Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

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

Report on Promoting Sustainable Rural Coastal and Island Communities: Discussion

2:00 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the two groups to the meeting. The Donegal Islands Marine Resource Organisation is represented by Mr. Jerry Early, Ms Majella Ní Chríocháin and Mr. John O'Brien and the Loop Head Tourism Group is represented by Mr. Luke Aston. I thank the delegates for coming before the joint sub-committee to discuss issues contained in the committee's recent report on promoting sustainable rural coastal and island communities and how the report's recommendations can be best implemented.

Before we begin, I must notify the delegates of the procedure on privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons 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 or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I understand Mr. Early from the Donegal Islands Marine Resource Organisation will lead the opening comments and he will be followed by Mr. Aston. I invite Mr. Early to proceed.

Mr. Jerry Early:

I thank the Chairman for the invitation to present to the committee. It is our third time to attend here and we are quite chuffed to be back a third time. Our organisation which was originally the Donegal Islands Fishermen's Group has evolved into the Donegal Islands Marine Resource Organisation, DIMRO, on which I will expand later.

I welcome the report. It is a fantastic report and it offers us a fantastic opportunity. The reaction of the islanders in general to the report has been very positive. That is a step forward. I want to put on record that I believe it is imperative that this report is implemented. I hope our good friends lobby as hard as they can to get whatever must be done to achieve that. It really and truly serves as our best and last hope for progressing on what we have achieved so far.

My colleague Mr. John O'Brien, who was in the Donegal Islands Fishermen's Group and is now in the DIMRO will speak about certain proposed amendments to it and the members of the committee might like to talk to him about those. Ms Majella Ní Chríocháin is from Comdháil na nOileáin and she will speak about how we intend to broaden our horizons within the islands group to include all the islands. At present the islands group is the DIMRO but we want to expand to include all the islands off the island of Ireland.

The history of the Donegal Islands Fishermen's Group started in 2007 with the ban on drift net fishing of salmon.

We felt it was a huge blow not just to the islands but to the entire west coast region. The islands in Donegal were heavily dependent on salmon fishing. While we were fighting that case, restrictions on area 6A were introduced. These exceeded our own role and required us to look further afield because we were fighting a battle on two fronts. We were fighting the salmon ban as well as trying to restore what we regarded as our resources and our right to fish in area 6A. That battle took us to Brussels and many other parts of Europe.

The Donegal islands group comprised three islands in particular, Aranmore, Inisbofin and Tory, to a lesser extent. We are self-funded and have never sought funding from other sources. We believed it was something we had to do as a legacy for our own children. Our fight took us on a journey that none of us expected to last seven years. I am hopeful this report may finally allow us to take a step in the right direction. I hope it will be seen as progress. The Common Fisheries Policy negotiations happened to take place while we were on our journey. We met with Commissioner Demanaki, who was very sympathetic given that she also was an islander. Amendment No. 14a to the final draft of the CFP states: "Small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing should be especially recognised and supported both financially and through the allocation of additional resources, in order to enable them to survive and prosper in the future". That was a significant provision but the matter stopped there. We need guidance from the sub-committee because, at the end of the day, we can only play the small islander card. That appears to be a major statement of intent but we need guidance from members on how we can benefit from what they are telling us in the corridors of Europe. We need help and guidance on how to break down that amendment to make it work to our benefit.

