The Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan T.D., has announced that the Government is to select waters to be designated as Shellfish Growing Waters.
This will specify the minimum standards of water quality that must be maintained in bays and inlets around the Irish coast where shellfish are grown.
The Government decision also provides for the establishment of strict measures and penalties to be applied in order to ensure the protection of the water quality in these areas and to commit the resources to implement these proposals fully. These penalties will be consistent with similar offences in the EC Drinking Water (No. 2) Regulations.
This decision also obligates public authorities to report information - relevant to water quality in the designated areas - to the Department - particularly when the water may be affected by activities carried out within their area.
Minister Ryan said - "I am delighted by the decision taken at Cabinet today. This important measure will improve the water quality around our entire coastline and safeguard the future of the Irish aquaculture industry. In water quality terms, shellfish are essentially the 'canaries down the mine'. Ensuring pollution reduction for shellfish waters will mean enhanced water quality in all of these areas.
"Previously, there were 14 designated areas - today's decision brings this to 54. Therefore, 54 areas will now undergo ongoing pollution reduction programmes and undertake Environmental Impact Assessments in conjunction with relevant stakeholders.
"The Government is marketing Ireland as the 'Seafood Island'. In order to do this, we must have the highest possible standards of water quality. Today's decision is an important step in this regard - it also represents Ireland's willingness to follow through on EU Directives pertaining to environmental protection. I will be ensuring speedy and full implementation of the decision as soon as possible."
The EC Shellfish Waters Directive (79/923/EEC) seeks to protect or improve shellfish waters identified by member states in order to support shellfish life and growth - and, thus, contribute to the high quality of edible shellfish products. This decision is on foot of ECJ judgement C-148/05, issued on 14th June 2007.
The Irish Aquaculture industry employs 1,936 people and Irish exports of shellfish reached over €126 million in 2005. The Government's seafood strategy - 'Steering a new course' - envisages a further investment of more than €210 million in the aquaculture sector over the next 5 years.