Planning permission could soon be necessary for companies dredging sand from Lough Neagh.
Norman Emerson and Son are one of the companies who will come under greater scrutiny.
For nearly 70 years they have worked the Lough from their Derryadd base, contributing towards the one million tonnes of sand dredged every year for the construction industry.
It is an activity that has taken place for decades, but it is only now that the Department of the Environment (DoE) has admitted there are problems.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “It appears that a breach of planning control involving the unauthorised working of sand from the lough has been ongoing.” He was answering a series of questions from South Antrim MLA Danny Kinahan.
The Minister said dredging like mining, needed planning permission, but no records exist for it having been granted to any commercial operators.
The DoE said there is no evidence the ecology is suffering, but it has commissioned studies alongside two continuing investigations into dredging activities.
A spokesman for the operators described the issue as “a technicality”. He said they were hoping to meet Mr Durkan to resolve the issue soon.