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As Loughs Agency marks Invasive Species Week, the pressing need for heightened awareness and collaborative efforts to mitigate the impact of these species becomes increasingly evident. Invasive non-native species pose a major threat to the delicate balance of the ecosystems in the Foyle and Carlingford catchment areas.

Over the last fifty years, human activity has led to a sharp increase in global travel, resulting in more opportunities for plants and animals to be moved across the world. Additionally, climate change is expected to influence species distributions by affecting potential species ranges.

Characterised by its yellowish/brown shell with distinctive ridges, the Asian Clam is a freshwater bivalve which impacts on our native aquatic systems as a result of its rapid rates of reproduction and its filter feeding activity. Asian clam disrupts native ecosystems, displacing native filter feeding species like the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.Characterised by its yellowish/brown shell with distinctive ridges, the Asian Clam is a freshwater bivalve which impacts on our native aquatic systems as a result of its rapid rates of reproduction and its filter feeding activity. Asian clam disrupts native ecosystems, displacing native filter feeding species like the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

There are multiple pathways through which a potential invasive species can be introduced into a new environment, with introductions being accidental or deliberate. The consequences of these introductions are often unpredictable, and the impacts of INNS on native habitats can be complex and devastating, leading to ecological changes, economic losses, and social impacts.

Japanese Knotweed: Originally introduced as an ornamental plant, Japanese Knotweed now infests various habitats, including riverbanks, choking out native species and exacerbating soil erosion.Japanese Knotweed: Originally introduced as an ornamental plant, Japanese Knotweed now infests various habitats, including riverbanks, choking out native species and exacerbating soil erosion

Aquatic habitats are particularly at risk from invasive species, as water provides ample opportunity for species to disperse through interconnected aquatic systems. Aquatic INNS tend to be well adapted to spread naturally in aquatic systems, and human activities such as recreational and commercial use of water also aid in the dispersal of aquatic INNS.

Himalayan Balsam's uncontrolled growth presents a significant ecological hazard. Its tendency to outcompete native plants and spread seeds downstream exacerbates erosion and disrupts river ecosystems.Himalayan Balsam's uncontrolled growth presents a significant ecological hazard. Its tendency to outcompete native plants and spread seeds downstream exacerbates erosion and disrupts river ecosystems.

The recognition of these issues during Invasive Species Week serves as a reminder of the urgent need for collaborative efforts to address this growing concern and protect our native habitats from the impacts of INNS.

Several invasive species have established a foothold in the Foyle and Carlingford catchment areas, increasing the need for proactive measures. Notable among these are:

Asian Clam: Characterised by its yellowish/brown shell with distinctive ridges, the Asian Clam is a freshwater bivalve which impacts on our native aquatic systems as a result of its rapid rates of reproduction and its filter feeding activity. Asian clam disrupts native ecosystems, displacing native filter feeding species like the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

Giant Hogweed: Giant Hogweed sap contains agents that cause severe skin inflammation when exposed to sunlight. This raises concerns for both public safety and the integrity of ecosystems.

Himalayan Balsam: Himalayan Balsam's uncontrolled growth presents a significant ecological hazard. Its tendency to outcompete native plants and spread seeds downstream exacerbates erosion and disrupts river ecosystems.

Japanese Knotweed: Originally introduced as an ornamental plant, Japanese Knotweed now infests various habitats, including riverbanks, choking out native species and exacerbating soil erosion.

Pink Salmon: Pink Salmon threaten indigenous salmon populations through competition for resources and transmission of parasites.

In response to the threat of INNS, Loughs Agency urges public vigilance and proactive engagement. If encountered, individuals are encouraged to record sightings, refrain from disturbing the species, and promptly report findings to the Agency.

Sharon McMahon, Loughs Agency Chief Executive, said: “Invasive species continue to arrive and threaten our wildlife and ecosystems, so it is imperative that preventative actions are taken to avoid further spread and introductions.

“Through a shared commitment to awareness and collaboration, we can ensure the protection of our freshwater ecosystems for future generations."

