In 1169 the English invaded Ireland and subsequently ruled over this island and its people until Irish Independence in 1922.
After the Treaty was signed the English retained the six counties of Northern Ireland and both Lough Foyle and Lough Carlingford.
In 1662 Charles II (the then King of England) granted the waters, the fisheries and the sea-bed of Lough Foyle to The Irish Society by way of Royal Charter. This was in part payment for the substantial role The Irish Society played in building the Walls of Derry between 1613 and 1619. The Irish Society was a consortium of companies from the City of London set up in 1613 to colonise County Londonderry during the Plantation of Ulster.
Lough Foyle remained in the ownership of the Irish Society from 1662 until 1952 when it sold the Lough's fishery to the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Fishery Board for the sum of one hundred thousand pounds.
In the same year (1952) the Irish Society gave back ownership of the sea-bed of Lough Foyle to the monarchy (The Crown Estates).
The Crown Estate is a collection of lands and holdings in the territories of England, Wales and Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom belonging to the British monarch as a corporation.
And so it remains until the present day.
In 1997 the Good Friday Agreement changed the role of administration of Lough Foyle from the Foyle Fisheries to the Loughs Agency. It also introduced new legislation called Foyle And Carlingford Fisheries Act 2007 as an upgrade on the 1952 Foyle Fisheries act.
This legislation, for the first time ever, proposed to levy a licence fee on the traditional Wild Oyster fishermen on Lough Foyle. All but one of the fishermen paid the fee. He was prosecuted under the new legislation for fishing illegally on the first morning of the fishing season. He in turn summonsed the Loughs Agency for prosecuting him illegally on the basis that he was exercising his traditional right and also that the owners of the sea-bed (where the Wild Oysters are located), the Crown Estates, had never given their permission for Jurisdiction of the sea-bed to anyone.
The proof that the owners of the seabed (The Crown Estate) did not agree to the licensing section of the proposed 2007 legislation is contained in a letter from The Crown Estates to The Fisheries Division in Stormont Castle on the 15th January 2007. In summary the letter states that the Crown Estate's rights, as landowners of the seabed, must be recognised in the proposed legislation. On that basis they refused to agree to the proposed legislation. This had the effect of stopping the licensing section of the 2007 act. This is currently the position right up until the present day. A copy of this Crown Estate's letter is with the Editor.
You cannot exercise Jurisdiction of someone else's property without their agreement.
The application of the wild oyster licence fee from 2007 is now considered dubious.
Also, the minutes of the 42nd board meeting of the Lough Agency in May 2007 quite clearly show that the Dept. of Marine in Dublin was already paying rent to the Crown Estate:
Barry Fox informed the Board on recent contact made with Charles Green from the Crown Estates Commission. He advised that there have been a number of queries from Charles regarding the hectarage currently being used for aquaculture in Lough Foyle. The Agency has been reluctant to supply this information as it will encourage CEC (Crown Estates Commission) to pursue a higher rent in Lough Foyle than the Department of Marine may agree.
The fact that the Dept Of Marine in Dublin was paying rent to the Crown Estate. This shows that the authorities recognise and accept ownership of the sea-bed by the Crown Estate.
A case of the fisherman prosecuting the Loughs Agency for his alleged illegal fishing of Wild Oysters on the sea-bed of Lough Foyle in 2007 has now reached the High Court in Dublin and the outcome in the near future will be eagerly studied by those who felt pressurised into paying a licence fee for what many fishermen consider a traditional fishing right.
To add further insult to injury the traditional Wild Oyster fishermen look on as Oysters are being harvested in large numbers on trestles on the shoreline of Lough Foyle by fishermen who are not burdened with a licence fee.
There is a feeling of unequal treatment and it is very understandable.
It is thought that the relevant authorities are awaiting the outcome of the high court case. They may be concerned that the prosecution of the shoreline fishermen using trestles on the seabed of Lough Foyle could be illegal.
It should be remembered that these foreshore oyster trestles are the fishermen's private property and they are located on the sea-bed belonging to the Crown Estates over which they have refused to grant licensing jurisdiction to the Loughs Agency.
Calls by various politicians to the Irish Government to 'sort out' the jurisdictional difficulties have resulted in the standard disingenuous reply: "it is a complicated process and negotiations are ongoing".
Any attempt to resolve the issue of licensing on the sea-bed of Lough Foyle without firstly taking into account it's ownership by the Crown Estates is putting the cart before the horse and is doomed to failure.
➽ Enda Craig is spokesperson for Lough Foyle group, Community For A Clean Estuary.