Coastwatch is demanding an immediate halt to cockle dredging in Waterford estuary where, it says, serious damage is mounting.
Spokesman James McCartan, the Tramore Town Councillor, said boats, equipped with suction and box dredges, have gathered in the estuary, systematically sucking up and sieving valuable intertidal and shallow water habitat. The dredge area is designated under EU law as a Natura 2000 site.
“Coastwatchers are now seeing severe damage to the theoretically protected mudflats when the tide goes out”, said Cllr. McCartan. “The impact extends into the water and affects fish, other shellfish and wintering birds, but without baseline information it is almost impossible to prove.
“Having tried to prevent the reopening of Waterford cockle dredging, then looking for information and controls for weeks and being totally frustrated, Coastwatchers are at the end of their tether. Valuable time has been lost and action is overdue”.
In order to stop damage in the protected area of the estuary, Coastwatch is demanding that the government closes fisheries there immediately.
It also calls for the Sustainable Cockle Fisheries Order to be revoked as a flawed piece of legislation which permits any licensed boat to dredge in a protected area. “It is still before the Dail”, said Cllr. McCartan, “and can be set aside by either House until this Friday”. Once set aside, the National Parks and Wildlife Service will be in charge of protecting the Natura 2000 site.
On a wider issue, Coastwatch, whose national co-ordinator is Karin Dubsky, wants an enquiry as to why the cockle order was passed “when it was clearly not in keeping with EU law”. It also seeks a prohibition on dredging for live organisms from the seabed in all our waters, on the basis that it is too indiscriminate and damaging. And it wants the Dail to pass a law for the sustainable use and protection of wild natural resources on land and sea, as well as the introduction of coherent coastal zone management.
“Rights, responsibilities and actions need to be transparent and properly controlled, with full public participation”, Cllr. McCartan concluded.