Rogers Says Strangford Lough Should be Restored to Original Glory
ROGERS: STRANGFORD LOUGH MUST BE RESTORED TO ITS FORMER GLORY
SDLP MLA for South Down Sean Rogers has said that the Department of the Environment and the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development must restore Strangford Lough.
Mr Rogers was speaking today ahead of an Assembly debate on the future of the Strangford Lough Fishery. He said: “Strangford Lough in County Down has a rich and varied marine life. It is vitally important that the area is given the appropriate level of protection in order to preserve the rich diversity of species which contribute to the vitality of the Lough.
“As the largest sea Lough within these Islands Strangford Lough is a precious part of our sea and landscape. Recognition has already been given to the importance of the Lough: it is a Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area and area of Special Scientific Interest and Marine Nature Reserve.
“It is essential that both the DOE and DARD adopt a collaborative approach in order to restore Strangford Lough to the condition it should be in. I welcome any proposed restoration plan.
“It is deeply regrettable that despite the Lough’s special international status its unique habitat has depleted over the past two decades. In particular horse mussel reefs are crucial to the Lough as they provide vital spawning and nursery grounds for hundreds of creatures, including commercially fished species.
“Both DOE and DARD were prompted to protect the reefs or face infraction fines following a complaint by the Ulster Wildlife Trust to the European Commission. The new restoration plan for Strangford Lough provides a blueprint for reform one which ensures protection of the unique species which the Lough possesses.
“Any plan must however take into account the livelihood of fishermen many of whom reside in my constituency and rely on the Lough as a source of income. What must be put forward in the plan is a sustainable long-term future for the lough and its users.
“The plan proposes a ‘Total Protection Zone’ to restrict any potentially damaging activity such as fishing, diving, anchoring and mooring within a defined area. This also includes a permit and tracking system for pot fishing, along with potential physical intervention measures such as the movement of horse mussels to speed up the restoration process. A range of monitoring and educational activities is to be put in place as well.
“Fisheries are an important part of the local economy of Strangford Lough and it is important that any programme of protection must be sustainable in the long term for the benefit of all those who use and admire the Lough.
“DARD, DOE and the Environment Committee must balance the need to protect the Lough against the needs of those who use the lough for fishing and leisure activities. We possess a beautiful natural asset and must ensure that we use it responsibly and to its full advantage.
“The challenge for the executive departments is to implement a cohesive restoration plan for the Lough in order to remedy the damage that has been done to the marine ecosystem over the past number of years. Strangford Lough is too precious a part of our sea and landscape and it is vitally important that we put in place a robust plan to protect it over the coming years.”