Clew Bay seaweed cutters set up association
Over 40 people met in Newport last Friday to set up a Clew Bay Seaweed Association. This was prompted by an application from a Kerry firm, BioAtlantis Teo, to seek a ten-year exclusive licence to harvest Clew Bay seaweed. Local farmers have traditionally cut seaweed along the foreshore, selling it to Arramara Teo, a Galway company originally owned by Údarás na Gaeltachta.
BioAtlantis, is seeking a licence to cut 12,900 tonnes annually of the brown Ascophyllum seaweed in Clew Bay. The company claims that Clew Bay has the second-largest reserve of this seaweed in the country, and that 20 jobs could be created in Clew Bay to service their requirements.
According to Cllr Michael Holmes (Ind), local people have cut seaweed for hundreds of years and commercially for the last 40 years. “It’s a serious issue,” he explained. “There has to be some organised action. It’s the first time this issue of a harvesting licence has really surfaced.”
Cllr Holmes said that the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has to deal with all applications because Clew Bay is a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC). “The NPWS has the final say. They have more power than a planning authority,” he added. “I suggest that everybody applies for an individual licence for a specific area rather than object to the existing licence application.”
The meeting, chaired by Mr John Lambe, was told by Mr John O’Malley, a former FG councillor, that he would not like to see the rights of the sea going to anybody other than the people who have traditionally cut it since the foundation of the state. Mr Alex Blackwell said the foreshore licence would become a company asset, which could be traded and would leave local people without any rights.
A committee was formed under the auspices of the Clew Bay Seaweed Association, with everyone present encouraged to apply for a licence and object to the granting of an exclusive licence for Clew Bay to one company, which would control who could cut seaweed. The public has until January 30 to lodge objections/observations on the BioAtlantis application.
The meeting was informed that Enterprise Ireland has a 15 percent share holding in BioAtlantis and two other companies have foreshore seaweed licence applications pending, including Arramara Teoranta/Acadian Seaplant.
An Access to Environment Information request last December to the Department of the Environment revealed that there is no policy on seaweed harvesting from any public body in Ireland. It also revealed that the tonnage harvested in Clew Bay between 2000-2012 is unknown and that the only licence (non-exclusive) issued to cut seaweed in Clew Bay was to LoTide Fine Foods Ltd for 5 tonnes of various types of seaweed to use seaweed extracts in fine foods.
Last year, Údarás na Gaeltachta sold Arramara Teo to a Canadian company, Acadian Seaplant. Prior to its sale, Arramara applied for a foreshore licence to harvest seaweed from the coasts of counties Mayo, Galway and Clare. BioAtlantis, a customer of Arramara, was not officially informed of the pending sale.
Last July, BioAtlantis made a submission to the Houses of the Oireachtas on ‘The Licensing and Harvesting of Seaweed in Ireland’ in which it raised serious questions about the methodology used in the sale of Arramara Teo.
Meanwhile, councillors joined together at yesterday’s (Monday) Mayo County Council meeting to strongly oppose the possible privatisation of the practice, writes Ciara Galvin.
Cllr Michael Holmes asked for the Council to call on Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly to prevent the allocation of an exclusive permit to harvest seaweed by one company or body.
The Independent councillor said there was currently an application for harvesting for Clew Bay and another application for harvesting the entire coastal area of Mayo. Cllr Holmes added that if there was a monopoly on the practice it would have disastrous affects for the people of Mayo
Cllr Christy Hyland told the meeting he was against any exclusive rights to a seaweed harvesting licence and informed fellow councillors that he had harvested seaweed previously.
Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway-Walsh reaffirmed Cllr Holmes’ information in relation to the Clew Bay harvesting application and urged people to return submissions on the application by January 30.
Chief Executive Peter Hynes described the practice as a ‘complex legal milieu’ and said the issue of seaweed harvesting was a bigger topic than a five minute debate. He proposed that the issue be added to the March or April agenda for discussion which was accepted by those in attendance.