Why is nothing being done by the Loughs Agency regarding 30,000 unregulated and unlicensed oyster trestles located on the foreshore of Lough Foyle between Muff and Moville? That is the question to ask.
The most broadcast reason being spun by Irish Government representatives and local politicians is the inability of both the U.K. and Irish Governments to agree on the ownership of the lough.
This explanation is a complete nonsense and empty rhetoric.
The fact is that the Loughs Agency is already in place by agreement of both Governments and has the legislatory power to deal with the situation. The Loughs Agency's mission statement can be read here. It states
The Loughs Agency aims to provide sustainable social, economic and environmental benefits through the effective conservation, protection, management, promotion and development of the fisheries and marine resources of the Foyle and Carlingford Areas.
The Crown Estate and it's role
So what is the real reason for ignoring the serious situation that has developed? The 'elephant in the room' that blatantly has not been mentioned is 'The Crown Estate'.
History Of The Crown Estate
The Crown Estate claim ownership of the seabed of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough. It is they who will not agree with legislation put together by both Governments in 2007 to regulate aquaculture fishing on Lough's Foyle and Carlingford Lough making it necessary for local fishermen, for the first time in history, to have to purchase a fishing licence.
This can be seen in the letter dated 15 January 2007, from Charles Green, MRICS, on behalf of The Crown Estates to Mr J McQuillan, Fisheries Division, Castle Grounds, Stormont Estate concerning 'Draft Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007. In it he states:
We write in response to your consultation on the above order and are pleased to have the opportunity to consider this. The Crown Estate has significant ownership interests in the foreshore and seabed of Northern Ireland and has broad expertise and knowledge of activities across the tidal and inter-tidal zones.
The letter goes on to comment 'with concerns' on specific points raised in the draft proposal and it makes several amendments to the Draft Order.
Fishing rights and impending legal battle
Even though there was no agreement between the Crown Estate and the two Governments, the Loughs Agency went ahead and applied the licence requirement anyway. Most fishermen relented and paid. Some paid under protest.
One fisherman resolutely refused to take out a licence from day one. He was prosecuted by the Loughs Agency in 2011. He responded by taking a case against the agency for denying him his traditional fishing rights. He is stating that Lough Agency is prosecuting him without proper legal cause on the basis that the Loughs Agency do not own the seabed on which he was fishing.
This important case is making its way through the court system and is shortly expected to arrive in the Supreme Court of Ireland. The Loughs Agency will not take the risk of making further prosecutions before the outcome of this case. This is the very reason the Loughs Agency are not prosecuting owners of the unlicensed oyster trestles.
Irish Government already paying rent to The Crown Estate
The embedded link shows the minutes of the 42nd board meeting of the Lough Agency in May 2007. (The Loughs Agency is an agency of The Foyle Carlinford and Irish Lights Commission).
These minutes quite clearly show that the Dept. of Marine in Dublin was already paying rent to the Crown Estate:
Barry Fox informed the Board on recent contact made with Charles Green from the Crown Estates Commission. He advised that there have been a number of queries from Charles regarding the hectarage currently being used for aquaculture in Lough Foyle. The Agency has been reluctant to supply this information as it will encourage CEC to pursue a higher rent in Lough Foyle than the Department of Marine may agree.
Time for transparency and truth
At this stage how can Irish politicians possibly pretend that they have a claim on the ownership of the seabed of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough when the Irish Government has been paying rent to the actual owners - the Crown Estate? It is hypocrisy of the highest order. The political ramifications of this highly sensitive jurisdiction issue may explain why the roles of the Crown Estate and those involved are quietly brushed under the carpet.
The time for transparency and a conclusion is long overdue. Any statements deflecting from the real issue is unacceptable. It is time to come clean. Political expediency has up to now undermined and adversely affected the rights of the fishing community and the general public.