The inshore sector in Ireland is generally recognised as fragmented, with no defined goals or roles. For the want of a better word, it is a mess and it needs to be totally revamped. I suggest that a new group be established to oversee the sector. Approximately 80% of fishermen in Ireland operate in the sector. They are not being represented at any level, however. The bigger, pelagic, boats are represented by the KFO and the IFPO, which are paid on a commission basis. Unfortunately, we cannot afford to pay the commissions these groups request. In the last month, due to the lobbying power of the pelagic fleet, the mackerel quota was increased by 65%. I am very happy for those fishermen but that does not solve the problems that the other 80% of fishermen face. Particularly in Donegal, inshore fishermen have no choice but to fish for two species, namely, crab and lobster. Last week, unbelievably for the beginning of May, lobster made €10.50 per kilogram. That is a disaster because at this stage of the year the prices are not going to increase. The price has not even bottomed out. We have been corralled into one fishery and confined to two shellfish stocks. Foresight is needed from either the Oireachtas or the Minister in expanding on this report, which offers something for everyone, not just the islanders but all those who live in coastal regions. The inshore sector has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. It is far too easy for Departments to push the problem elsewhere while there is no defined single line of responsibility. I acknowledge that BIM is trying its best but it is overloaded in the wrong areas.

We believe these changes are important to our continued existence on the islands. I do not say this lightly. It was a survival plan and that is why our fight has continued for seven years. Our existence depends on this report being implemented. People need to stop the talking and devise a plan. Everybody we speak to wants the islands to survive but, as far as I can see, that is not happening. A structured plan is required whereby all the political parties come together to preserve the islands as the jewels in the crown for this country. The sooner we do that, the better. This report offers the best chance of achieving that objective.

2:05 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Unfortunately, Deputy Pringle has had to leave the meeting to speak on Question Time in the Dáil.

Mr. Jerry Early:

He sent his apologies.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I also apologise on his behalf.

Mr. John O'Brien:

I join Mr. Early in welcoming the report. Considerable effort was invested in drafting it and it has provided good groundwork on finding a solution to the problems we face. The ban on drift net fishing for salmon in 2006 was a disaster for the entire west coast of Ireland and, in particular, island communities. We are totally dependent on seasonal fishing. As Mr. Early noted, lobster are currently selling at €10.50 to €11 per kilogram, compared to €17 or €18 per kilogram this time last year. When salmon fishing was an option we managed our stock by looking forward to 1 June when we could start drift netting for wild Atlantic salmon. When the new regulations were introduced to the effect that salmon could only be caught in rivers, island communities were excluded. An injustice was done in that regard and we are never going to give up until that injustice is corrected.

That is because anywhere it has been done, it has never gone away. It is always there to haunt one.

There was money available under the hardship scheme so that if one took it, one would go away and keep quiet. Those of us here and the people we represent did not avail of the hardship scheme because we did not see any future in it. One only gets money, which one spends and that is the end of it. We wanted a heritage licence to pass on to our sons. I own my own boat and my three sons work with me. We created our own jobs. We are self-employed, which is a bit of disaster, especially given all the bad weather this year.

Many of the things which went wrong for us started from the time we joined the EU. Putting us into boxes and having entitlements to crab, lobster, cod, etc., does not work. As Mr. Early said, it might work to a certain extent for those who took advantage of the POs and moved to larger vessels, the pelagic boats, which have 90% or probably more of the mackerel and the herring quota. As Mr. Early said, through strong lobbying, they got a huge increase in the mackerel quota, although that is not exactly true. The country - the Irish Government - got a huge increase in the quota and it is up to it to distribute it among the right people. The people of the Donegal islands and along the whole western seaboard should get a percentage of that. Until this year, I think we only had half a tonne per day. From what I hear, these large pelagic boats are not dancing as a result of this huge increase either because they are afraid the prices will drop to the same extent as the quotas have gone up. The Irish Government - the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine - got the increase in the quota and it is up to it to share it fairly. The committee and the report must ensure that fish is distributed equally among all those who have a full polyvalent licence and who have an entitlement to that fish.

Much emphasis is placed on 10 m boats and more flexibility for them. We want some more work done on that. Since we started that campaign six years ago, I have been invited to many places, especially the Mediterranean and the French islands. While we get €10 per kilo of lobster, they get €60. A 10 m boat in the Mediterranean is a large boat because of the weather there. To encourage fishermen off the Donegal coast to try to earn a living with a 10 m boat would be close to a disaster. Members will have noted the weather we had from October to January. I have a 12 m boat and I try to work all year round with it. To try to be self-employed with anything less than a 12 m boat would be a disaster.

