Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine: Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries

Aquaculture and Tourism: Discussion (Resumed)

9:30 am

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the following: Mr. Francis O'Donnell, chairman, and Mr. Gavin Power of the Federation of Irish Fishermen; Mr. Eddie Sheehan, chairman, and Ms Caitlín Uí hAodha, Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation from the Irish Fishermen's Organisation; Mr. John Walsh, chairperson, and Mr. Séamus Ó Cnáimhsí, board member, Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann/Comhar na nOileán Teoranta; Mr. Jerry Early and Mr. John O'Brien from Donegal Island Fishermen; Mr. Richie Flynn, executive, IFA Aquaculture; and Mr. Jerry Gallagher, chairman, North West Shellfish and Irish Shellfish Association from IFA Aquaculture. I thank the delegates for appearing before the joint sub-committee.

The joint sub-committee was established to focus on communities and the socioeconomics and promotion of sustainable industries. The main industries identified by the sub-committee are aquaculture, island and coastal fisheries, inshore fisheries, with a particular emphasis on sea angling, and tourism. We are here to hear the views of the witnesses on the issues relevant to their organisations.

Before we begin, I wish to draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009 they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give this joint sub-committee. If they are directed by the sub-committee to cease giving evidence with regard to a particular matter but continue to so do, they will be entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise nor make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

We have a large number of groups and I understand that each group will make a five minute presentation and the members offering will be allowed put their questions. Deputy Ó Cuív is caught this morning, as the Animal Health and Welfare Bill is being discussed in the Dáil.

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
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I am in the same position.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh na finnéithe. Beimid in ann léamh céard a bheidh le rá acu agus beidh deis againn ansin scrúdú a dhéanamh ar an méid sin. I join the Chairman in welcoming the groups to the joint sub-committee. One of the problems that can arise is that one may be required to be in two places at the one time. I am taking Leaders' Questions this morning on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party. Unfortunately I cannot stay for the duration for the meeting but, as the delegates are probably aware, a record is kept of everything that is said and I will make it my business to read the full debate that will take place today. When we are making our recommendations as a committee, I will give full cognisance to the contribution that will be made today. This is a very important subject and we need to hear what the people on the ground are saying and to listen with particular care to what has been said. The establishment of this sub-committee - which focuses on inshore and island fishing, among other issues - by the Chairman is very important. I apologise to the delegates for my absence but the debate today will form part of my contribution to policy.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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We have approximately 45 minutes until the start of the Order of Business in the Dáil. I call on Mr. Francis O'Donnell to make the opening presentation.

Mr. Francis O'Donnell:

Good morning Chairman, Deputies and Senators. I offer apologies on behalf of Mr. Sean O'Donoghue of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation, KFO, and Ms Eileen O'Sullivan of the Irish South and West Fish Producers' Organisation, who cannot be present today. I am accompanied by Mr. Gavin Power and Mr. Ted Breslin of the KFO.

The Federation of Irish Fishermen welcomes the opportunity to present our views on the status and management requirements for the inshore fishery in Ireland. The federation comprises the Irish Fish Producers' Organisation, the KFO and the Irish South and West Fish Producers' Organisation. Collectively, we represent a number of segments, including pelagic, mixed demersal fisheries, brown crab, nephrops and inshore fisheries. We are acutely aware of the importance of inshore fisheries from a socioeconomic perspective. Sustainable management and regulation is the key to ensuring a healthy inshore fishery in Ireland. Sadly, this has been lacking to date, even though a number of blueprints have been published at the taxpayer's expense which clearly outlined a roadmap to effectively manage this fishery.

Ireland has a significant amount of autonomy when managing its inshore fisheries and is not constrained by total allowable catches TACs for most of the mollusc and crustacean species found in inshore waters. Inshore fisheries should be given the required support to expand sustainably to support coastal and island communities. This need has been recognised by the recent amendments to include islands and coastal communities by the European Parliament as part of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. However, Ireland is seriously lacking in policy in this area.

It is estimated that more than 80% of Ireland's fishing fleet operates inside the 12-mile limit. The inshore sector, which concentrates in the main on crab, lobster, shrimp, scallops, whelk, razor, cockles and Atlantic salmon, carries out its activity within the six-mile limit. The last complete figures available for the economic potential of the inshore fishery in Ireland are for 2005. Those figures were published by BIM and the Marine Institute. Landings of wild-caught fish in the inshore fishery were worth approximately €30 million at that time. The inshore fleet is concentrated along the entire coastline of Ireland and supports around 3,000 fishers. The vessel sizes are small, with the fleet mainly composed of vessels under 15 m in length. There are approximately 2,100 vessels registered in the Irish fishing fleet, approximately 1,872 of which are less than 15 m in length. The latter is reflective of sectors such as aquaculture, polyvalent general, polyvalent potting and specific. The number of registered vessels has grown substantially since 2005. This has been driven to some extent by the scheme for the licensing of traditional pot fishing boats in the Irish Inshore fleet.

An excellent review of the Irish inshore fisheries sector was carried out by BIM in May 1999, entitled Irish Inshore Fisheries Sector: Review and Recommendations. That review examined the inshore fisheries sector at that time and provided a roadmap for its development, focusing on partnership and stakeholder approaches. The report was innovative and identified the key difficulties facing the sector. It identified avenues to secure sustainability and provide development, addressing socioeconomic needs coupled with good fisheries management practices. In 2005, BIM published an excellent document entitled Managing Ireland's Inshore Fisheries, which outlined in detail a management framework to realise this for 15 shellfish stocks found in inshore waters. That framework forms the basis for the future management of all inshore fisheries in Ireland.

We need to place a proper value on the significance of inshore fisheries in Ireland for the fishery itself and for those who rely on it for a living. Coastal communities do not have the same employment opportunities as those in urban environments and have limited potential for economic diversification. Recognising this is one thing; doing something about it is entirely different. We do not need a task force to investigate how this can be done. We simply need to design policy in line with the two reports referred to in my presentation. I thank the Chairman and members.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. O'Donnell. I call on Mr. Eddie Sheehan from the IFO.

Mr. Eddie Sheehan:

I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to make this presentation. I will deal with fishing in general rather than inshore fishing, but the problems are more or less the same in both sectors.

My background is in fishing. I left school at 16 and went to sea. I spent most of my time at sea and I am still very much involved in the fishing industry both inshore and offshore. The review of the CFP, in the IFO's estimation, is the final chance we have to rectify the wrongs of the past. Ireland's share of its own resources gets smaller and smaller each year. In the last CFP review the EU's plan to conserve stocks was to impose strict quotas on all stocks and throw back the dead fish into the sea. The same people who have rigidly enforced the plan of dumping dead fish for the past ten years have now come up with a new plan of no discards.

This idea is much better and would be supported by most fishermen but no thought has been put into how the system will work. We have fish such as mackerel, herring, horse mackerel, etc., but 80% of the Irish fleet and particularly the inshore fleet has no quota for these species and one is bound by law to discard it. At certain times of the year some whitefish vessels get large shots of boar fish which are a nuisance to inshore boats and have to be discarded for safety reasons. Again no thought as gone into this. I believe the discard plan will have a serious impact on the fishing industry in general but, in particular, on the inshore sector.

A viable whitefish industry is vital to sustain rural communities such as Castletownbere, Union Hall, Dingle and so on. At present our monthly quotas for all species are too low and Government policy appears to be to get more foreign vessels landing here, which we have no objection to so long as we can have a profitable sector. The price of fish is at an all-time low. We deserve a better deal than we got. This is the last chance for the Minister to do something for us in the CFP review.

I appreciate the Minister has a busy schedule with negotiations on the CAP and the CFP. However, there is a massive difference between the two. The CAP is mostly about subsidies to sustain farming life in rural areas while the fishing sector is not seeking subsidies but rather to have a realistic future and an increased quota. In key species our average quota is between 7% and 8% whereas France has quota closer to 50%. In this day and age that is unrealistic.

In recent years the Irish inshore fleet has implemented several measures to enhance conservation. To stop catching juvenile fish we put in place square mesh panels and increased the mesh size. Unfortunately, at the December Council there were quota cuts in species such as monk, megs and haddock whereas we had expected to be rewarded for the conservation measures put in place.

This year our valuable tuna quota in the south west has been reduced to 2,300 tonnes from a high in 2009 of 7,200 tonnes. A good deal of money was spent by inshore boats both in controlling and in pelagic with a view to making a living from this fishery but again that has dwindled.

Most of the crews on the whitefish fleet and the inshore fleet are made up of non-nationals because the job is not sufficiently attractive for Irish crews to get involved. The fishing industry is unique in that the profession cannot be learned in school or college and has to be learned first hand. If, as has happened for a number of years, the younger generation is not going into the industry, it will die and we will be preserving stocks for nothing.

