Seaweed cutters fear for the future

The application by a single company, BioAtlantis Teo, for exclusive rights to cut and harvest seaweed in Clew Bay has sparked major fears among local farmers who have traditionally cut seaweed in the area. Such has been the concern to the application for 10 year exclusive rights lodged by BioAtlantis Teo a new community group the Clew Bay Seaweed Association was formed recently.

At the January meeting of Mayo County Council last Monday (January 12 ), Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway Walsh raised the issue and asked that the potential for seaweed harvesting be prioritised by the Enterprise and Investment unit in the council. Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Conway Walsh said,  “It is important that individuals and groups wishing to apply for foreshore licenses to cut and harvest seaweed are supported in the setting up of suitable structures.  For the past 12 months I with Sinn Féin Senator Trevor O’Clochartaigh and MEP Matt Carthy have actively encouraged people and communities along the western seaboard to get involved in the developing the potential of seaweed. The latest meeting was held in November in Newport.  There is no doubt that there is great untapped potential along our coast for greater use of seaweed and for job creation by adding value to the potential harvest there.  But it will only benefit our own people if that harvesting and processing is controlled by the communities living there by way of co-operatives or some similar community based approach.

“Sinn Féin is concerned that if control of the licenses is handed over to a private company then the people who have lived along the shorelines and cut seaweed will no longer be able to avail of this and other natural resources along the seashore.  We want to avoid a monopoly situation developing whereby one company gets to dictate when, where, how, and at what price seaweed is harvested.”

She continued: “I welcome the setting up of the Clew Bay Seaweed Cutters Association and look forward to similar groups being set up along west Mayo. A meeting to discuss the seaweed development on the Belmullet Peninsula will be held in Ionad Deirbhle, Aughleam, this Friday, January 16 [today] at 6.30pm.

Also speaking at last Monday’ council meeting, Independent councillor Michael Holmes called on the Minister for Environment, Alan Kelly, to ensure that there was no issuing of exclusive permits for the harvesting of seaweed, and said if one was issued it would have disastrous effects on the people in the coastal areas of Mayo. Fellow Independent councillor Christy Hyland also said that he was against any exclusive rights being handed out.

Council chief executive Peter Hynes said there were a lot of legal issues at present around the issue and the council would get proper advice. He proposed that the issue be debated by the members at the March or April meeting, which was accepted by the councillors.

Cllr Conway-Walsh also pointed out at the meeting that members of the public have until January 30 to lodge submissions and observations on the application by BioAtlantis.

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