The problem with the fishing industry is that one is either in it or one is not. One has to be self-employed, which puts a lot of pressure on one to go out in all sorts of weather to earn a living. There should be more flexibility in terms of social welfare to reduce that pressure. If not, we should be allowed to have the boats we think suitable for that type of fishing.

If all boats from Arranmore, Tory, Inishbofin or elsewhere are all the same size, they will all compete in the same ground for the same species. There should be more of a variety where the smaller boats fish along the shore and the larger boats move further offshore to fish for different species. It should be simple enough to have a bit of flexibility there. It would be worth listening to groups such as ours which know what they want.

I understand there will be some EU funding for young skippers - skippers under 40 years of age - getting back into the industry. However, the boat must be between three years and 30 years but that does not make sense to us because no new inshore boats have been built in Ireland since 1983, so there are hardly any under 30 year old boats in this country and there is no market for them.

With the new regulations and the end of discards, we should start with a blank page. If we want to end discards, we should design boats which will not bring in discards. We should design boats, like those about which we are talking, specially designed to keep shellfish alive. That is a fishery which has no quota, no mortality and no waste.

As I said, three of my sons are working with me. There were four brothers in my family and we all expanded by getting our own boats. If my sons or Mr. Early's sons want to expand into non-quota species, in particular, they should be encouraged and helped financially by the EU, by BIM or Údarás na Gaeltachta in Gaeltacht areas. I have not seen one job created by Enterprise Ireland, the IDA or Údarás na Gaeltachta in Inishbofin and, as far as I know, in Tory or in Arranmore, although those from Arranmore may correct me. Any jobs created on those islands were created by us with no financial aid.

I do not know who came up with the idea that the boat must be three years old. I mention the boat I tied up last year. I got word from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine that if I did not replace her or put her through the code of practice before the end of July, the licence would be taken off the boat and that if I could not replace the boat within two years, the Department would take back the licence. I would like some financial aid for one of my sons to replace that boat with a boat with which he could earn a living and create another three or four jobs. The jobs I am talking about are jobs on the boat and not jobs in Hannigan Fish Trading or in Earagail Eisce, the people who buy the fish and add value to them.

2:15 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. O'Brien and call Ms Majella Ní Chríocháin.

Ms Majella Ní Chríocháin:

I am from Comdháil na Oileáin, the local development company for the offshore islands of Ireland, that is, the islands from north-west Donegal to south-west Cork. I congratulate the committee on this report which is extremely useful and a step forward in terms of coastal and, in particular, island communities. It is broader than the fishing industry but we owe a debt of gratitude to the Donegal fishermen who have been pushing this for about seven years, mostly unaided. These issues would not be on the table today if it were not for them.

For its part, Comdháil is looking to have a meeting or some event this year to see if we can get all of the fishers on the islands involved in an organisation, as they have done in Donegal. I would say that this is an issue of concern to all of the islanders, just in case there is any perception that this is an issue which is only of concern to Donegal.

The report mentioned Comhairle na Tuaithe or some kind of forum where general policies issues at which the report looked could be progressed. That would be great. I am not sure if the committee is talking about an inter-departmental thing or something that would be broader but certainly Comdháil would be more than happy to sit in on that if it was a possibility. It is really important there is a forum where we examine coastal policy issues which includes fishing but also coastal management and tourism. People may have difficulty with the flags but there are flags in each of the areas where there are islands. Perhaps that is another vehicle where we could look at getting policy issues which are of concern to coastal communities and, in particular, island communities addressed.

Once again, I congratulate the Donegal fishermen. If there is a comhairle na mara or something like that, we would be more than happy to sit on it and work with them.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I propose we take Mr. Aston's presentation and then go to members.