In the inshore sector a ban was imposed on commercial salmon fishing approximately ten years ago as it was considered that commercial fishing would wipe out the salmon. The salmon was the lifeblood of inshore fishermen. Following the imposition of the ban no investigation took place to ascertain whether the ban made a difference. Ten years on, some form of investigation should be carried out to determine what impact, if any, the ban on commercial salmon fishing has had on the industry.

9:40 am

Ms Caitlín Uí hAodha:

I am from the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation. I wish to advise that we will probably repeat some of what the other witnesses have said because, all around the island, we experience the same difficulties.

The south and east is a unique part of the country because of the diverse fisheries. I represent a number of boats in that area. Following a political decision, we lost our EU status in 2011 but we are hoping to have it reinstated. We need it because it is a unique area. We represent all the marine trawlers in the island, all the scallop fisheries and almost all of the boats that target ray that are sold on the east coast and mostly into Dublin.

We have many success stories in the south east. Perhaps I will read what I have prepared. I am here to pose a few questions because the industry is worth €500 million to the ailing economy. The whitefish sector alone is worth €183 million. Some 11,000 people are employed in the industry and it is the hope that it will employ up to 15,000. Are we in the right place to see that growth continue? Do we need to look at the EU regulations? Do we need a plan in Ireland? I do not think we have ever had a serious fisheries plan on where the industry is going?

Once we had a fishing licence. Now we have licences that are constantly diluted which devalues the licences. We lost our mackerel entitlement to a handful of people. We lost our herring entitlement to 18 boats in a particular county. Is that good for coastal development? One member lost the right to fish because he did not have the base year. I would argue that he should not have a base year because he fished in that area as his father and grandfather did. That more and more of our fisheries are being ring-fenced into the future is not good. The policy of ring-fencing is very poor.

I represent a large amount of the inshore fleet. Some 80% of the vessels in the Irish fishing fleet are less than 15 m. Harbours such as Waterford or Youghal where there should be a local fishery for clams and razors cannot get designated. It takes two years and nine months longer than for any other member state to have licences issued and the areas classified, which is much too slow.

The closure of the salmon fishery was to be reviewed after three years and we are still awaiting this review. Small areas around the coast such as Dunmore East, Passage East and Helvic should have a small controlled salmon fishery. Unlike Donegal, no large factories from America or elsewhere will come to this area. We have to create our own employment in those areas and it can be done if we get the support. The salmon fishery needs to be looked at, as well as the eel fishery. A small controlled fishery would allow people to maintain their livelihoods and engage in processing or smoking salmon or whatever.

We have another success story in Dunmore East. The closure of the Dunmore East box to boats in excess of 18 m has proved to be hugely beneficial and that initiative should be extended around the coast to different species and bays. For example, trawling in bays for sprats should be protected for small boats which do not have the capacity to go further out to sea. That is not happening. Larger boats have the privilege of going after many species into deeper water and can also come inshore. That is an issue that needs to be examined and preserved for smaller fisheries.

The sentinel herring fishery in Dunmore East has 54 small boats. When that fishery opens in wintertime our office is alive and so is Dunmore East. It brings money into the industry, creates employment, keeps young guys away from the aeroplane and brings them into the industry.

It not alone creates money but it also keeps those local communities vibrant and keeps the blood flowing through them. That is what we are here to talk about and it is most important.

I will not finish without bringing up the bass issue. We are one of the only countries that is forbidden to land deep sea water bass. I emphasise the term "deep sea water bass" because we are discussing bass that is off our coast along the south east where our boats fish with those of other EU countries. While they go at certain times of the year our fleet sits there. We watch them go to places such as the Tuskar Rock to target this species, which they land but we cannot land it. Now we will be faced perhaps with a quota system but we have no track record. We will also be faced with a discard ban whereby we can no longer land these fish. This issue reflects Ireland's policies towards things. We dig our head in the sand and we cannot deal with an issue because some people do not like it. However, we must start dealing with it. We have called on Departments and Ministers several times to open and deal with this discussion and it must happen soon.

Reference was made to relative stability. Mr. Sheehan noted that we cannot make changes to the amount of quota we got. One person I will always admire is Garret FitzGerald because he saw that there was a bad deal and he did not leave the table until he got a change. That was brought about through the Hague Preferences. We need someone of his capacity, ability and interest to kick the table again for Ireland and bring us a change to this ridiculous relative stability. There is also relative stability in our country. Although we are not happy with the French getting seven times more fish than us, within our own industry we see different political powers giving certain people seven times more entitlement to species and that is not a good way to develop coastal communities.

Let us consider the herring situation in Dunmore East and the central fishery. One could give three boats the quota and it would be gone overnight or one could give it to 50 small families in a way that supports our local communities. We are here today to support those small local communities all around our coast. This issue needs to be examined. We need a policy for the future of the industry. I call on the Minister, who has taken a real, keen interest in fisheries, to look towards his Department and determine whether the policies we have will sustain our island fisheries industry in future.

9:50 am

Mr. John Walsh:

We are delighted to be here today and on behalf of the islands I thank the Chairman for the invitation. I will set out some background. I am the chairperson of Comhar na nOileán, which is the islands local action group. We manage the rural development programme, the Leader programme, the local and community development programme, the rural social scheme and the walks scheme on behalf of island communities in 33 islands across four counties, Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Cork, with populations ranging from three to 845 people.

The basis of my presentation is three reports carried out by a consultancy firm on behalf of Pobail and Comhar. One dates back as far as 2007, the next took place in 2009 and the last one was for the Common Fisheries Policy review in 2010. We are trying to get across the message that special solutions are needed for the islands if we are to sustain the island populations. The island populations are reducing at a dramatic rate and much of the time legislation and Government and EU policy is the cause. We are here today to highlight some of these issues. We hope today will represent the first step to try to make a serious attempt at sustaining vibrant populations on the islands.

Sometimes legislation does not take into account the needs of islands. Sometimes a rule or law is brought in which is seen as good for the country but it actually has a dramatic effect on the islands which was not foreseen at the start. We call on the committee to policy-proof the needs of islands before legislation is brought in.

The primary sources of income on the islands are all relevant to this committee. They include tourism, fishing, farming, ferries and the public sector, and often it is a combination of some or all of these. Island people are very resilient and like to live on the island but to do so they need to be able to carry out a number of different trades.

Let us consider the licensing system for aquaculture in the country at the moment. On some islands islanders got together and looked for licensing for aquaculture development. However, it takes up to seven years to get licensing which, in this day and age, is a disgrace and should not happen. We want young people to stay on islands but if they have to wait around for licensing for seven years then it simply does not happen and they move on.

I will outline some of the challenges. Before I comment on fisheries I will try to give people an idea of different things that happen because of legislation. Sometimes the impact on island life is dramatic. Let us consider the roads. In recent years no road works were done on the islands because the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government put a limit of €4 per sq. m on fixing roads, but because it costs €7 per sq. m on islands no roads were done. The islands were boxed into the local and community development programme because there was no other programme for islands. Certain social and economic committees have been proposed. However, if there is an attempt to break up the island organisations into bodies under the four different counties it will weaken the structure. At the moment as a national organisation we have strength in numbers and that is the way we want to keep it.

We have an issue with the moratorium on State jobs. In various islands where council workers were posted as well as different State positions, jobs were lost to the islands because of the moratorium. One job on an island is worth 100 jobs on the mainland.

We have an issue with the legislation relating to fisheries. We believe island communities should have licences designated for use on the islands. If a young person wants to stay on an island he or she should have the possibility of getting a licence to try to see whether he or she can make a go of it. such people should be able to try it out perhaps for two years. Then, once they make a go of it, the licence should go back to the community where it could be used again. There are many barriers to entry in the fishing industry. We believe this must be done because at the moment we are always planning for the short term. However, we should consider what it will be like in 30 years' time. The question is who we want to be fishing on the islands and that is what we should be planning for now.

Two issues stand out. First, the issue of bringing in bait onto the islands for pot fishermen. If island fishermen were allowed to catch bait themselves it would save on the cost of inputs. If one could go to the island to buy bait or if one could fish for it, it would be very beneficial to the islands. The problem is a fisherman can only deal with authorised buyers. People on islands cannot understand why they cannot buy fish off a boat when it lands on the pier. This is something that should be considered under the tourism brief of this committee. If island boats could land on islands and sell their fish to restaurants and tourists it would be a big change. That is how it works in France. It is always done there. Why can it not be done here?

The salmon fishing ban has had a dramatic effect on the islands. My colleagues from Donegal will discuss that presently. We fully support the work of the Donegal islands fishermen in their call for an easing of the ban on salmon and also the restrictions in area 6A.

There are challenges for islands with regard to infrastructure. Islands do not have access to ice, cold rooms or bait storage and this is something that must be addressed.