Further information on what Loughs Agency is doing to combat invasive species can be found at loughs-agency.org.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Loughs Agency, in collaboration with Enagh Seniors Group and volunteers from River Faughan Anglers, recently organised a tree-planting event at Teenaght, situated along the scenic banks of the River Faughan near Claudy.

Approximately 150 willow saplings supplied by Enagh Seniors Group and 1000 native broadleaf trees supplied by the Woodland Trust were successfully planted along the riverbanks. This collaborative effort will provide shade and prevent erosion, as well as bank stability and leaf litter for young fish. It will also foster biodiversity and bolster conservation efforts by creating new nature corridors along the riverbanks.

Loughs Agency Fisheries Inspector, Jason McCartney expressed his satisfaction in utilising the area for the saplings. He said: “In 2023, Loughs Agency staff completed nature restoration projects in the upper reaches of the River Faughan. This consisted of creating 1.1 km of new riparian buffer zones, improvements to 350 metres of bankside stabilisation, and enhancements to 450 metres of salmonid spawning habitat.

“Within the last year, Enagh Seniors Group raised around 150 willow seedlings that were ready to be planted, and, following discussions, it was decided that these saplings would benefit from being planted at the site in Teenaght, further enriching the local environment. We were pleased to witness the planting of not only the saplings but also an additional 1000 native broadleaf trees, which will help restore the natural habitat and improve the biodiversity value of the River Faughan and its surrounding areas.”

Dr Robert Murtland of the Enagh Seniors Group also expressed his enthusiasm for the project: “Enagh Seniors Group was motivated to contribute to this initiative, which not only enhances the protection of the River Faughan but also secures its long-term sustainability for future generations.
“This initiative demonstrates the achievable results through collaboration within grassroots initiatives. It also highlights the importance of cooperative partnerships among local stakeholder organisations, such as Enagh Seniors Group and the River Faughan Anglers, in working alongside Loughs Agency in the conservation and protection of this iconic natural resource.”

Sean McLaughlin from River Faughan Anglers also commented on the positive collaborative work undertaken: “River Faughan Anglers were delighted to be involved in this project. It goes to show what great work can be achieved when like-minded organisations work together.
“The River Faughan is our home, and this project on the riverbank ties in perfectly with the in-river work carried out to maintain the Faughan as a thriving river for both salmon and trout for many years to come.”

Published in Angling
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Loughs Agency staff traded their water testing kits for wetsuits and rescue lines after undergoing vital swift water training with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS).

The collaboration stemmed from NIFRS seeking information about potential training exercises on local rivers, mindful of the impact on spawning salmon. Discussions then developed into an opportunity for Loughs Agency personnel to sharpen their own skills in a potentially life-saving domain.

Dressed in dry suits and PPE, the participants received a thorough briefing from NIFRS instructors on navigating fast-flowing currents before learning critical techniques for self-rescue in case of an accidental plunge, and practising manoeuvres to reach safety unassisted.

The training progressed to throws and rescues, with Loughs Agency staff honing their skills in swiftly extracting a casualty from the water. The instructors then tackled scenarios involving snagged limbs and submerged victims, equipping the Agency participants with the knowledge to handle diverse emergencies.

Loughs Agency staff traded their water testing kits for wetsuits and rescue lines after undergoing vital swift water training with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS).Loughs Agency staff traded their water testing kits for wetsuits and rescue lines after undergoing vital swift water training with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS).

Sharon McMahon, CEO of Loughs Agency, commented: “The day proved hugely successful, instilling a newfound confidence in the team. We're immensely grateful to NIFRS for this invaluable training. Our staff now feel empowered to handle these situations themselves if necessary, or to confidently assist NIFRS when called upon.”

NIFRS Station Commander, Stephen Gaffney, echoed the sentiment, highlighting the broader benefits of the collaboration: “NIFRS and the Loughs Agency had a fantastic multi-agency training day on the River Faughan. This training enables us to share skills and knowledge, test our interoperability, and strengthen our operational response to water incidents. We look forward to continuing to build this interdependent relationship, where we can reduce risks and protect our environment.”

