Lucrative oyster trade turns lough shore into 'wild west' with claims of intimidation
A section of Donegal's Wild Atlantic Way which straddles the border has been likened to the "wild west" amid rising tensions over unregulated oyster farming.
Residents with homes along Lough Foyle have reported a surge in the number of oyster trestles appearing in the water in recent months. They also say there have been threats, shoreline arguments and intimidation.
Residents claim they have been woken in the dead of night by groups of men in tractors farming for oysters.
The unregulated oyster farming has been allowed to flourish because of a territorial dispute between Dublin and London over who owns the land. Back in June the Loughs Agency told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that Lough Foyle oysters could be worth £20m.
A Redcastle resident, who was too afraid to be identified, has said she has had enough.
"People from around here are sick, sore and tired of what is going on," she said. "It is affecting the whole shoreline from above Quigley's Point to beyond the Redcastle Hotel. The entire stretch of water is covered with these ugly oyster trestles.
"Our house sits on the shoreline, the water is at the bottom of our garden and it is now littered with these things.
"In 2015 when I first complained about this to the Loughs Agency there was only 30,000 of them here in the water. There are now 67,000 trestles. People farming these oysters are making millions of pounds.
"There are naturally occurring oysters which fishermen would go out and gather, which is fine. But they can be damaged by these farmed oysters. Plus these guys are so greedy, because there are no laws to regulate them.
"If you want to build an oyster farm on the water you need planning permission, but because the UK and Ireland can't agree who owns Lough Foyle, there is no planning, no jurisdiction, no law and these guys are totally taking advantage of that.
"So they are packing these oyster trestles in and it is very lucrative for them.
"But it's like having 1,000 sheep in a field, there is only so much grass. In this case there are only so many nutrients, and inevitably these oysters will get diseased and start to damage the Foyle's aquaculture long term."
The resident said the tensions have resulted in threats and heated arguments.
She added: "There are people coming here at the weekends after working all week in Belfast and other cities and doing oyster farming on the side.
"We have been awoken at 4am by the noise of tractors in the Lough and groups of men shouting and shining huge lights on the water.
"Some of the residents have put buoys out on the water to stop them coming in too close with their trestles. A lot of the buoys have been removed.
"Some residents have been threatened and there have been heated arguments on the shore. People are feeling intimidated and uncomfortable in their own homes.
"It's been described by many here as being like the wild west."
A spokesperson for the Loughs Agency said they hoped talks between both governments would resolve the issue of unlicensed oyster farms.
"The farming of C.gigas oysters on trestles in Lough Foyle is currently unregulated," he said.
"Currently, Loughs Agency has no responsibility for the licensing of aquaculture in Lough Foyle or its development.
"This responsibility lies with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine in Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland.
"There are high level discussions currently taking place between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office which relate to jurisdictional issues before legislation can be brought forward to regularise this activity.
"The agency is not involved in these discussions but hopes that it will lead to the issue of unlicensed oyster farms being addressed."
A UK Government spokesperson said: "Discussions between the UK and Ireland are ongoing and we are concentrated on seeking practical solutions to dealing with issues arising with the management of the loughs, in particular the management of illegal aquaculture."
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that "the issues involved are complex but progress is being made and all sides are committed to reaching a positive resolution".