This is a 100-year-old dispute between the Irish and UK governments that does not appear to be close to being resolved.
he partition of Ireland in 1921 and the creation of Northern Ireland resulted in a disagreement between the two governments over the ownership of Lough Foyle, which divides the counties of Donegal and Derry.
A century later and surveys of the Independent Sunday have established that the disagreement persists.
The British government claims that all of Lough Foyle is on British territory, a claim strongly contested by their Irish counterparts.
A new report produced on behalf of the Northern Ireland Assembly highlights “the resulting ambiguity” over ownership of the main waterway, saying it continues to have “an impact on the management of Lough Foyle and its fisheries ”.
This “ambiguity” has resulted in a huge increase in recent years in the number of unregulated oyster farms on the lake – and it has a huge impact on the ecosystem, according to local conservationists and politicians.
Fisheries management is currently overseen by the Loughs Agency, a transboundary body set up under the Good Friday Agreement.
However, according to a new report, the Loughs Agency has the power to regulate fishing on Lough Foyle, but no authority to enforce the regulations.
“Currently the agency has extensive legal functions, but little power to carry them out in practice,” says the report, titled “Lough Foyle: Opportunities and Challenges for Transboundary Maritime Management”.
The report claims that Brexit has created a “new fishing and trading environment” for the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, including those who make a living on Lough Foyle.
He suggests that the Northern Ireland Protocol preserved the access of the northern fishing industry to the European Union market.
“This gives domestic exporters of fishery products to the EU a competitive advantage over UK exporters, but hinders access to UK markets.
“Future changes in NI’s trading relationship would almost certainly have an impact on market access for Lough Foyle fishery products. “
Salmon and eel fishing rights in Lough Foyle were granted to the Honorable Irish Society in 1613, as part of the Plantation of Ulster.
However, the partition in 1921 led to confusion over the owner of the lough.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the lack of a cross-border regulatory system and high levels of poaching had a major impact on the lake’s fish supplies.
In response, the Stormont government and Dáil Éireann created the Foyle Transboundary Fisheries Commission, which had a range of powers to manage fisheries in the Foyle region.
The commission bought the fishing rights at Lough Foyle from the Honorable Irish Society for around £ 100,000 and managed the fisheries until 1998 when it was replaced by the Loughs Agency.
The agency is also responsible for the management of Carlingford Lough which runs along the border between the counties of Down and Louth.
However, there is no dispute there, as the British and Irish governments agreed to divide the waterway in the middle.
Despite being on the table for 100 years, no such deal has been made on Lough Foyle.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office claims the Lough as territory on behalf of the British government. Likewise, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is claiming the waterway as territory on behalf of the Irish government.
The Crown Estate, which manages the seabed around Northern Ireland, England and Wales, claims Lough Foyle is its property.
In addition, two ministries – the Directorate of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in the North and the Directorate of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) of the Republic – each claims to be responsible for the problems associated with fishing on the lough.
That’s not all.
The Department of Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) in the South jointly sponsors the Loughs Agency, alongside DAERA in the North.
The Independent Sunday contacted all agencies involved to determine if there has been progress in deciding who owns Lough Foyle.
The answer, it seems, is no.
This newspaper specifically asked the organizations what steps had been taken to resolve the dispute.
A spokesperson for the Crown Estate said the location of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland via Lough Foyle remained a problem for the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
“In this context, the Crown Estate continues to work with relevant stakeholders, including the Loughs Agency, to help inform discussions around this issue and any local management arrangement,” the spokesperson said.
In a statement, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the UK government continued to work closely with the Irish government, in consultation with DAERA, on “improvements to the management of the lake, including work to enter into a management agreement “.
A DECC spokesperson said it was a “question of jurisdiction” and was outside the legal remit of the ministry.
“Lough Foyle is managed by the Loughs Agency, under a range of functions, including angling, commercial fishing, marine recreation and pollution control.
“The Loughs Agency reports to the North-South Ministerial Council and its sponsoring government departments – Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland and Department of Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) in Ireland. The ministries fund the Agency equally.
The Dublin Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not respond.