Bantry Bay foreshore licence map of mechanical seaweed harvesting site

A case that could determine the future for Ireland’s seaweed industries opens in the High Court on May 14 and is expected to run for six days.

Bantry Bay – Protect our Native Kelp Forests is seeking a Judicial Review of the granting of a seaweed harvesting licence to BioAtlantis Aquamarine Ltd – a Tralee-based biotechnology company.

The West Cork community organisation is also seeking an Injunction to prevent the commencement of harvesting until the Judicial Review is complete.

Impact on the marine environment, consequences for accelerated coastal erosion, degeneration of tourism and potential threat to the livelihoods of over fifty inshore fishermen, are among their concerns.

Background

In November 2017, Minister of State Damien English approved a foreshore licence to cut 1,860 acres of wild native kelp forest in Bantry Bay which protesters say would be the largest mechanical extraction of seaweed ever attempted in Ireland or Britain.

Bantry Bay – Protect our Native Kelp Forests, says government has ‘seen fit to issue this licence without any Environmental Impact Assessment, without any independent monitoring system and without any effective public consultation’.

It contends that instead, ‘[the application] seems to be viewed as a trial case’ to set the precedent for future development of  Ireland’s seaweed resources.

‘Minister English himself told the Dáil on May 9, 2017, “I believe this will be a useful prototype to be able to monitor and in making decisions for the future.” ‘

Study findings

A 2005 study by the National Parks and Wildlife Services The Role of Kelp in the Marine Environment concluded:

‘In general, mechanical kelp harvesting should not be conducted near important breeding bird colonies, near important sites for wintering shorebirds and waterfowl or near important staging areas for migratory birds.’

The report also notes:

‘It is clear that licensing of mechanical harvesting on an area of seafloor will effectively sacrifice resident biological communities from reaching their natural equilibrium.’

And contends:

‘The development of a mechanical kelp industry in Ireland would present a challenge for fisheries management in terms of marine biodiversity as it could impact on the habitat of species that have not previously received much attention scientifically.

Despite a protest of over 500 people on the shores of Bantry Bay and a petition of more than 14,000 signatures ‘the government’s only response has  been to repeat that this licence was lawfully granted.

‘We shall test that contention this week in the High Court,’ says Bantry Bay – Protect our Native Kelp Forests.