Back in November, Loughs Agency Chief Executive, John Pollock, advised that fishing was being suspended in order to protect the oysters.
In a Loughs Agency statement he declared that it was “necessary and expedient for the conservation and protection of native oysters (Ostrea edulis) to declare fishing for such oysters suspended in the parts of the Lough Foyle known as The Drumskellan, Flat Ground, Perch, Quigley’s Point, Southside and Middle Bed South Oyster Beds.”
The rationale behind the suspension was that the “poor recruitment of juveniles into the population in the summers of 2012 and 2013 resulted in reduced spawning potential for the subsequent seasons.”
Mr Pollock explained that “allowing a proportion of the harvestable stock to remain on these six beds will increase the spawning potential to help offset for this shortfall in spawning stock.”
However, Fisheries Ministers Michelle O’Neill and Joe McHugh jointly intervened in the interests of the local oystermen who exploit the Lough Foyle fishery.
The Loughs Agency confirmed that following a meeting with the Ministers on Friday, December 5, it was impressed upon the Agency the need to balance the conservation imperative with sufficient economic opportunity for the stakeholders in the Lough Foyle Native Oyster Fishery.
The Agency subsequently re-opened the Perch and Southside Oyster beds from Monday, December 15 to Friday, December 19.
Minister O’Neill said: “Whilst I appreciate the importance of Management interventions to conserve and maintain oyster stocks, I am mindful of the impact that closure of the oyster beds has had on the livelihood of local oystermen particularly in the run-up to Christmas.
“Looking to the future, I am hopeful that there will be constructive engagement between the Agency and local fishermen on a range of issues that will safeguard the future of the Native Oyster Fishery on Lough Foyle.”
Minister McHugh said: “The decision to partially re-open the beds from 15 to 19 December 2014 will create potential opportunity to catch up to an additional 25 tonnes (up to a value of €125,000). I believe that the Agency has achieved a good balance between economic opportunity for local fishermen with a dividend for the local communities and the conservation imperative.”
He added: “I want to emphasise that sustainability and safeguarding this natural resource in Lough Foyle are the shared responsibilities of all stakeholders, including the licensed fishermen.”