Published in Loughs Agency
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The Loughs Agency has announced the launch of its Fisheries and Angling Improvement Strategy, accompanied by action plans for the Foyle and Carlingford catchment areas.

This comprehensive strategy maps out the Loughs Agency’s commitment to the sustainable expansion of fisheries and angling between now and 2030, aiming to deliver numerous benefits for both the angling community and the wider public.

It draws on the knowledge of the agency’s staff as well as consultations with angling clubs — “guaranteeing an inclusive nature to this process”, the agency adds.

“The international importance of Loughs Agency’s fisheries and angling products is a source of great pride, and we are uniquely placed to help provide social, environmental, and economic benefits for communities in the Foyle and Carlingford catchment areas,” says Loughs Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon in her introduction to the strategy document.

“We will undoubtedly face challenges as we strive to continue developing the fisheries and angling in our remit areas, but with a clear strategic pathway we can ensure these resources are improved for all.”

The Fisheries and Angling Improvement Strategy 2022-2030 is available to download from the Loughs Agency website, as are the Fisheries Improvement Plan and Angling Action Plan for the the Foyle and Carlingford catchment areas.

Published in Loughs Agency
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Northern Ireland's new Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir, recently paid a visit to the Loughs Agency Headquarters in Prehen, gaining first-hand insights into the organisation's essential work. The visit was warmly welcomed by Sharon McMahon, Chief Executive Officer of Loughs Agency, who emphasised the importance of showcasing the Agency's pivotal role in safeguarding aquatic ecosystems, especially in light of current environmental challenges.

During his visit, Minister Muir explored the Agency's facilities and witnessed live demonstrations and discussions led by key personnel. He acknowledged the Agency's commitment to addressing present challenges and planning for a sustainable future. The visit involved a comprehensive exploration of the Agency's facilities, featuring live demonstrations and discussions led by key personnel.

L-R) David Simpson DAERA Corporate Branch, Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir, Board Member Laurence Arbuckle, Chief Executive Officer of Loughs Agency, Sharon McMahon, Board Member Conor Corr and Joanne McClements DAERA Corporate Branch.  L-R) David Simpson DAERA Corporate Branch, Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir, Board Member Laurence Arbuckle, Chief Executive Officer of Loughs Agency, Sharon McMahon, Board Member Conor Corr and Joanne McClements DAERA Corporate Branch

Minister Muir commended the dedicated team for their tireless efforts and expressed his eagerness to work with the Agency over the time ahead. He also affirmed DAERA’s support for Loughs Agency in the environmental landscape, emphasizing the continued importance of the Agency's work.

Environmental Ecologist Andrew Rice, Director of Corporate Services JP O’Doherty, and Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir.Environmental Ecologist Andrew Rice, Director of Corporate Services JP O’Doherty, and Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir

“The efforts undertaken by Loughs Agency are indispensable for the health of our waterways and the preservation of our fisheries," said Minister Muir. "Loughs Agency remains a key player in our environmental efforts, and this visit reaffirms the government's commitment to collaboration and support for initiatives contributing to a sustainable and thriving environment."

The visit provided an opportunity for the Minister to gain a deeper understanding of the Agency's research and preservation initiatives. It is hoped that the visit will help to further strengthen the government's collaboration with Loughs Agency in its efforts to safeguard Northern Ireland's aquatic ecosystems.

Marine Scientist Ben Holly and Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir.Marine Scientist Ben Holly and Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir

(L-R) Fisheries Inspector Jason McCartney, Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir, and Director of Conservation and Protection Seamus Cullinan(L-R) Fisheries Inspector Jason McCartney, Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir, and Director of Conservation and Protection Seamus Cullinan

Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir, and Director of Conservation and Protection Seamus CullinanMinister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Andrew Muir, and Director of Conservation and Protection Seamus Cullinan

Published in Loughs Agency
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Suspension of the native oyster fishery in the Foyle area will continue for another month, with the closure extended until 6pm on Sunday 31 March.

The Loughs Agency says it made the decision following an analysis of the latest stock assessment data, which it says highlights the need to prioritise conservation.

