Minister needs to clarify lough plans

AS a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Conservatives, and a commercial fisherman, I am writing to the Minister for Fisheries, Michelle O’Neill, asking her to explain how DARD has responded to the Ulster Wildlife Trust’s European Commission complaint that not enough is being done to prevent the destruction of modiolus, or horse mussel, reefs in Strangford Lough.

I have asked the minister, firstly, to spell out clearly whether her department has drafted any proposals to address the issue and, secondly, to explain whether she has consulted with the fishing industry about any such proposals, or whether she intends to consult before they are implemented.

The notion that substantial areas of the lough could be closed to fishing vessels is of serious concern to fishermen, at a time of great economic difficulty. Any hasty action could put livelihoods at risk and threaten the viability of the whole fishing industry here.

The marine ecosystem of Strangford Lough is an important resource and it should of course be treated carefully. However, we must also remember that the communities and businesses which live and work along its shores are the lifeblood of the area.

The fishermen of the lough deserve fair play. The minister owes them a full reappraisal of the evidence on the effects of commercial fishing on modiolus, as well as a comprehensive and careful consultation with all interested parties.

There has been a shadow of doubt over the fishing industry in Strangford Lough for too long.

Michelle O’Neill and DARD must now provide immediate clarity about their intentions.

Paul Leeman

Northern Ireland Conservatives