The quality of shellfish harvested from Lough Foyle is guaranteed, the Irish fisheries minister Michael Creed insisted this week.
That’s in spite of a territorial dispute between Dublin and London continuing to prevent the Loughs Agency granting acquaculture licences to the estuary’s oyster and mussel farmers.
Mr. Creed said several agencies, including the Loughs Agency, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA), the Marine Institute and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), work hand-in-hand to make sure molluscs taken from the Foyle are safe to eat.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine issued the reassurance after being quizzed by Independent Donegal T.D. Thomas Pringle.
The Killybegs-based representative expressed concern that due to Lough Foyle’s disputed border status, “there is no licensing procedure for the farms”.
Mr. Pringle asked if there was a way of distinguishing oysters and mussels produced from Lough Foyle from those farmed in the rest of Co. Donegal.
The Minister said there was no need to make any distinction as multiple checks are in place to maintain the highest shellfish standards across the board.
“The SFPA controls all live bivalve mollusc production areas, including Lough Foyle, to ensure compliance by Ireland with its official control obligations, and compliance by operators with their food safety obligations,” he said.
Mr. Creed said the Lough Foyle farms, currently unlicensed, would be closed down completely if toxins or algal blooms rose to a level that could affect oysters and breach food safety standards.
“In the case of Lough Foyle, the SFPA has classified two production areas for the production of both molluscs and oysters. In approximate terms, taken together, the two classified areas include all waters to the Donegal Shore of a line from Magilligan Head to Inishowen Head.
“The official sampling of molluscs for both microbiological and biotoxin monitoring purposes is performed by the Loughs Agency under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland,” he explained.
The Minister further added: “In relation to fish health, the Marine Institute is focused on the assessment of biotoxins in shellfish product and harmful algal bloom monitoring in Lough Foyle, as part of the National Biotoxin Monitoring Program.
“Only when the Lough is in open status can shellfish product be harvested and placed on the market for human consumption.
“In the event of an area in the Lough showing a positive result for biotoxin, or harmful algal bloom, the Loughs Agency is responsible for coordinating between Ireland and the United Kingdom over this shared waterbody to ensure that product would not be allowed to be harvested from the Lough when a biotoxin regulatory limit is exceeded.”
Mr. Creed acknowledged, however, that London’s claim of the bed of Lough Foyle up to the high tide mark on the eastern shore of Inishowen created problems.
“As will be seen, therefore, the management of aquaculture and associated foreshore licensing functions in Lough Foyle gives rise to legal and jurisdictional complexities.
“Negotiations regarding the jurisdiction of the Lough Foyle area are, in the first instance, a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,” he said.