Committee calls for action to protect Strangford Lough

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 23 January 2012

Reference: ENV05/11/12

A motion, put forward by the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for the Environment, was debated in the Assembly Chamber today, calling on the Executive to urgently put in place measures to restore and protect delicate habitat in Strangford Lough.

The call comes on the back of concerns that Northern Ireland is at risk of being fined by the European Commission (EC) for not meeting the EC Habitats Directive.

Committee Chair Anna Lo MLA said: “The Committee brought forward this motion as we want to ensure both the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture are considering all possible measures to protect this important habitat, while at the same time remaining sensitive to the fisherman who earn their living on the Lough. 

“Protection of Strangford Lough is ultimately the responsibility of the Department of the Environment.  However, the main issue of concern here is protecting an important habitat in the Lough – living reefs created by the horse mussel, also known as Modiolus – which have been damaged.  The problem came to light back in 2003 and the Department of Agriculture put a temporary ban on trawl fishing, which was believed to be one of the causes of the damage. Fishing is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture.

“The Environment and Agriculture departments put together a joint five year restoration plan but it was late starting so only ran for three years, ending last year. Although a new plan is to go to the EC this month, the Committee is being warned by interest groups that because delays and lack of action to date have resulted in further damage to the reefs this latest plan will not go far enough and could result in EC fines.

“By bringing this issue to the attention of the Assembly today we hope that the Executive will take immediate steps to address the issues and avoid unnecessary fines.”

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