There are opportunities. We believe that islanders should be allowed to take control of the area around their own islands and manage it because they are the best people to do so. They are the custodians of the sea and they are the best people to oversee it. There is a considerable value to the landings in Ireland and all island communities want is their small share of it. There are opportunities under tourism and sea angling. It is possible to add value to fish. If we could land on islands we could smoke and fillet fish. All of this would lead to jobs on islands and we could build up a food brand on the islands. We believe this is very important. Small-scale island-managed aquaculture is the way forward. We have seen big farms off islands but it does not seem to be the way forward. I note the submission made to the committee by the Inis Oírr community outlining the problems they are facing. There are other opportunities in arts, foods, the marine research area and training and passing on the skills that islanders have. These are all opportunities that can be used for the benefit of island communities.

There were several proposals in the reports. One was a call for island fishermen to have salmon quota. This issue was mentioned some time ago by Mr. Eddie Sheehan, who referred to the effects of the salmon ban. The ban was never studied in detail to determine the effects but I know it had a dramatic effect on my island. The Donegal fishermen will outline the effects on their islands.

There is a need for derogations and exceptions in legislation for small island fisheries. Filleting on board, fishing for bait and selling on the island are all issues. Up to now in the case of angling there were dual licences and multi-purpose vessels.

That was the case before now. With the technology that is now available we cannot understand why it is not possible to have a boat that can work in an aquaculture farm during the week and take out tourists at the weekend. Why do people have to have two or three different boats? That does not make sense. That must be examined.

Islanders are custodians of the water and the landscape and they are the best people to manage their own waters in partnership with State agencies. Island organisations should be funded to purchase their own fishing capacity, be it tonnage or licensing. That would be a good step forward. It is very hard to get into the industry if one does not have a track record in it. This is true of farming and fishing. It prevents people who go to college moving back to the island because they do not see a way to earn an income. If one came back in the 1970s or 1980s one could do a bit of fishing or farming and make a living on the islands.

There is potential for island fishermen to conduct research on behalf of the Marine Institute and to do different marine training. We need a national organisation to deliver leader programmes and community programmes on the islands and we need fisheries funds. Breaking up national organisations according to county will be a loss to the islands and accelerate the process of depopulation. We are calling for a properly resourced cross-departmental working group to be established with island-relevant State agency representation. Its task would be to implement the measures contained in the reports that I am presenting today.

Chairman: I now call Mr. Jerry Early from the Donegal Island Fisheries.

Mr. Jerry Early: I thank the Chairman. This is our second time here. I thank the Chairman for inviting us back. The last time we were here we gave a presentation to another committee and we are glad that the work has been expanded to include other committees. I am from Arranmore Island in Donegal. I represent the Donegal Islands fishermen. For the sake of brevity the examples contained in this submission are specific to Arranmore Island. My colleague Mr. O'Brien is from Inishbofin and is on the islands committee. He will explain in the question and answer session how the salmon ban came into effect. While this submission is made on behalf of the fishermen of the Donegal islands the issues contained within it are common to island fishermen throughout Ireland. We call for fair treatment of small island communities and respect for fishermen as custodians of our fisheries and the sea. We ask for the responsibility for and right to practice traditional livelihoods that are ecologically sustainable, socially just and culturally diverse and to pass and hand down our traditions, knowledge and skills to future generations. In 2006 we were forced to unite as a community under the banner of the Donegal Islands Committee in an attempt to mitigate the negative impact of the salmon ban imposed on us by the Government. Our island communities have been decimated as a result of the ban. In our seven year existence we have not wavered from our commitment despite political pressure, including financial inducements which we rejected. In 2006 and 2009 we published reports highlighting our concerns and lo and behold, all the predictions in these reports came true. Arranmore Island has lost €800,000 to €1 million from its annual economy as set out in the submission of 2009 by Crick Carleton of Nautilus Consultants who did this on behalf of Comhar na nOileán Teo. Our solution as set out in the report by Ms Alyne Delaney, an expert in island fisheries management from the University of Aalborg, Denmark. Specifically we asked that the salmon ban be relaxed for five years during which time a series of experiments would be conducted where island fishermen collaborate with scientific bodies to determine the salmon genealogy. We believe that by conducting the appropriate DNA analysis of the fish that are caught in our waters we can unequivocally determine if the fish are bound for rivers that have a surplus. Critically, if after the five year pilot scheme is completed it is determined that our fishing practices are significantly undermining understocked rivers we will cease those fishing practices. In order to have a comprehensive assessment we propose that this study be conducted on a days-at-sea basis but not further than 12 miles from shore as outlined in Ms Delaney's report. In 2006 we warned of the effects this legislation would have on the islands of Donegal and elsewhere. Unfortunately we have been proved correct. In 2012 on Arranmore Island 18 people died but for the first time in recorded history not one child was born. This, the committee must agree, is an alarming statistic. We have lost many young men and women to emigration as they sought and failed to sustain a livelihood in an environment that could not support them where it should; the Arranmore Lifeboat of which we are very proud has lost 25 of its highly-trained crew members; school enrolments are down and have fallen to such a degree that one of the two primary schools is now faced with imminent closure. In the absence of corrective action the future of the Donegal Islands is clear. The CSO classes Arranmore as an extremely disadvantaged area, ranking it 1 out of 483 on its relative deprivation score. If nothing is done our community will die out. I am simply stating facts from recent studies and statistics. A Government spokesman recently told us that the relaxation of the salmon ban would be irresponsible. How much more irresponsible is it for us all to sit idly by as the life-blood drains out of our islands? The Government should not be prepared to preside over the death of a vibrant, colourful community or communities, that bring so much weight to an Irish way of life. I recently met an influential MEP Ms Ulrike Rodust from Germany who stated that an island is not an island without fishermen. An amendment to the European CFP recital (14A )states:The definition of small-scale fishing needs to be widened to take account of a range of criteria in addition to boat size, including inter alia the prevailing weather conditions, the impact of fishing techniques on the marine ecosystem, time spent at sea and the characteristics of the economic unit exploiting the resource. Small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing should be especially recognised and supported both in terms of additional resource allocation and financially to enable their survival and prosperity.I thank the committee for its attention to this matter. We recognise the extreme pressures on the time of committee members and we greatly appreciate the interest they have shown in our plight by inviting us to attend here again. The communities of the islands have sent us here to plead our case. We request on their behalf that the committee approve our proposal to conduct a detailed scientific analysis whereby the salmon ban be relaxed for five years, during which time a series of experiments will be conducted in which island fishermen will collaborate with scientific bodies to determine the salmon genealogy and the most economically and environmentally sustainable path forward. We depend on this political process to carry this message to those in Government who have the power to overturn this decision. I thank the Chairman. I will expand on these points in the question and answer session.

10:00 am

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Early. He was not here when I read out the apologies. Senator Ó Domhnaill has had the 'flu for the past week, there was a bereavement in family of the wife of Deputy Pringle and he had to go home. Otherwise they would be here.

I call on Mr. Richie Flynn from the IFA aquaculture executive.

Mr. Richie Flynn:

I thank the Chairman. We very much welcome the work of this committee in examining the socioeconomic potential of the coast.

IFA Aquaculture represents more than 200 small and medium-sized enterprises involved in the farming of fish and shellfish in coastal and inland counties. The IFA has represented the aquaculture sector for more than 20 years. Our work involves lobbying at home and in Brussels for a workable, reasonable and transparent regulatory and legal environment to expand our fish and shellfish industry which does not require TACs or quotas. As I stated at a previous meeting and in a submission to this committee, for every additional 50 tonnes of raw material we can produce we can create one full-time job.

As the previous speakers outlined, we must acknowledge that the seafood sector in this country is poorly understood, often overlooked and woefully under-used. According to the Marine Institute's figures, there are 40 acres of sea for every man, woman and child on this island. There is constant frustration and discouragement for entrepreneurs in our businesses and for families around the coast as they try to expand a €120 million farm gate industry which ticks every box required by this and the previous Government to increase employment, develop skill sets, promote food production, drive exports and be sustainable and renewable. There is also much crossover potential, as described at previous committee meetings, in terms of branding, Ireland's image, tourism and economic recovery.

In our sector, more than 600 licences are lying in the Department's offices in Clonakilty awaiting decision, some for seven years and more, from the islands and elsewhere. This is where oversight is required from committees such as this one. Our salmon production has halved in the past ten years from 25,000 tonnes to a harvest of, hopefully, 11,000 tonnes this year. Our oyster production, which is the best in the world, remains static, despite its immense reputation. Our mussel producers all along the coast struggle to compete against large-scale operators in other countries. We have a dwindling supply base which is unable to keep processing factories open at home. On top of that, inward investment has dried up. Investors will take one look at the licensing regime in Ireland and walk away. We all know that; they do not understand how such an opportunity can be lost. Innovation and training are discouraged. The demographics in our sector are such that they are inexorably leading to discouragement of young entrants, men and women, and sites are being mothballed around the coast. If we could have access to a system with certain outcomes, clear deadlines, open dialogue with the regulators and transparent decision-making with the noose of the European habitats directive lifted from around our necks in a few short years, I guarantee members that this industry would turn around. These are all bureaucratic red-tape problems. We are not dependent on handouts or subsidies.

