Green campaigners have criticised a decision to grant planning approval for sand dredging on Lough Neagh.
The announcement by Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon follows a six-year legal battle over the practice on the lough, which is an EU protected site.
Sand dredging has been taking place for decades without planning permission, with up to 1.5m tonnes extracted from the lough every year.
In 2014 Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, Ms Mallon's SDLP colleague, attempted to put an end to the practice.
Environmentalists also went to court to stop continued extraction.
In May 2019, following a public inquiry held the previous year, the Planning Appeals Commission recommended that it should continue.
That left the final decision with the Department for Infrastructure. Yesterday Ms Mallon confirmed she would approve the application, subject to conditions.
She said: "This approval was a finely balanced decision where I had to weigh up the various benefits with the potential for harm to the designation features of the lough."
She added: "I am an advocate for protection of the environment, and particularly a special one such as Lough Neagh.
"Taking account of all of the comments made, I have come to the view that there will be no adverse effect caused by the development on the lough in terms of its integrity or other aspects of its designated status provided that suitable conditions and agreed measures are put in place."
But the decision was criticised by Green Party leader Clare Bailey.
She referred to the lough's status as an internationally important site for breeding and migrating birds.
Ms Bailey said dredging has "a devastating impact on the entire ecosystem of the lough".
She added: "If companies are permitted to dig out and destroy a site as important as Lough Neagh, then nothing is sacred.
"Northern Ireland is disintegrating into an environmental wasteland, and it's under the watch of Executive parties that give us all of the soundbites about addressing climate breakdown and the ecological crisis, but none of the substance.
"Minister Mallon has shown a lack of courage and conviction with this decision."
She said the controversy showed why a local Independent Environmental Protection Agency was needed.
A Department for Infrastructure (DfI) spokesman said a "considerable body of information" relating to the application gave officials the opinion "that in environmental terms, all the available evidence leads to the conclusion that there will be no adverse effect caused by the development on the Lough in terms of its integrity and that there will be no harm to priority habitats and priority species subject to appropriate planning conditions".
“Additionally, given the importance of maintaining the integrity of the designated status of Lough Neagh, the Minister’s final decision will issue only when the Section 76 Planning Agreement with the applicant and relevant parties has been concluded to her satisfaction."