ENVIRONMENTAL groups have claimed the natural assets of Strangford Lough are being destroyed following a debate at Stormont recently.
The management of Strangford Lough has come under review by the European Commission and has written to both the Department of Environment and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development outlining the EC’s final position in respect of Strangford Lough.
The Commission has raised concerns about the protection of the remaining communities of Horse Mussels (modiolous), the control and assessment of pot fishing and acquaculture activities and about enhancing restoration of habitat.
The Assembly could face a bill of millions if the management of Strangford Lough does not meet EC requirements
In response to the Commission, DOE Minister Alex Attwood said: “A formal letter has been received from the EU commencing a process of investigation and dialogue. Our response must be decisive. We need to demonstrate that the horse mussel reef issue is being conclusively addressed. I will be discussing this issue with my Executive colleague Michelle O’Neill. We have until May this year to convince the EU that any deterioration is being addressed, beyond which infraction awaitsâ€.
Minister O’Neill added: â€œMy Department has responsibility for fisheries’ management in the Lough. I remain disappointed with the Commission interpretation but I am determined to develop a response which fully matches our responsibility under the Habitats Directive. I have undertaken to meet fishermen in the near future to discuss options with them and officials from both Departments will be working hard together to develop a satisfactory management regime for the future.â€
Minister Attwood added: â€œFollowing my meetings in Brussels, I am arranging to return to Brussels in the next few weeks to discuss with senior EU officials – and I hope with the Environment Commissioner – to attempt to ensure understanding of measures to protect the horse mussel reef, a sustainable fishing industry working in harmony within the ethos of the Habitats Directive and to show an unambiguous determination to settle the matter once and for all”.
Chief Executive of the Ulster Wildlife Trust, Heather Thompson, who has spoken out in favour of stronger environmental protection for Strangford Lough, said: â€œWe hope the action taken by the European Commission will force our government to take its environmental governance role seriously and ensure the appropriate management of Strangford Lough.
“The Ulster Wildlife Trust now urges our politicians to do what is needed to fulfill our European legal obligations and stave off potentially costly infraction finesâ€.