“It is not a decision we have taken lightly,” Loughs Agency chief executive Sharon McMahon said. “We are fully aware of the impact that this will have on our native oyster fishery stakeholders in relation to the fishing of oysters in Lough Foyle.

“However, it is imperative that we take decisions in a science-led approach with the future sustainability of the fishery and the viability of the oyster population in mind.”

McMahon said Lough Agency marine scientists “made clear that removal of 100% of the stock above the minimum landing size is not sustainable, and removing a large proportion of stock over 80mm this season could have a detrimental impact on future recruitment to the population.

“Our remit as a regulatory body allows us to make informed management decisions such as this in real-time, which will help maintain a sustainable fishery for the future.”

Scientific data from the latest stock assessment can be found below:

Biomass summary

Population summary

Flatground summary

Great Bank summary

Perch summary

Quigleys Point summary

Southside North summary

Southside South summary

Published in Loughs Agency

The Loughs Agency is set to lead a major marine tracking project after €1.6m of EU funding was secured by the European Tracking Network (ETN).

The successful bid came following an open call for funding by the EU’s Biodiversa+ scheme, which is designed to support research proposals relating to biodiversity projects.

At the national level, funding has been provided by the Environmental Protection Agency to enable the Loughs Agency to participate in the programme.

The three-year North East Atlantic Marine Tracking Network (NorTrack) project aims to monitor the movements of aquatic species critical to the North-East Atlantic (NEA).

This collaborative initiative will also address pressing questions related to major ecological challenges facing this vital marine region.

The remote tracking of animals, which is known in research circles as telemetry, has already provided vital information about the biology and ecology of aquatic species.

In addition to Atlantic salmon and sea trout, the project will enable the Loughs Agency to study the movements of European eel as well as predator–prey interactions.

NorTrack will work closely with the Horizon Europe-funded STRAITS (Strategic Infrastructure for Improved Animal Tracking in Europeans Seas) project, which has distributed acoustic telemetry infrastructure throughout Europe so that the movements of various aquatic species can be studied.

‘These types of collaborative research initiatives are crucial in gathering data which can inform policy and decision-making’

Sharon McMahon, Loughs Agency chief executive said: “We are delighted to once again be playing a leading role in a major pan-European biodiversity project, supported by our brilliant colleagues at ETN.

“These types of collaborative research initiatives are crucial in gathering data which can inform policy and decision-making for matters within our remit.

“The funding obtained ensures that Loughs Agency can continue the exemplary work carried out in recent years on projects such as SeaMonitor and STRAITS, and the team looks forward to making a difference.”

Commenting on the announcement, Dr Tara Higgins, EPA programme manager said: “The EPA is committed to supporting Ireland’s participation and leadership in important transnational research partnerships like Biodiversa+.

“We are delighted to fund the Loughs Agency in leading the NorTrack research project, which will advance marine biodiversity monitoring in the North-East Atlantic and in turn contribute to international marine management, conservation and policy.

“The EPA also acknowledges the important role of our co-funding partners, the Marine Institute and the National Parks & Wildlife Service, in supporting the NorTrack project.”

More information on this project can be found at www.europeantrackingnetwork.org/nortrack.

Published in Loughs Agency
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Loughs Agency has made the decision to retain salmon carcass tag numbers for angling licence holders for the 2024 season in line with the policy followed in the previous three years at a maximum of one blue tag (1st March to 31st May) and two black tags (1st June to 31st October).

Based on the information collected in 2023, a continual fall in salmon numbers has been recorded year on year, and consequently, the previously adopted precautionary approach needs to be maintained.

The principal objective of this measure is to carefully manage salmon stocks in the Foyle and Carlingford systems due to concern from within the Agency over the conservation levels of the species.

Loughs Agency has undertaken a review of legislation and has come to the following conclusion: “It is the view of some stakeholders that the Agency should manage carcass tags on a catchment-by-catchment basis. The use of real-time figures can be beneficial in informing decision-making on the number of tags to be distributed per year, and how many tags can be given out for angling in each catchment.”

