Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Algae tide destroying shellfish

Sea water affected by phytoplankton known as Karenia (Marine Institute/PA)
Sea water affected by phytoplankton known as Karenia (Marine Institute/PA)
Cockles and oysters are also falling victim to a tide of red algae

A vast red tide of algae threatening the multimillion shellfish industry on the Atlantic seaboard is being compounded by a seven year bureaucratic delay.

The bloom has spread into Donegal bay, where two beaches were closed, and across Mayo, into Kerry and Cork and in parts of Clare and Galway over the past weeks.

The phytoplankton known as Karenia has destroyed anything from 20%, to 80% in rare cases, of stocks in shellfish farms with oyster beds worst hit.

Richie Flynn, of the Irish Farmers' Association, said the 120m euro industry employing 2,000 people has been let down by successive ministers and top civil servants.

"There's nothing we can do about the algae, it's like the weather. But this is not a new or unmanageable situation," he said.

"It is to do with form filling. We fully understand the science but this is not about biology or cross contamination. You fill in the forms and send them in and they sit there.

"We need to clear the massive backlog of licence applications to give businesses the flexibility to move stock away from such blooms. We have members who have been waiting up to seven years for a response to applications."

The red tide bloom has hit farms around Belmullet, north Mayo, the Rosses and Lissadell in Sligo, inner Donegal bay and further north to Mulroy, Sheephaven, Traweenagh and Lough Swilly.

Karenia is a naturally forming algae. It is not harmful to humans despite turning the sea a reddish brown hue and killing flatfish and bottom feeders. This bloom formed on the continental shelf during long days and warm conditions at sea and was pushed into shore by currents and tides.

Thousands of lugworms have been killed, cockles and oysters are also falling victim and Rossnowlagh and Murvagh beaches were closed because of the amount of dead fish washed on to the beach.

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