek aquaculture licences or licence extensions in some bays are waiting for their bay to be assessed, and that is very frustrating for them. We are prioritising the bays that have the most applications or potential applications to try and get as many of them dealt with as possible.”
It is hoped more than 200 licence determinations will be achieved in 2014. However, it is believed some 60 bays have to be inspected, and only five of them have been completed to date. Despite licensing hold-ups, the value of seafood exports has dramatically increased, even though the volume has remained more or less the same. The Food Harvest 2020 report projects Irish aquaculture production volumes to rise 78% from 2008 to 2020.
Regulatory licensing issues are also slowing development of the seaweed industry, according to the Oireachtas report on sustainable coastal and island communities.
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