Aquaculture, we believe, is the future - farming the seas as we farm the land in co-operation with our colleagues in the fishing industry. The EU imports more than half of the fish and shellfish we consume and not all of that can be replaced by simply fishing. Jobs in coastal communities are much more than statistics; they create real wealth, employ local businesses and, on the socioeconomic side, supply the membership of local clubs and support local families. One of our largest companies, Marine Harvest Ireland, employs nearly 300 people in four counties. I asked it for a list of its suppliers and service providers last year. More than 40 small local businesses, ranging from engineers to fuel suppliers, were given some business by one company engaged in aquaculture. Another example is a parish on the south side of Kenmare Bay, in Deputy Harrington's area, which can field up to two senior football teams because many of those young men work in mussel fish farming. On the north side of Deputy Ferris's county, however, I heard recently that some players must travel up to 40 miles to train because of the lack of jobs in the area and the scourge of emigration. I personally know dozens of sons and daughters who prefer to work in the family shellfish business rather than emigrate. That number could double if licensing was fixed.

Basically, what we need is a one-stop shop that has the knowledge of Teagasc, the economic drive of Enterprise Ireland and the efficiency of the Revenue Commissioners. What we have instead is a black hole, where applications disappear for years and all one can hear is Departments scoring points off each other. One multi-award-winning company in the trout business contacted me in the past 48 hours to say that it contacted the Department to find what had happened to its licence application because it needed the licence in order to get 48% grant aid. The company had an engineer on-site and had ordered equipment. The application, which is for a non-SAC area, was submitted last August, but it turned out that the envelope had not even been opened. Where are we going with that type of system in this day and age?

10:10 am

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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A non-SAC area?

Mr. Richie Flynn:

Yes, a non-SAC area.

We could increase our export earnings from €100 million to €200 million easily given the demand that exists. We can increase our supply of raw material to local fish and shellfish processors, keeping more employment there. We can invest in new technology that is built in Ireland, but to do this we need the State to facilitate us not with grant aid but with a system that can deliver licences with flexibility that are fit for purpose, from which we can raise funds and capitalise on our credibility.

New legislation is not the answer. We are not asking the committee for the introduction of a new Bill. We just want the willingness to push development. The industry needs answers as to how key economic and practical questions raised by the targets set in Harvest 2020 and Our Ocean Wealth will be met. That is the job my chairman, Jerry Gallagher from Northwest Shellfish, has been doing since he took up the job. How will the State support the industry in practical terms, instead of announcing grant aid schemes such as that announced in the past fortnight by BIM, which 95% of our members cannot access because they do not have a licence that has been renewed within the timeframe required? Why are the templates for licences we require unfit for purpose, based on outdated upper limits of tonnage and ignoring new monitoring technology, which actively discourages good husbandry? Why can the licensing system not work with farmers who wish to avoid the risk of algal blooms, which wiped out many stocks in the west and north west last year because of a lack of access to protected sites? These and many other questions need to be answered through the redeployment of existing resources in BIM and the Marine Institute into the sector's development, a closer working relationship between the Department and licensees and applicants and a better understanding of the needs and limitations of those working with different species.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Flynn. That concludes the presentations, which cover a good cross-section of the issues and provide food for thought. There are many similarities in the points covered. An effort is being made to bring together people who have different interests and come from parts of the inshore fishing sector in order that they can all live in harmony. That is part of what we are trying to do.

Mr. Flynn's last point about the licensing regime is worrying because we are constantly told it is the designation under the habitats directive that is the big problem. If there is such a delay in the process for a non-SAC area there is something really wrong. I call Deputy Ferris.

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
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I thank all those who contributed. This is a welcome development. Their presentations were very informative for those of us who deal with this sector. On a lighter note, there are two football teams south of Kenmare. There are Cork ringers who play for Castletownbere, for Kenmare and for Tuosist. My colleague knows what I am talking about. One can never trust those Cork fellows.

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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We will turn them over again.

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
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The most obvious point that jumps out at me from the presentations is that there is no cohesive plan.

I have been involved in this sector for most of my life but it seems that the powers that be never treated the fishing sector with the interest it deserved and never made an effort to realise the potential that lies within the sector. The people from the islands and others referred to the salmon fishery. I remember that debate taking place and I fought the proposals from my perspective and experience. I pointed out at the time that there was no logic to the proposals. I said a traditional industry was being taken away from rural communities that were dependent on it during the summer months. Taking it away meant that pressure was applied to another sector and there was no replacement for what was lost. People who were traditionally salmon fishermen went back to lobster and crayfish and to using gill nets. As has been said, it was an industry that was a sustainable aspect of island communities and allowed people to have spending power and to remain on the islands and in coastal communities. Once that was taken away it had a detrimental effect. No thought was put into what was done. The reason it was done was lobbying from sectors outside the fishing area. There was no will to deal with the issue with the sincerity it deserved on the part of political parties. What happened was due to lobby groups. The fishing sector was seen as weak, particularly inland fisheries and coastal communities. They did not have the necessary political clout to convince the decision makers of the folly of their ways. Now we see the consequences of the decisions taken.

From my work in the committee I am aware of the interest of colleagues from all political parties who represent coastal communities. Deputy Harrington is a west Cork man, and Deputies Pringle and Ó Cuív also represent coastal communities. All of the party spokespersons are coastal people. We see the consequences of decisions that were taken and what that has done to rural communities. Mr. Flynn referred to the area north of Kenmare, from Sneem over to Waterville and up to Cahirciveen. The area is decimated. In my area of Fenit there was a lovely industry. We had salmon and ling and a number of trawlers fished out of the area. The ISO fishery was based there. The fishing activity provided an income for most of the year. It was not a great income but it was capable of sustaining the community. Dingle has been hit badly also, as has Portmagee this year. They are small communities that have been the soul of rural Ireland and they have kept going. There is no plan to reverse what has happened.

We have listened to the witnesses this morning and taken advice from the presentations in a positive way in order to do what we can to reverse the terrible injustice that has been done to coastal communities. We must have a plan, and quota, to which Mr. Sheehan correctly referred. Quota is a significant problem for inland fisheries. Discards are an added dimension of the problem. Ring-fencing quota for a small number of vessels is disgraceful. Currently, two big fisheries have been ring-fenced based on the geographical location of Ministers. It is disgraceful and indefensible. It is important to keep as many people as possible in the industry in order for them to have a sustainable income, rear their families, live in communities and protect coastal communities in rural areas. That is not what is happening. If one ring-fences fishing for a small number of boats, one does a terrible disservice to the wider community because it will suffer as a result.

All of us must articulate the point to the best of our ability and fight the battle in the Oireachtas to ensure we look after the common good. We are not in favour of individuals making huge amounts of money for themselves. We must focus on the common good and what is best for communities in rural areas in order for them to survive so that people can live there. Mr. Flynn referred in his presentation to 600 licence applications that are still with the Department. That is indefensible. We must focus on what will give employment and spending power in communities. The knock-on effect of decisions must be taken into account. What has happened is disgraceful.

We have had presentations on the proposed salmon farm off the islands in Galway. There is something to be said for and against it. Some people are in favour of the proposal and others are against it. The decision must be fast-tracked one way or the other. If there are concerns about cross-contamination then we need to know about it. However, the situation has dragged on. I would welcome Mr. Flynn’s view on the issue when he responds because it is something on which we are being lobbied on a daily basis by both sides.

The plan for the future must involve the sector – those at the coalface. It must involve the entire industry and be driven politically in the interests of the survival of the fishing sector as well as of job creation, which is important for the livelihoods of people in coastal communities. It should not in any way be held back by those who have another vested interest. People know what I am talking about. In the context of salmon fishing those who were not involved in the fishing sector had a vested interest for commercial reasons. They did not depend on making a living from it to support their families. Their interest was recreational. The campaign was driven from that perspective and it did a lot of damage to many coastal communities. I thank all witnesses for their presentations. They contained much information, some of which we already know as we are aware of it from our constituencies. The issue must be addressed urgently.

10:20 am

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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First, I thank the Chairman for his initiative to establish this sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It was clear that the fisheries side was losing out compared to agriculture, which is the historical experience going back 40 or more years. I hope the sub-committee will go some way towards redressing the balance.

I also thank the representatives of the fishing organisations for sacrificing their time and making the effort to come from coastal areas and islands, which is not easy. I acknowledge the distance they have travelled and the time they have spent to come here and give their presentations. While it may appear that only a few members are present to listen to the presentations, what is said is on the record and a report will emerge from the deliberations. Every word that is said will be taken into account. From the presentations we have heard it appears there are diverse views and even though they all relate to coastal, community and fishery issues, different backgrounds are represented. That is one of the challenges with which we must deal in terms of formulating or reviewing policy. Reference was made to the BIM reviews of 1999 and 2005. We must revisit the reports and take the positive aspects from them.

