Minister for Housing and Planning, Simon Coveney is being urged by locals and environmentalists to reverse his department’s decision to grant the 10-year kelp-cutting licence to biotechnology company, BioAtlantis.
Lobster and shrimp cluster in and near the brown seaweed for food and shelter, according to third- generation Bantry fisherman, Kieran O’Shea.
“My main concern is the impact on lobster and shrimp stock which have definitely been on the increase since we began a project with Bord Iascaigh Mhara to protect them. Local inshore fishing directly and indirectly employs up to 50 people locally,” he said.
“The regulations that govern the licensing of such marine projects need to be updated as there should have been consultation with the local community beyond an advertisement in a local newspaper with very little detail and a pamphlet in a garda station,” he said.
The BioAtlantis, which will take place in sections of the Beara and Sheep’s Head peninsulas, will be the biggest in Irish and UK waters but according to BioAtlantis is “minute” in comparison to projects in Norway, France and Iceland.
BioAtlantis has said it will use machinery to cut the kelp 25cm off its root structure so as to minimise damage to marine life such as shellfish. After three years of harvesting, a review will take place to see if the kelp quality has been damaged.
Mr O’Shea emphasised he isn’t against kelp harvesting if sustainability of marine life is assured. He said it is impossible to say all of the harvesting will take place 25cm over the seaweed rootball.
“The bottom of the sea is like a mountain, it is not level. How can we be confident the robot machinery will cut systematically at that level?
"Also BioAtlantis say they don’t want to damage the kelp root as they want it to grow back after harvesting but where will the shrimp and lobster go during the 2-3 years that it’s growing back?”
He said he was “appalled” that such a project did not need an environmental impact statement as that could allay some of the locals’ fears.
However, Mr O’Sullivan said a baseline study of the existing kelp forest, completed by Merck Environmental Sustainability and UCD, will be published in the coming weeks.
Independent Cork South West TD, Michael Collins agreed.
He said: “My main concern is that an environmental impact statement was not required. A project of this scale has never happened in this country before. I accept that all legal requirements were met but it is clearly time that this legislation was reviewed”.
Friends of the Irish Environment director and Bantry resident, Tony Lowes said the project was “fundamentally flawed” as the Bantry Bay Charter which created a non-statutory voluntary consultation structure for local businesses, fishermen and residents was ignored.