This viewpoint is to be considered in regulatory changes once actions from the review can be implemented.

In the majority of rivers throughout Northern Ireland and in many locations globally, catch and release is now mandatory for salmon angling due to the pressures on sustainable populations. In these areas, no carcass tags are issued, and anglers are forbidden from retaining any fish. It is encouraging that most anglers in the Foyle and Carlingford areas are aware of these pressures, and now voluntarily practice catch and release.

Loughs Agency also recognises the value of anglers on the rivers and their contributions towards sustainability. Considering this, the Agency has agreed a compromise while still fulfilling obligations under the Habitats Directive. Salmon are a selection feature of Foyle Rivers that have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation.

In recent years this has led to the suspension of commercial salmon netting, while waters under the jurisdiction of Loughs Agency have subsequently been declared as catch and release only.

Loughs Agency is continuously working to refine estimates of salmon stocks in the Foyle and Carlingford catchments.

Published in Loughs Agency
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In late October and early November, Foyle College became the latest and final school to complete the 2023 Foyle and Carlingford Ambassador Programme after a week of engagement and educational workshops across the Foyle catchment area.

On the Monday, 21 students from Foyle College were welcomed to the Loughs Agency in Prehen, making them the first school group invited to the agency by the Education Team since before the pandemic.

In the afternoon, the group were given talks and demonstrations from Diego del Villar and Kieran Byrne on some of the work they do for the agency, including acoustic telemetry, marine life tracking and water quality monitoring.

The day finished off with some map workshops with the group on the Foyle catchment, allowing them to get more familiar with the agency’s jurisdiction and the areas they would be visiting throughout the week.

Foyle College Ambassadors learn about the Lough Agency’s work at its HQ in PrehenFoyle College Ambassadors learn about the Lough Agency’s work at its HQ in Prehen

Tuesday saw the Education Team join up with FROG Outdoor Education at a crisp but sunny Moyagh Fishery to give the Ambassadors an opportunity to try coarse fishing and receive coaching from professional angling guides. Over 200 fish were caught, with some participants catching over 20 roach individually.

Ambassadors were taught how to safely catch and release the fish once caught, and afterwards received their Level One Cast Award. Some Ambassadors expressed an interest in taking up fishing and were subsequently given details of local angling clubs within the area.

The Ambassadors tried out coarse fishing with FROG Outdoor Education at a crisp but sunny Moyagh FisheryThe Ambassadors tried out coarse fishing with FROG Outdoor Education at a crisp but sunny Moyagh Fishery

On Wednesday, the Ambassadors made the trip from their school to Ness Woods for a day of river and woodland habitat studies. Fisheries inspector Jason McCartney discussed his role in the Loughs Agency and the work that goes on within the Conservation and Protection Directorate. He showed the group some native oysters, seized nets and key equipment such as thermal cameras.

The group of 21 pupils were then split into two groups and given different tasks in the late morning. The first group carried out practice kick samples and macroinvertebrate identification to help indicate the overall water quality of the river. The second carried out key weather observations that need noted when carrying out a freshwater survey, as well as learning all about the biodiversity within the woodlands.

Afterwards the group participated in a game based around the migration of the Atlantic salmon, eventually switching tasks and partaking in each other’s activities.

In the afternoon the two groups were brought together to carry out CSSI macroinvertebrate surveys, giving the river an overall score of ‘Good’ water quality. The Ambassadors loved getting in the water while learning about the waterways and how the Loughs Agency monitor the health of the rivers.

Foyle College Ambassadors were engaged in river and woodland habitat studies in Ness WoodsFoyle College Ambassadors were engaged in river and woodland habitat studies in Ness Woods

Thursday was a coastal exploration Day on Benone Beach, with the Ambassadors getting the chance to investigate the marine biodiversity washed up along the coastline and carrying out a litter pick.

A coastal exploration workshop in the afternoon saw the Ambassadors find everything from shore crab carapaces, diverse ranges of seaweeds and shells, shark and ray egg cases, welk eggs and much more.