The conclusions they came to have not changed much other than that the decline in these areas has not been arrested. The situation has deteriorated. Mr. Early gave a stark illustration of the position in Arranmore, but that is not atypical. Regrettably, that is what is happening throughout the coastal region.

What is frustrating for Deputy Ferris, Deputy Ó Cuív, Senator Ó Domhnaill and me, as well as other members of the committee, is that we are an island nation - there is not any part of the country that is more than 65 or 70 miles from the sea - yet the political discussion about general maritime issues has been woeful, and I hope this exercise will highlight that. From that perspective alone, it is positive engagement.

We are examining a number of different areas in aquaculture, particularly on the sea fisheries side, and the way they can benefit our most rural coastal and island communities. In recent years, even though our sea fishing industry has changed, it has consolidated, but to the detriment of communities that had traditional inland and island sea fishery sectors in which people were actively involved, although not on a full-time basis. No one is saying they would make a living out of salmon fishing or potting on a full-time basis, but it gave them enough of a livelihood to allow them to supplement their income by way of small farming, building or whatever to keep them ticking over, so to speak. It would ensure that their children and families would remain in that community, which would keep a school, a post office, a local shop or a hardware store open and trading. Those communities have been wiped out.

As the witnesses are aware, everything appears to have been pushed into the five or six harbour centres throughout the country. That is acceptable if it is the way people want to proceed, but we face a challenge in terms of what happens in places such as Fenit, which Deputy Ferris mentioned, Union Hall, Greencastle and Kilronan. The challenge is to see if we can come up with some way of at least arresting the decline and giving encouragement to people who may have a business plan, who want to invest in either upgrading or buying a vessel or who just want to remain in the industry. They do not have that assurance.

There is great potential in aquaculture. I was pleased to hear Mr. Richie Flynn's view on this. We are coming from a base of producing approximately 14,000 or 15,000 tonnes of salmon per annum. Scotland, which is similar to Ireland in some ways, produces ten times that amount - 140,000 tonnes - while Norway produces 1.2 million tonnes. We have the resource on our doorstep. When people in our coastal communities and in our islands look at the ocean they do not see an obstacle or something that inhibits progress. They see a highway, fertile ground, opportunities and a resource, and we must translate that vision into a policy that will sustain the people who need that entrepreneurship to develop. I hope the witnesses' comments and presentations will feed into a report that we can present, but we must be realistic. Nobody here has a bucket of fairy dust that will be a magic solution to all our problems. We must find a space in which we can arrest the decline and improve the position, either within existing legislation or by changing the political narrative for coastal and island communities, or by initiating a new review. A entirely new review may be an appalling prospect, but we could revisit previous reviews and documents to identify where their implementation failed. We could give some assurance to communities that we can help. The salmon proposal, for example, would be very welcome in some communities, but we can be certain it would be regarded as an appalling scenario for other lobby groups. However, we have to deal with that and consider the potential positive impact of some of the policies that we must suggest.

Offshore fisheries is a separate issue, but it is related to what we are dealing with here. Ms Caitlín Uí hAodha asked about the way in which our policies negatively affect these coastal communities. That must be dealt with also, because we have all heard the phrase "No man is an island," and any decision taken has consequences, albeit unintended, for the most vulnerable communities along our coast.

I do not propose to ask questions. I am familiar with the issues. I want to assure the witnesses that the presentations they have made are the most important of this process. I hope the diversity of the presentations and, more importantly, their common theme will be recognised in the report and that when we eventually come to decide on how to make progress on this issue, we will have a positive impact on many of our coastal island communities. If we achieve even two of our objectives, this meeting will have been a positive exercise. If we have only raised awareness of the issues facing island communities it has been a positive morning's work, but I trust that this will be regarded as being the critically important part of the work this committee will do in the next month or so.

10:30 am

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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I, too, come from a coastal community, although it is less recognised, for whatever reason. Clare does have a coastline and there are small fishing communities, which, like all small fishing communities, have suffered a great deal, particularly in places such as Quilty.

I have some specific questions. Sustainability has become an increasingly important keyword in the food industry. More broadly, Irish agriculture has recognised that, with the possible exception of milk, we will not be able to compete for a mass market and that we are better off competing for the upper end of the market. The environmentally friendly nature of Irish agriculture is emphasised in marketing by An Bord Bia, and there is a movement towards getting Irish agriculture into high-end restaurants across the world and the entire high-end market. Is there scope for the marketing of Irish fisheries, particularly the inland fisheries in which the witnesses and their communities fish, and for emphasising their sustainability? We are talking about small producers in relatively small areas.

It is not a rhetorical question as I do not know the answer to it.

Some of the delegates referred to scallops. There is increasing emphasis on the question of whether scallops may be harvested by diving or dredging. Are those who mentioned scallops talking about diving or dredging? Generally, what proportion is harvested by each method? With regard to oysters, are we talking about farmed oysters or oysters harvested from wild reefs? What is the condition of Irish oyster reefs?

Within the SACs, the zonings have created considerable difficulties. Do they offer potential for the marketing of seafood caught or produced therein as sustainable? There is an increasingly vociferous and influential campaign in this regard, particularly in Britain. London, as with Paris, is a big city and has a relatively close market that is certainly being targeted heavily by Bord Bia. I do not understand why Irish fishermen, particularly small-scale fishermen, could not seek to target the very high-end markets in such cities, which are reachable within a few hours.

Did Mr. Walsh mention specific difficulties being encountered by those on Inis Oírr?

10:40 am

Mr. John Walsh:

A submission was made to this committee implying that the community on Inis Oírr has issues with the proposed salmon farm.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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There were a couple of specific questions, particularly from Deputy Martin Ferris and Deputy McNamara. Deputy Harrington's contribution was more of an overview.

Ms Caitlín Uí hAodha:

I represent practically all the scallop boats in the country. Scallops are commercially fished and dredged. We have very few scallop licences and very few scallop days. The fishing is based on the number of days allocated. One can fish only for so many days, and this is based on horse power. I do not know what happened because France has approximately 7 million days and England has approximately 3 million days, while Ireland has approximately 200,000 or 300,000 days. We are way down the scale because of the manner in which the arrangement was rigged or sorted.

There is a very good scallop fishery and it is very sustainable because only a certain number of dredges can be used. The fishery is a very important one in the south east. There is great demand for Irish scallops on the high-end market. The industry is worth perhaps €5 million or €6 million per year to the south east. It is very sustainable.

Mr. Francis O'Donnell:

Deputy McNamara talked about sustainability. Sustainability and responsibility go hand in hand. Inshore fisheries, in the main, have a low impact. The consumer is becoming more aware. There is no reason inshore fisheries in Ireland, particularly those associated with specific species, could not fish under a responsible brand. The consumer would be aware of the provenance of the product and of the route from pot to plate. Breaking into niche markets in emerging economies would be difficult and producers would need a lot of capital to do so. We are told continuously there is rising demand for food, including seafood, globally. We must have management and policy in the first instance because that is what the consumer wants. Consumers are becoming extremely aware. It will not be long before a consumer will be able to walk into a supermarket anywhere in the world and scan a product using a smart phone app to determine where it was caught. There are opportunities in this area but we need to have policy and proper regulation for inshore fisheries before we can tap into the market.

Mr. Eddie Sheehan:

On Deputy McNamara's question on sustainability, the regime we work to at present involves our receiving a monthly quota. It is dictated in the first instance by the European Union and then by local government. The system we work at present is such that one gets one tonne of monkfish and one tonne of megs, for example, for boats working inshore. With regard to smaller grades of fish, one fishes according to catch composition. It is absolutely impossible to have sustainable stocks while fishing according to catch composition. I fished all my life and do not know how well the people in the room can understand my point. If one fishes according to catch composition or to a very strict quota regime, as we do, one will realise in the first instance that our quota is too small. Second, we must fish to percentages. One winds up dumping a lot of edible fish.

I agree wholeheartedly with what was said by Mr. O'Donnell. Putting labelling aside, we need to go back to basics. One can have all the labelling and scanning in the world showing that fish were caught sustainably, but one must ask how one can have a sustainable fishery with the regime imposed on inshore and offshore fisheries at present by the European Union and local authorities. The policy must change. For ten years, we have been throwing dead fish back into the sea. That is the conservation measure that has been put in place. Now, lo and behold, the same EU officials who have told us for the past ten years to conserve stocks by throwing dead fish back into the sea are now saying this is wrong and that no more dead fish may be thrown back into the sea. No thought whatsoever has been put into implementation. We need to bring a sense of reality to the arrangement. It is a very complex industry. I have spent my life fishing and am still totally dependent on it. We need reality because the system is a sham. Much of the talk on sustainability is a sham, unfortunately, because there is still no proper regime.