Mr. Luke Aston:

I thank the committee for inviting me. It is my first time in this House, so I am probably not as used to it as these Donegal lads. I am coming from a tourism background now. Sometimes we are so taken up with angling that inshore fishing sometimes clashes.

I was in commercial fishing all my life until I started this and I agree with much of what the other delegations are saying. One of the things that struck me was the idea of 10 m boats. Based on my experience of fishing off the west coast for 25 years, it is a crazy idea. The difference between a 10 m and a 12 m boat is huge.

2:25 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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To put people's minds at ease, we included an indicative measurement. We toyed with 10 m, 12 m and 15 m boats but the figure has been included to deliberately provoke a response.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a chur in iúl don choiste mara ó na hoileáin i nDún na nGall atá anseo. Gabhaim buíochas leis an tUasal Aston fosta. Tuigim nach bhfuil a chuid Gaeilge chomh maith is a bhí sé. B'fhéidir go mbeidh sé in ann cuid den mhéid atá le rá agam a thuigbheáil. Ní raibh a fhios agam gur tógadh é i nGaeltacht Dhún na nGall. Áit álainn atá ann. Tá mé cinnte gur bhain sé sult as. Ba mhaith liom a rá i dtús báire go bhfuil an cruinniú seo tábhachtach. Tá an obair atá ar bun ag an bhfochoiste tábhachtach chomh maith. Tá na moltaí a rinne an choiste ó Árainn Mhór, nó an choiste oileánda a tháinig le cheile go deonach i nDún na nGall, fíorthábhachtach. Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfuil inchur acu sa chóras agus sa phróiseas.

I welcome the representatives. The witnesses are here to learn about the current situation with regard to the report and perhaps to look at alterations to the length of vessels, for example. It is crystal clear that unless an island population has an income stream the population will tend to leave the island because it is impossible to live on fresh air. This has been the pattern in small islands all over the world. Social welfare payments are available but islanders by their tradition and by their nature do not depend on social welfare payments; they want to be grafting and working.

In 2006 the ban on salmon fishing removed a traditional source of income for Arranmore island and other islands down the west coast from Tory to Oileán Chléire. According to Comhar na nOileán figures, in the case of Arranmore island an income stream of between €800,000 and €1 million per annum was wiped away overnight. The option of a soft landing by way of grant aid was available but it was never really an option for the serious fishermen because they had an obligation to their island, to their community and to their families, to continue developing the way of life and to continue to explore options and possibilities for re-opening salmon fishing.

I commend the Donegal islands survival plan and the work of the organisation over the past ten years. They have been swimming against the tide very often and it was difficult but they persevered. Oireachtas Members have an obligation to support the organisation in finding a mechanism, in conjunction with the European Commission.

This report remains to be debated in the Dáil and in the Seanad. There is a need for action and commitments from the Ministers responsible. I agree with Mr. Aston's point which is on the mark. Unfortunately, many of the issues pertaining to the fishing industry and the marine way of life fall between two Departments. I experience this every week that representations to one Department are directed to the other Department; one Department will say it is the responsibility of the other Department. We have recommended the need for a Minister at Cabinet level to have ultimate responsibility for marine tourism and all of the associated links. It will not happen until there is a change of government but it is essential.

It has been recommended that the issuing of heritage licences could be used as a means of re-opening drift net fishing on a controlled basis. These licences would only be available to people who could prove that they and their families had been fishing salmon down through the generations. The angling fraternity makes the point that open drift net fishing will have a negative impact on the rivers and maybe there is some truth in that. However, seals are causing the destruction of our salmon stocks in every bay throughout the country and pollution in the rivers is doing the same.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, has outlined that the habitats directive does not permit seal culling but it is carried out in other countries such as in Canada when salmon stocks are being endangered. We need to persuade the European Commission to exercise some flexibility in this regard. Mr. John O'Brien may have a view on whether it may also be necessary to work with the angling community in order to address some of its concerns. Does the issue of a polyvalent licence for fishing for bait an issue need to be addressed?

