Fears over public safety have been raised after it emerged that trawlers are fishing near an untreated sewage outfall at Islandmagee.
Larne Borough Council has launched an investigation after the matter was brought to its attention by Islandmagee resident, Councillor John Mathews.
The Alliance representative told the Times that he recently spotted four trawlers operating in the vicinity of the outfall pipe.
The sewage system at Islandmagee serves the Ballycarry, Ballystrudder and Whitehead area, and effluent is discharged into the sea in a picturesque location near the famous Gobbins cliffs and the popular Blackhead path.
Prior to being pumped into the sea, the sewage is screened through a mesh to remove solids. NI Water has been heavily criticised by local elected representatives for refusing to provide secondary treatment for the waste, which would remove harmful bacteria and other pollutants before it is discharged.
Councillor Mathews has expressed concerns that fish in the vicinity of the outfall may be contaminated, and feared that members of the public risked contracting food poisoning as a result.
He added: “I would certainly not like to be eating any fish that came into contact with untreated human waste. There are a number of trawlers who operate in the area around the sewage outfall; who knows where the fish are ending up and who is eating them.
“It would not reflect on Northern Ireland’s fishing industry very well if people became ill as a result of this.”
Director of Environmental Services, Philip Thompson confirmed that the local authority has now launched an investigation in a bid to determine the identity of the vessels and what exactly they are fishing for.
The council has also been in contact with the senior fisheries officer at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, who indicated the fishing boats are most likely trying to catch scallops.
The officer further pointed out that all boats over 12m in length must be fitted with satellite tracking, and can be viewed live at www.marinetraffic.com
Mr Thompson added: “Under fishery legislation DARD have a responsibility to ensure that scallop fishing only occurs during the UK season from November 1 to May 31. There must also be no weekend fishing for scallops and fishing must be restricted to between the hours of 6am to 8pm in all Northern Ireland waters.”
He also said there was “no indication at this point in time” that the catch is being landed within the Larne borough.
“The boat/business owner is required to register with the local authority in whose area the catch is docked,” he added.
Council officers have contacted North Down Council to determine if the vessels are registered with them and to ensure the safety of any fishery products landed.
“The testing of shellfish to ensure food safety is carried out at the point of processing or landing,” Mr Thompson concluded.