I addressed this committee in 2009, at which time the present Chairman was in attendance. We identified a regime whereby we would regulate the catching sector by limiting time at sea. We receive inshore and offshore quotas on a monthly basis and we fish within those quotas for the month. One can keep fishing if one has 15 species to catch. If, after the first week, one has exceeded the quota in respect of two species, one must discard fish of that species that are caught subsequently. One is legally quite entitled to keep fishing as long as one keeps discarding. Our proposal was to have a system that involved the cutting of the number of days at sea by 20% to 25% but the European Union, in its wisdom, and the then Government told us that was impossible because we did not have the scientific evidence to back it up. My education is fairly limited but one does not need a lot of education to realise that cutting the number of days at sea by 20% will conserve stocks rather than throwing dead fish back into the sea. I hope that answers Deputy McNamara's question.

Mr. John Walsh:

On the question of added value, if island boats were able to land the fish directly on the island, there would be great potential to create employment and add value, especially with salmon and shellfish, which are high in product value. This should be part of the overall fisheries management plan for the islands. On my island in 1900 there were 13 boats fishing for scallops, each with a crew of three. They were selling directly to the Billingsgate market in London. I can see why we cannot do that again. Our objective is to create an island brand for both agricultural and fisheries products.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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Is there any movement towards adopting the system of geographical area of origin for island fisheries? Is there any movement at European level towards applying for brands such as "Island caught"? I am not sure whether it is possible for fish.

10:50 am

Mr. John Walsh:

I think it is possible to do it, but there are no such moves at the moment.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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In theory that is technically possible, yes.

Mr. Jerry Early:

Perhaps Mr. O'Brien could comment on that. We could perhaps broaden the discussion. As far as we are concerned, we all have our problems. However, we feel that our island - and we have all alluded to the islands at particular times - is dead on its feet. We can change things very fast by what we are proposing. Deputy Harrington spoke about aquaculture but, unfortunately, it does not work everywhere. Our geographical situation is not always suitable for aquaculture.

The same can apply to sea angling and Mr. O'Brien can explain that situation. We are hemmed in so far that we can see no way out, so we need immediate help. All stakeholders have their own concerns, which I appreciate, but as an islander in Donegal I feel that our concerns are at the bottom of the chain. It is imperative for the survival of the Donegal islands in particular - I cannot speak for the others but I am sure we all have the same concerns - that something is done to consider our proposals.

As regards aquaculture, I know different things are being proposed. There are various arguments regarding the pros and cons, but we will leave that to the scientists, although I have my own opinion. The situation must be carefully managed so that aquaculture will not impinge or endanger the shellfish sector or the shoreline sector, including periwinkles. There is a big grey area which must be examined.

On our island aquaculture may be the way, although it is not our preferred route. We could work in conjunction with that sector. One may ask how aquaculture can save Arranmore, but it will take five years for all the studies and business plans to be completed. It may be a case of considering something on land, such as a contained aquaculture project.

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
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Yes. I know what Mr. Early is talking about.

Mr. Jerry Early:

That may be the answer. Due to our geographical situation, however, I would be sceptical about the open-sea option. The scientists and others can bat that around the cage, as we are not experts on that aspect. Mr. O'Brien has some points that really have to be heard, however.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Certainly. He is more than welcome to make the points. This sub-committee was established to create a forum where we could hear the thoughts, proposals and concerns of various interest groups, specifically including island communities and small rural coastal communities that are not part of the bigger offshore fishing industry. That is the whole purpose of this sub-committee, so in order for us to feed in something useful we need to hear from the stakeholders. We will try to come up with a report that acknowledges those concerns and see if harmony can be achieved between them all.

Mr. O'Brien is welcome to contribute.

Mr. John O'Brien:

I come from a small Gaeltacht island off the Donegal coast called Oileán Inis Bó Finne. I did my first sea journey when I was three days old. I was taken to the mainland for a christening and I have nearly been at sea ever since. I started night salmon fishing in 1970 or 1971 at the age of 11 or 12 with my father. At that time, there was only night fishing. The boats would leave the harbour at about 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. and go to the fishing grounds until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. They would shoot their nets just before dark and haul them in again at sunrise before returning home with their catch.

That was going on very well between trying to raise the children, as well as a bit of farming and fishing. However, in 1976 or 1977 a new type of net came on the market that could catch fish during the day. That is when the whole thing started to go wrong. It was welcomed by the mothers and grandmothers who had sons and husbands at sea, and who had waited for them to come home during the night, in that they could earn their living during the day. However, somebody in some Department, for reasons best known to themselves, decided that this could not be allowed. The new net could be used for fishing cod, haddock and pollack but it was illegal for salmon.

It was easy to catch fish during the day but since our licences did not cover those nets, everybody went fishing, including gardaí, school teachers, shop keepers and publicans. If the publican could not go, he would buy a boat and send a few customers out and would get all the money back. That went on for 20 years probably until 1997 when we had a war with the navy. When an Arranmore boat was being arrested and taken ashore, the boats from Inishbofin and Tory Island would sneak out while they were taken to the court, so we would land our catch. Nobody wanted to do anything about it because it was a hot potato.

In 1997, the rainbow coalition Government was in power. The then Minister of State, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, was in charge of fisheries and he had the courage to legalise monofilament nets. It was a step in the right direction. We paid a high price for it, in a way, but at least we were legal. The fishing limit was reduced from the 12-mile limit to the six-mile limit. In addition, it was restricted to four days instead of five and eight weeks instead of 12, but at least things were legal. We were going on the right track.

The subsequent Government introduced tags and quotas. After monofilament nets were legalised there was a widespread decline in fishing because only licensed fishermen could operate. There was therefore a big decrease in the amount of boats going to sea. Up to that date the sector was managed depending on the amount of fish landed. When scientists saw this big decrease in landings, however, they stated there cannot be any fish left so they started to introduce quotas and tags.

Sea angling had a strong lobby group which approached various Ministers because they wanted the fishery closed down altogether. They started a campaign to stop driftnet fishing. Meanwhile, some commercial fishermen on the west coast joined with the anglers. They were approached by the Nascro group whose chairman came all the way from Iceland. We hear a lot about Iceland nowadays. The man from Iceland offered people a lot of money to give up their licences.

The driftnet representative - I think he was in the salmon commission - wrote to us asking how much money it would take to buy us out. Would it be €60,000, €100,000, €250,000 or more? I think I sent my reply saying "More", even though I had no intention of giving up my licence. Things moved rapidly from 1997 with the introduction of tags and a decrease in landings due to many people leaving the industry. There was a wide campaign to get us out of fishing.

When it came to the crunch, however, there was no money from Iceland, even though about 50% of people had volunteered to leave the industry. I was appointed to the board of the national fisheries commission in October 2005, but a lot of decisions had been taken before then.

That was the Fianna Fáil Government. The Fine Gael Government had different ideas. It was not going to close the fisheries. Rather, it intended to give a setaside and pay compensation to anyone who wanted out. It would pay any fisherman who wanted to stay on for three years to see how things worked out. Of course, Fine Gael left government and that did not happen. It is in government again.

In my time on the commission, we sat around a table and, from my first day, I was approached by fisheries representatives, including private fisheries and anglers, and asked how much money it would take to buy our organisation out. I told them my licence was not for sale. The way I got my licence was strange. I did not get my father's licence, which went to someone else. When I was 17, a man from Gola Island was getting on in years. I will name him because the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, Deputy Dinny McGinley, might be related to him. He keeps telling us about his relations on Gola Island. Tadhg McGinley sold his boat and the nets. I bought the nets for £900 and the licence came with them. The licence could be transferred to one's name. I was not about to sell that licence. During my time on the commission there was a great deal of toing and froing and pressure from the angling group about closing it down. The Fianna Fáil Government gave in to the pressure and a compensation scheme was put in place. It was not voluntary. It was compulsory to align with the scientific committee and a single-stock fishery. As an islandman and an island representative, I could not go along with that.

They sent me the form for the salmon hatchery scheme. I have the form in its envelope with me. One was to send the form back and it would be estimated how much fish one had caught in the last five years. One received €25 per fish and an amount for them to put one's net on the bonfire. I did not send the form away. My problem was that for people who could move to a single-stock fishery there was an alternative. For us, there was no alternative. For somebody to offer me money going back over five years to relieve me of my hardship would not work. The best it could do was take me forward five years. That five years would have run out last year or the year before. Here we are today thinking that an injustice was done. I am waiting for someone to put it right. I will not give up on it. I hope it will be done this year and, if not, next year but at the latest in 2016. That is why I mentioned Tadhg McGinley's boat, the licence from which I got. In 2016, whoever is in government might think of that boat and the men who died for our country and give back our licences and our fair play. That is all I have to say.

11:00 am

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Essentially, the issue is about driftnet fishing.

Mr. Richie Flynn:

I will give some of my time to my chairman, Mr. Jerry Gallagher, to discuss scallops in particular. Deputy Martin Ferris asked a question on Galway Bay, which I will deal with now rather than to have the whole meeting discuss it. The committee has discussed it and will have BIM and the Marine Institute in to talk about it also. To be clear, the IFA supports salmon farming in principle but cannot and will not lobby for any particular licence be it public or private. The IFA believes the application process, no more than a planning permission or other process, must be upheld. I am sure that legislators agree that the process must be apolitical.

