Oyster farmer frets about Brexit in Irish grey area

Derry (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


For 20 years, William Lynch has farmed oysters in disputed waters along the Irish border.

With Brexit looming, a convenient grey area which has allowed him to flourish could be coming to an end.

"If everybody would leave us alone we'd have a great business here," he said, watching the tide creep up over cages of shellfish installed on dozens of trestles.

"The oysters are doing well but there always has to be something to put you down," the 64-year-old said.

Lynch's Foylemore Oysters is based on the shores of Lough Foyle -- the estuary out of the Northern Irish city of Derry/Londonderry.

Rich with nutrients and dark silty sands that give his oysters a trademark "nutty" taste these are prime waters -- allowing him and his employees to export 500 bags a week.

Britain claims the entire waterway, including land to the high tide mark on Irish shores to the west, said Lynch -- pointing to the waters where he makes his living.

The Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, is not so sure.

"The issues involved are complex and involve a range of different actors," an Irish foreign office spokesman said in a statement to AFP.

While the claim remains unsettled, legislation cannot be brought forth to regulate the fishing.

Lynch said he adheres to the "best practice" required anyway.

But post-Brexit he fears the conflict could boil over from a disagreement between two EU member states to a lopsided power struggle between one nation and the 27 remaining EU members, with potentially conflicting aquaculture policy.

The outcome is hard to predict -- but uncertainty and disruption seem likely.

"The agenda will be totally changed," he said.

"I think it would be a pity to let politics ruin a very good fishery here."

Lynch's business is perhaps one of the most exposed to Brexit along Ireland's 500 kilometre (310 mile) border -- currently vexing Britain's bid to leave the EU on March 29.

In addition to the territorial dispute, Lynch faces potential cross-border checks moving between his sites -- requiring him to travel by road from Northern Ireland to the Republic at least six times a day.

He also exports primarily to France where his oysters are processed before most are sent on to big export markets such as China, Dubai and Hong Kong.

That means he also faces being considered a "third country" exporter when Britain leaves the EU.

"I know I have a good product here, I know I have a good workforce, and I know I have good customers in Europe," said Lynch.

"All I want to do is grow oysters."