Ambassadors then learned how to identify many of the marine species, and most importantly, how to gently and safely handle and minimise disturbance, returning anything that’s found back to its natural place.

The day was finished off with the Ambassadors creating some fantastic beach art from the sand, shells and any other natural materials they could find.

The students explored marine biodiversity on Benone BeachThe students explored marine biodiversity on Benone Beach

There was a quick change of plan on Friday, meaning the Ambassadors ended up on a trip to Magilligan Point.

The Ambassadors started off with a quick litter pick to clean the beach before taking a walk through the dunes to the Martello tower, where Michael talked of the importance of the structure for the defence of the River Foyle in the 1800s.

Magilligan Point was the perfect location to talk about the Foyle system and the flows out towards the Atlantic Ocean. The group then discussed everything they had learned over the previous five days.

In the afternoon, to mark the end of the week, several team-building games took place, allowing the group some free time on the beach with some of the Ambassadors rock pooling, playing football and some even ‘sunbathing’.

The week ended with a trip to Magilligan PointThe week ended with a trip to Magilligan Point

Overall, this was a fantastic week, where Loughs Agency staff witnessed a growth in confidence, the overcoming of fears and a new awareness and interest in local ecosystems being developed among the participants.

There were great conversations around environmental awareness, discussions on everyday life as a teenager and honest revelations on prospects. For many of the Ambassadors, this was their first experience in these types of outdoor locations, further emphasising the importance of open-air environmental education. The hope is that this experience has planted many seeds for future decision making when it comes to protecting and conserving the natural world.

The Loughs Agency offers a huge thank you to everyone who helped in the delivery of the programme, staff members Diego, Kieran and Jason for their time and efforts, and especially all the Ambassadors who took part in the Foyle and Carlingford Ambassador Programme.

The Loughs Agency will begin recruitment in the new year for the Foyle & Carlingford 2024 schools programme and early spring for the summer programme. If your school is interested in taking part, get in touch with [email protected].

Published in Environment

The public consultation has now commenced for the Loughs Agency’s draft Climate Action Plan, which outlines how the organisation aims to reduce its carbon emissions in the coming years.

Responses are welcome for the next 12 weeks, with the consultation period closing on 31 January 2024.

The draft Climate Action Plan aims to reflect the leadership role the organisation wishes to take while supporting a modal shift away from high-carbon energy and implementing climate-resilient solutions for both the Foyle and Carlingford catchment areas.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the Loughs Agency is holding two information sessions this week with staff present at both sessions to answer questions on the draft plan while also assisting with the feedback process.

Alternatively, those interested in having their say on these strategy documents can do so in their own time by reading the draft plan and completing the online survey.

Published in Loughs Agency
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About the Loughs Agency

The Loughs Agency is a governmental body established under the 1998 Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland. The Agency's goal is to provide sustainable social, economic, and environmental benefits by effectively conserving, managing, promoting, and developing the fisheries and marine resources of the Foyle and Carlingford areas.

The Agency's governing legislation confers several specific functions, including the promotion of development of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough for commercial and recreational purposes in respect of marine, fishery, and aquaculture matters. Moreover, the Agency is responsible for managing, conserving, protecting, improving, and developing the inland fisheries of the Foyle and Carlingford areas. Additionally, the Agency has the task of developing and licensing aquaculture, as well as the development of marine tourism.

The Loughs Agency reports to the North South Ministerial Council and its government Sponsor Departments, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland, and the Department of the Environment, Climate, and Communications (DECC) in Ireland. The Departments fund the Agency on an equal basis.

The Loughs Agency's focus on sustainable development is expected to have a positive impact on the economy, environment, and local communities in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. The Agency's efforts to conserve and enhance the region's marine resources, including fisheries and aquaculture, are expected to benefit local communities, promote tourism, and contribute to economic growth.

In conclusion, the Loughs Agency plays a vital role in promoting the sustainable social, economic, and environmental development of the Foyle and Carlingford areas. Its work on marine conservation and development is crucial in ensuring the long-term viability of the region's natural resources and in promoting sustainable economic growth.

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