The science is sound as far as the IFA is concerned and there is no doubt about it. We should not let opinion overrule facts. I am personally concerned, having worked in the sector for 17 years, that there has been a great deal of scaremongering and hype. Many piseogs I thought were dead in the 1980s have been resurrected. They have to be dealt with. I am also very concerned for my existing members. I mentioned them earlier and the 600 licence applications that have been made. The IFA has been clear from the beginning that in dealing with the new approach BIM is pursing, which is innovative, there must be a parallel process to deal with existing licence applications for shellfish and finfish by people who have invested a great deal of time, energy and money into this business over the last 20 to 30 years. There are definitely offshore sites which must be investigated. We definitely need critical mass. I explained to the committee before about turning customers away and the embarrassment of going to international seafood fairs and saying to very important international supermarkets and processors and restaurants "Thank you very much for your interest in Irish salmon and Irish shellfish, but, we are very sorry, we are not being allowed to produce what we would like to produce to fulfil your orders. So, thank you but no thanks". It is a terrible position for anyone to be put in in this day and age. It is always the default position of some regulators to kick thorny issues like this to touch by setting up another committee to look at the science all over again. I have been at this long enough and sat on all the committees. As far as I am concerned, the case is closed on foot of the new science and there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

There are many different types of aquaculture. It is similar to the case on land. No one would dream of tillage farming in the Burren but they might set up a very successful salmon smoking company there. In fact, one was set up in Lisdoonvarna which sells Irish organic farmed salmon around the world. That brings me to the second question about sustainability. Irish aquaculturalists realised a long time ago that, with the best will in the world, there was no way to compete with the 1.2 million tonnes coming from Norway so we developed niche marketing on the organic side, particularly with salmon and trout. The shellfish industry is now getting involved. "Sustainability" is the buzzword, which we have recognised. We are getting very good prices for our products. Bord Bia has introduced the new "origin green" initiative and I am proud to say that two IFA members have been among the first people to embrace it and get involved in the auditing. It is available for fish and I encourage producers to get involved.

I am personally drafting a Europe-wide sustainability charter for the aquaculture sector which will be launched in Dublin in May. It consists of a five-point plan to hand the aquaculture industry to the next generation on a sustainable basis. It is very exciting and I look forward to the launch. Labelling is vital, particularly country-of-origin labelling. We have said it before to the committee. Control of labelling is vital also. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the HSE must be involved as must the SFPA It is very interesting that the branding of special areas of conservation, or SACs, was raised. We have no problem with SACs, which protect environments and birds or other wildlife. We depend on the environment for our livelihoods. The problem with SACs has not been the fact that places have been designated, it has been the way that the system has been mishandled from day 1 by Dúchas, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department.

That is where we have the problem and we need to get this sorted out with Brussels. There are niches in fishing and farming and we can capitalise on our green image.

On the point of native versus farmed oysters, there are some native types farmed as well. Ireland has the largest number of native oyster fisheries, 12, left in Europe after the diseases which hit the industry in the 1960s and 1970s. The combination of pacific oysters and native oysters is working very well. The oyster farmers in Clarinbridge, County Galway, point out that the native oysters are coming back because they are settling in those areas where they are bottom-growing pacific oysters. Those fisheries need to be protected and we should be extremely proud of them.

11:10 am

Mr. Jerry Gallagher:

I thank the Chairman for the invitation to present to the sub-committee. Mr. John O'Brien and I used to leave the same pier in Mulroy Bay for many years to go fishing. I even went with his boat to fish for salmon, lobster and crab. In 1992, I formed North West Shell Fish Limited. Mulroy Bay in north-west Donegal would be renowned around the world for scallop production. In the late 1970s and early 1980s people were going into mussel production and put out ropes to collect mussel seed in the bay. However, they found they were covered in scallop seed. In Ireland this was not such a big deal but in France, where they had depleted their scallop fisheries, they were looking at wild collection, hatchery production and so on. A delegation from France came to work with Irish scientists, including Dr. Dan Machin. They stated if they had Mulroy Bay in France, they would have built a high wall around it and nothing else would be allowed in.

In the early 1990s, while we continued fishing, we formed North West Shell Fish Limited. The scallop settlement would be sporadic in Mulroy Bay. In 1997 and 2007 we had a good settlement. We got our first licence in 1995 which was expanded in 1997 but these expired after ten years in 2005 and 2007. We are awaiting a renewal of our licence. This is impacting on the whole scallop industry as there is very little scallop production elsewhere but in Mulroy Bay. The European king scallop, the pectin maximus, is one of the most difficult shellfish species to cultivate. Oysters, clams, mussels and so forth can be settled in a hatchery but for scallops the water quality has to be the purest. Even the smallest amount of bacteria will prevent the scallop larvae from settling.

North West Shell Fish was the model for the scallop industry. Anyone interested in getting involved in it who contacted BIM, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, was sent to us. While the French have not been so involved recently with our industry, the Norwegians have since the late 1990s. Some delegations have come over to us in Mulroy Bay to see our operations. We put out spat collectors in Mulroy Bay in what we call an onion bag. It is a monofilament net that comes in rolls of 1,000 m by 1 m from which we would cut off a strip of 1 m. We would have over 100,000 of these collectors. We monitor the water quality and take samples to see when the larvae are about to settle. There is a lot of science involved. The Norwegians were not going down that road because they wanted the hatchery model but they wanted to see how the rest of the scallop industry worked. They went diving with us during the harvesting.

In 2007, we teamed up with Valentia Island Scallop Fishermens Association which has a large area within the radius of Valentia Island. We were invited to invest in its programme but many did not because it was in the boom years and when one was not building houses and selling them one was doing nothing anyway. A good number, however, did invest and put the funds into predator control and other measures necessary in Valentia Harbour.

Spat collection in Mulroy Bay is sporadic. There is no brood stock in the north water part of the bay. We have asked BIM to come do a survey on this which it did last year and the previous year. In both surveys, BIM only found one scallop. It is a bit like having a hatchery with no brood stock. We have invested an absolute fortune in this through selling sites on our farms and so forth. Due to the licensing situation, we cannot seed scallops in that area. There is a fisheries order in that area from 1980 to protect this part of the bay. The main element to the collection of scallop larvae is the retention of water within a bay. The scallop spawns and its larvae will swim around for roughly three weeks before they settle on some structure. We work closely with our near neighbours who are fishing the Irish Sea along with the Irish fleet. I will not mention the country. They see the benefit of what we are doing. This is the uniqueness of Mulroy Bay. It goes back to issue of sustainability if we were doing what we should be doing and the licensing regime was in place.

We intend to build a hatchery. The Norwegian people I mentioned came over and they have successfully developed a hatchery process. They are keen to work with us on a hatchery and we have also secured investors. We are in a position to build a hatchery on the banks of Mulroy Bay but because it is a special area of conservation and appropriate assessments have not been carried out we are in a situation that is similar to the entire industry in Ireland. Valentia is not unique. Numerous co-operatives around the coast see scallop, mussel and oyster production as the only way out.

As has been noted by the other speakers, it takes all the elements. Coming from a fishing background I see how the elements can come together. In all of these species, whether mussels, scallops or oysters, a certain biomass is required to develop a bridge stock. Aquaculture is the way to go because it is a managed stock. If it was not for us I suggest there would be no scallops left in Mulroy Bay. We have been managing the stock in part of the bay but we face a bottleneck in terms of collection. We depend on a transfer of larvae.

There is not a problem in sustainability of shellfish from the perspective of aquaculture. There is an overlap between aquaculture and inshore fishing and Valentia provides a perfect example. There are niche markets for these products. We are now supplying live and shelled scallops to the Asian market. We get €6 per kilogram for the scallops we dive harvest. The product from the Irish Sea fishery is probably worth less than half that figure. We are not dealing with the same markets. Norway also operates a dive fishery. The aquaculture shellfish sector can flourish if the Government creates an environment that allows people to do things. That is all I am asking.

11:20 am

Ms Caitlín Uí hAodha:

Mr. O'Brien is lucky he was offered money for this licence. My salmon licence was revoked in 1985 so they did not have to pay me anything.

Whether one is fishing at sea or on the islands, salmon fisheries show how badly we have managed our fisheries. We lobbied strongly in the 1980s to control salmon fisheries with a certain number of nets but the lobbying to which Deputy Harrington referred is the reason our industry is as it is. We lobby people all the time and those who shout the loudest get the most. That is one of the issues we must consider. I return to the question of how our herring fisheries are ring-fenced, because boats from a certain country have more fishery access to our area than anybody else. These practices will not create sustainable fisheries or sustainable communities.

