Mussel seed dredgers

Local stakeholders and environmental watchdog, Coastwatch, have criticised ‘ industrial scale’ dredging for mussel seed in Dalkey Sound, in close proximity to a busy shoreline and harbour south of Dublin City.

“What we watched for several hours were three relatively large trawlers dredging almost every square inch of the seabed in this narrow area – at times as close as about six to eight metres from Dillon’s Park shoreline.

“We fully understand the practice of seed mussel gathering – but not at an industrial level in such a delicate and popular leisure area and so close to the shore,” Des Burke-Kennedy told Inshore Ireland.

Local fishermen also recorded a sharp drop in their minimal catches following a period of similar dredging in 2016.

In a statement, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority said targeting mussel seed was an annual occurrence and was ‘open and available’ to operators to target.

No specific preclusion attaches to fishing or more specifically, relating to mussel seed extraction in this location.

‘Nonetheless, in keeping with standard practice for all vessels operating within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), they are actively tracked by electronic means so to location and duration of their activity is monitored fully,’ the statement reads.

Special Protected Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) have particular features of flora and fauna, identified by the National Parks and Wildlife to which protection is afforded under the ‘site specific’ legislation relating to each SAC or SPA.

‘In terms of the Dalkey area, the SPA is directed to three particular tern species, namely Roseate Tern, Common Tern and Arctic Tern. SAC provisions are in place within the Rockabill to Dalkey Island SAC for the protection of porpoise and underwater reef features. Monitoring is ongoing within the Fisheries Monitoring Centre and by SFPA locally,’ the statement concluded.

Local intelligence

Coastwatch reported “dozens of calls” of fishing vessels Emerald Gratia, Rona and Branding trawling with heavy iron chain dredges, “delicately draped in ‘sacrifice plastic’ dolly ropes which could turn your stomach,” remarked coordinator, Karin Dubsky.

“This is a biodiversity hotspot where a mix of habitats — from reef with a kelp bed band to boulder, sand and mud — provide a rich supply of food and shelter. Mussel spat tends to settle there when planktonic larvae come into the eddies and currents between Dalkey island and mainland. It’s like a high protein food carpet that umpteen other species feed on.”

Dalkey Sound is also a feeding for harbour porpoises and the resident seal population. These species are described as ‘qualifying interest’ in the Rockabill to Dalkey Natura 2000 site.

“There are clear legal obligations to protect their feeding and resting ground. Among the obligations is the precautionary principle: If you cannot exclude that a plan or an activity might have a significant impact, then you should not permit that activity,” warns Karin.

“Initially we thought mussel seed collection in this area was illegal but when plotting the exclusion zone coordinates provided on the DAFM website and speaking to SFPA and Coastguard officers, it became clear that dredging is permitted under licence in this ‘marine protected area’ (SAC), despite National Parks and Wildlife Service advice to the contrary.

“Coastwatch fully supports NPWS advice that this area should be closed to dredging as there is insufficient information to judge the impact on the cetaceans for which the site is protected,” she added.

The activity was closely watched by local Coastwatchers who remarked they saw no official adjacent to the shore or in a patrol vessel and that nobody boarded the vessels to assess what was being dredged and the by-catch.

“Nobody surveyed the sea floor afterwards as two of the vessels steamed off to Belfast. We will be asking divers to report on the actual position.”