Opponents to mechanical harvesting of kelp from Bantry Bay brought their concerns to Leinster House (March 7) to elevate their concerns for what they say would be a threat to the local economy and ecology of the area.

Bantry Bay protect Dail Eireann

Protest against mechanical harvesting of kelp from Bantry Bay outside Dáil Éireann. Photo Maria Conneely 

In 2014, a licence was issued to BioAtlantis, Tralee, Co Kerry, to mechanically harvest 1,860 acres of native kelp, ‘without consultation’ and without conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment’, says Bantry Bay Native Kelp Forest who represent the inhabitants of Bantry Bay.

During a Private Members Bill (March 7), deputies Catherine Connolly set down a Motion (5:46) requesting government “to develop and publish a national strategy to promote the development of the seaweed sector in Ireland”.

Deputy Connolly noted particular emphasis on key points including:

• the interests of traditional seaweed harvesters and their livelihoods

• the potential for sustainable job creation in the seaweed sector for rural, coastal and island communities, with particular regard to carrying out updated economic analysis of the sector

• the State’s obligation to regulate the natural resource for the primary benefit of local communities, and the State’s climate change commitments

• to move the responsibility for seaweed licencing to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as recommended by the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht’s Report of the Committee on Developing the Seaweed Industry in Ireland (May 2015) 

  • to ensure that any new streamlined regulatory licence would prioritise traditional harvesters, exempt these harvesters under a certain amount and protect traditional harvesting rights from commercial interests

Deputy Thomas Pringle added that the purpose of the Motion was to try to put the local community and harvesters at the heart of the matter, “rather than the operations of private companies.

“Never did the residents of the western seaboard believe that their harvesting of seaweed would be of interest to multinational companies, leading to a situation whereby they will now be sacrificed in order that companies can have unfettered access to the resource.”

Government responds

Damien English, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said that while government could not fully support the Private Member’s motion, it was “opportune time to have a debate.

“Both the deputies’ motion and government’s amendment recognise the importance of the traditional harvesters and their rights,” he said.

Seventeen applications for licences to harvest wild seaweed under the Foreshore Act are before DHPLG, thirteen of which are from companies that wish to harvest and process seaweed for products that include artisan foods, animal health products and high-grader fertiliser.

Data requested from the Property Registration Authority of Ireland reveals that roughly 6,500 appurtenant rights exist relating to seaweed across counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo and Donegal. Between 250 and 400 of these rights are currently being exercised.

Minister English explained that work was underway to establish the implications of the interaction between existing seaweed harvesting rights and applications for licences by commercial companies.

“Once this work is complete, it is my aim to bring clarity to the regulatory regime applying to wild seaweed harvesting, seeking to balance the existing rights of traditional harvesters and commercial potential, while also ensuring sustainability of the resource and compliance with the State’s obligations under domestic and EU environmental law.

Minister English however said that government could not support a motion that only recognised traditional seaweed harvesters.

“Any regulatory regime must take into account the interests of a multiplicity of stakeholders. The Private Members’ motion from Deputies Connolly and Pringle does not reflect the symbiotic relationship between traditional harvesters and companies.”

All applications are “on hold” until the work is complete.