I imagine it is not possible to fish herring and mackerel from the islands in County Donegal because the EU law that affects us also trickles down to affect the people who live on those islands. They no longer have the privilege of fishing on their doorstep. These laws have to change and we have to examine what we are doing to protect coastal people and, by doing so, the rest of us. We are all in the same boat, whether it is a punt or a large vessel. Boxes create huge problems and they take from coastal areas which enjoyed traditional fishing rights. The people on these islands should be able to jig or fish for mackerel or herring. The pot of fish we owned should have been dished out more fairly but we need to consider the matter carefully so that we do not continue to operate in the same way. If we continue to ring-fence and box fisheries, the boxes will get smaller because the bigger guys will eventually devour the smaller ones.

The island people are also part of us, but they are being squeezed out because of EU law and bad Irish policy which closed salmon fishing to them. I lost my licence to fish salmon even though we lobbied for a sensible approach. That is the one thing missing from fishing policy in this country. In aquaculture, I know someone who is trying to get classification for Youghal Bay. It has taken him two years to even carry out a study. There is a fishery in the bay that we are not allowed to use. Why does the fishing community have to address this committee every year? Where is the barrier between sense and what is going on? As I noted in my opening statement, the industry is worth €500 million but we have no security. None of us can go to a bank with a plan for the next five years because we do not know what the EU or the Department will bring down the line. There is no way forward unless we come out of the boxes. We need people who will stand up for the industry rather than simply dealing with those who shout the loudest.

Mr. Richie Flynn:

The question of protected geographical indicators, PGIs, is very relevant. PGIs are available for fish and the first PGI granted in Ireland was for Clare Island salmon, which is now a protected name. There is great potential around the coast, particularly in respect of shellfish, to designate PGIs. The UK, which has a relatively small oyster industry, highlights the qualities of oysters from particular bays. There is a lot to be said for marketing and branding on that basis.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the delegates. I recognise the group is not as large as it would normally be due to other business. However, this discussion will be in the Official Report. I am conscious that all the witnesses have travelled extensive distances to appear before the committee and for this reason it was fair to give everyone a chance to speak. I invite Mr. Ó Cnáimhsí to make a comment.

Mr. Séamus Ó Cnáimhsí:

I am an islander from Arranmore in County Donegal. I wish to draw the committee's focus back to the islands in the context of the recent legislation passed in Europe specifically recognising islands and their fisheries. I fully support what Mr. Early and O'Brien have said. The island group with which we work support their call for an easing of the salmon ban and the various restrictions in area VIA. Island fishermen want to fish. The most recent figures from the Marine Institute indicate that offshore fisheries are worth €1.1 billion per annum. As Mr. O'Donnell noted, the latest figures on inshore fisheries suggest a value of €30 million. It is a huge resource and the islanders just want their fair share of it.

The European legislation is not accompanied by co-ordinated national legislation. We would like to see a cross-departmental working group with island representation and a focus on implementation. Considerable work has been done over the years but many of the ensuing reports are just sitting on shelves. The time has long passed to put them into practice. If there is a need to consolidate management structures, that should be done. The focus should be on providing infrastructure and conservation measures so that fisheries are sustainable in the long term.

We need to move away from the current short-term management systems towards long-term management of fisheries.

A 20-year timescale should not be out of the question. If one wants fisheries and the communities which depend on them to survive, that is the way we will have to start to think. Until now fisheries management has relied heavily on economics and on scientific advice. There are provisions in the European legislation, including under the Common Fisheries Policy, to support indigenous communities. Their input as part of the process has not been taken on board until now and the joint sub-committee should take that into consideration when making its recommendations. A process should be put in place with national representation agreed with the fishermen and the various State agencies.

We would welcome an integrated coastal zone management system. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is engaged in public consultation at the moment. The islands should be specifically recognised in that process because they have particular circumstances. Any legislation or policies introduced should be island-proofed. Individual islands are working on various initiatives, whether in fishing, training or in aquaculture. The point is they cannot do so alone and need to take a co-ordinated, national approach. A bit of foresight and planning is also needed, so they can plan for the long term.

Deputy McNamara asked about regional branding. There are examples around the Marine Stewardship Council. For example, Cornish handline mackerel fishermen have established sustainable fisheries and they get a premium price for their product in the market over and above the standard price.

There are legitimate concerns about aquaculture which must be addressed. Examples include escapees from farms, the sustainability of fish feed - that is, that the feed is sourced from sustainable sources - sea lice, waste and disease.

I refer the joint sub-committee back to the submission made by the Inis Óirr and the Aran Islands communities who have specific concerns which cannot be discounted and should be addressed. There is a balance between employment and other aspects.

11:30 am

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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On Mr. Ó Cnáimhsí's last point, that is going through due process. It is a live application. We must see what comes out of that but we will not be involved in it. Did Mr. Ó Cnáimhsí say the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government was engaged in a consultation process?

Mr. Séamus Ó Cnáimhsí:

It is closed. It recently made a call for submissions on an integrated coastal zone management system for all of our marine areas.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Departments were before the joint sub-committee. I mistakenly thought it was the Department Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. That is taking quite a while but it will be seen as an asset to many things, other than just aquaculture. The one worry is that in a non-SAC application, it is not looked at. We should alert people as to why that is the case.

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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There is a separate process for the coastal zone management process and the baseline data collection process for the SACs. It is something we could take up. As Mr. Ó Cnáimhsí said, decisions could be island-proofed. Decisions are taken which have unintended consequences for islands in all legislation and not just in this area.

Mr. John Walsh:

The west Cork islands have an integrated development group on which all the agencies are represented in partnership with the islands. The only Department which will not sit on it is the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which is ironic since we are dealing with islands. Ireland has a marine affairs attaché in Europe who I met in UCC a few weeks ago but she does not cover islands either, which is also ironic.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine took the lead in establishing this joint sub-committee, which is a cross-departmental one. We had to pull together the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which is responsible for islands, and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The joint sub-committee was established to cover all the Departments relevant to our focus. As it included islands and inland fisheries, we had to pull in three Oireachtas joint committees representing a cross-section. That is why we were a little slow getting going. We had to try to get the configuration correct. We have been given a huge amount of information.

Mr. Jerry Gallagher:

Could I make a point?

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Very quickly.

Mr. Jerry Gallagher:

Perhaps the joint sub-committee is aware of it but under axis 4, FLAGs, fisheries local actions groups, have been set up around the country. It is a new fund and should have been set up a number of years ago but we, in Ireland, are lagging behind again. BIM is administering the fund and this is exactly what it is for. Six have been set up around the coast. Some take in two counties but Donegal has one. The islands are involved as well. The fund is administered to local communities devastated by what is happening in the fisheries sector. If it has the power to do so, will the joint sub-committee lobby for funding? There is approximately €1.5 million in total for the coastal communities between 2013 and 2014, which is insignificant, but from 2015 to 2021, there is potential to attract some real money into this programme.

The EU documentation explains what it is about as well as who it supports, namely, communities within ten miles of the coast, excluding populations of 10,500. We have spoken about inshore fisheries, aquaculture, coastal communities and the islands. This fund could really make a difference if proper funding was available. It is up to Ireland to look for that money.

There is a central implementation board and we had a meeting in Dún Laoghaire last week with Michael Keatinge as chair. As I said, BIM is administering it. There is a bottom-up approach. There are 16 people on the board in Donegal and it is community based.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Gallagher for that information. This is the second session we have had on this issue and we have three more to go. The next one will include Alyne Delaney and a representative of Teagasc. After that we will meet Údarás na Gaeltachta, BIM, the Marine Institute and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. We will finish with representatives of Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland.

If one looks at the principles of CAP, there is a Pillar 1 and a Pillar 2, which is about rural support mechanisms. The CAP funding seeks to support rural communities. As with the Common Fisheries Policy, it is not always monetary, except for initiatives like that which Mr. Gallagher highlighted where money can be drawn down. The Common Fisheries Policy and European islands policies need to reflect the need to support dispersed rural communities, whether on an island or on remote coastal shore. We are trying to devise a report which can recommend a model for social and economic support for that. That is the objective of the exercise.

In response to the question on lobbying, we can certainly get time allocated to have the report debated in both Houses. This is an all-party committee and we try to raise issues in a non-confrontational manner. The delegates will probably be aware from this meeting that we do not engage in political battles. I do not pretend to be an expert on fisheries, although I live in a coastal county, Wicklow, but I am learning. The longer we engage in this process the more I learn.

I appreciate that people have travelled a distance to appear before the joint sub-committee. It is important that everybody has had an opportunity to have their say. Today's groups are at the coalface of the industry and it is important that we hear what they have to say. We changed the order of the proceedings so that we would hear the contributions from the fishermen's organisations after hearing the representatives from the Departments. We think it is more important to hear the views of the fishermen before the statutory bodies, such as BIM, the Marine Institute and others appear before us.

I thank all the delegates for attending today and I wish everybody a happy Easter and a safe trip home. The joint sub-committee now stands adjourned until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 April 2013.

The joint sub-committee adjourned at 11.55 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 April 2013.