Strangford Lough is an important asset, says minister

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The agriculture minister said she recognised that Strangford Lough remained an important asset for fishermen and the tourism sector, on 5 February 2013.

Michelle O'Neill said it was important for the County Down fishing industry as there were eight full-time and 14 part-time fishing vessels operating in the lough.

She was responding to an adjournment debate, tabled by the DUP's Simon Hamilton, on the future of fishing on the lough.

Mr Hamilton explained that an exclusion zone which banned fishing from 40% of the lough to protect horse mussels had come into force on 8 January 2013.

Strangford Lough is an area of special scientific interest (ASSI), a special area of conservation (SAC) and a marine nature reserve.

The mussels are shellfish that form large reefs and provide a critical habitat for dozens of other species.

They are one of the key reasons why the lough is designated as a special area of conservation.

Mr Hamilton said he had "real sympathy" for fishermen and said he believed the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development had a duty of care to fishermen in Strangford Lough to ensure that they had a sustainable and viable future.

The minister said she would look into compensating those fishermen who had suffered financial losses as a result of the newly introduced measures.

"I believe some financial support may be available for the permanent cessation of fishing activity," she said.

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