The Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan, has been severely criticised for signing a regulation which, it is claimed, is leading to the destruction of a protected estuary.

The environmental group Coastwatch says under EU law, cockle dredging in the Waterford estuary should not be taking place.

Dr Karin Dubsky said the regulation was signed last July, but no public consultation took place despite this being a stipulation of the EU Habitat Directive and the EU Directive on public participation.

Boats are now systematically sucking up and sieving sand and mud of inner Waterford estuary to extract cockles, even though it is designated under EU law as Natura 2000 site for international protection. 

Coastwatch says mudflats are essential habitat for many species, from tiny algae to worms and shellfish, and a powerful modern dredger will destroy a mudflat structure with most life on and within it.

It described the 'Cockle Fisheries Management and Conservation (Waterford Estuary) Regulations SI 531 of 2007 as a 'flawed piece of legislation'.