Cod and whiting stock 'at new low'
Stocks of cod and whiting in the Irish Sea are at their lowest recorded levels, a study has found.
While the herring population has recovered to a stable level and haddock spawning is on the increase, some traditionally fished species remain seriously depleted, according to the report on the marine environment.
The Northern Ireland State of the Seas analysis found evidence that Dublin Bay prawns and plaice are being harvested sustainably.
The study, launched jointly by environment minister Edwin Poots and agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew, was conducted to help understanding of the waters around Ireland.
With the offshore renewable energy industry now competing for space and resources in the Irish Sea with shipping routes, fishing, aquaculture and tourism, Mr Poots has announced that planning laws will be extended to the marine environment in coming years.
The report, produced primarily by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.
In introducing the report at the Belfast Harbour Commissioners' offices, Mr Poots said: "This is a key time in managing our marine environment. We have an extremely rich and varied coastline with the marine species in our seas contributing to over half the overall biodiversity in Northern Ireland.
"Other important marine resources include fisheries, tourism, shipwrecks and beaches. Our economy is reliant on sea transport and on our ports. There is great potential for the emerging marine renewables industry which could exploit the tidal, wave and offshore wind around our shores. Northern Ireland is home to the first grid-connected, commercial-scale marine current turbine in the world.
"However, there is increasing competition for space within our waters. For this reason, my department is bringing forward legislation to introduce marine planning for the first time. Good marine planning decisions will be reliant on sound scientific evidence."
The report, covering 14 aspects of marine environmental quality ranging from fish and food webs to marine litter and underwater noise, documents the clean-up of areas like Belfast Lough, due to the reductions of some of the traditional pollutants through improved treatment of sewage, industrial and agricultural effluents.