Mr. John O'Brien hit the nail on the head with regard to the issue of crab and lobster fishing. Mr. Jerry Early outlined the price of €10.50 a kilo for the best of lobster. This is crazy in my view. Lobster and crab are being over-fished. There is no alternative resource available to the fishermen and the Government policy is actually detrimental to the future stock of crab and lobster. Unless something is changed by way of a heritage licence then that situation will continue.

I agree with Mr. John O'Brien on the mackerel quota. Unfortunately Ireland's mackerel quota is distributed at the discretion of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Very often it goes to the golden 22 and the smaller vessels along the coast do not get their fair share. There should be a percentage of the mackerel licence - at least 20% or 15% - held for smaller vessels. I refer to the 2,162 vessels registered with the Department, 75% of which are under 10 m and almost 90% are under 15 m, yet they are given virtually nothing of a mackerel fishing opportunity. This is not right. While the KFO is to be applauded for doing a great job in lobbying for the larger vessels, the mackerel catch is not all landed in Ireland. We are not gaining out of every tonne that is caught by those vessels whereas the smaller Irish vessels would all land their catches in Ireland and there would be more of a benefit. This issue needs to be discussed with the Minister.

I refer to the Common Fisheries Policy proposal to provide a grant to fishermen as is the case with the CAP where farmers who are aged under 40 are entitled to a 25% increase in the single farm payment. However, it seems ludicrous that the CFP is restricting it to vessels at least three years old whereas young farmers under 40 are not placed under the same restrictions. That is an argument that could be raised. If fishermen can buy new fishing boats then these will be safer, better and more modern and fishermen will be able to fish better.

We should not allow a situation where in 15 or 20 years' some of us might be here discussing the future viability of island communities and saying we should have opened the salmon fishing on a pilot basis 15 years previously. We should not allow ourselves to get to that situation. We need to follow up on the recommendations. I suggest we invite the relevant Ministers to come before the committee to go through each of the recommendations individually.

The issue of marine tourism has been raised. Marine tourism is vital but it has to be holistic and inclusive of everyone. In my own county, Fáilte Ireland, the tourism operators and Donegal County Council promoted angling tourism but this promotion excluded the island communities and what they can offer. Any marine product has to include everyone so that everyone gets a slice of the cake. This must include our islands which are a key national resource. I agree with much of what Mr. Aston said about promoting marine and coastal tourism because it has huge potential. According to the report, every local authority in the country needs to carry out an audit of the facilities available for leisure craft or commercial fishing craft so that a new Minister for the marine will be able to provide the funding needed to implement a plan.

Plans for the development of marine tourism down through the years have focused on isolated parts of the country and not on all of the areas around the coast. That is why it is important to have a bottom-up approach and why the cumann na tuaithe model through Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann or Comhar na nOileán would be hugely important in identifying what is required and in trying to promote tourism and to keep a way of life alive as well.

There would be no point in tourists visiting Arranmore or Tory Island if there were no locals living on the islands, as is the case with Inishbofin in County Donegal. We need to strike a balance because tourists who visit islands would like to see that the traditional way of life is alive and well and people are surviving on the islands. I believe we can achieve such a balance, especially in terms of providing people with an income. The State has an obligation to revisit this issue and the sub-committee will certainly pursue it to our best ability.

2:40 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh na finnéithe ar fad. Ba mhaith liom aontú le beagnach gad rud a bhfuil ráite acu faoi na moltaí. I apologise on behalf of Deputy Ferris who could not attend. Unfortunately, I must leave to attend proceedings in the Seanad in a moment.

The witnesses made a number of important points which the sub-committee should consider pursuing. Mr. Early referred to an amendment providing for special recognition for islands in the Common Fisheries Policy and asked how this could be made to work. Perhaps the sub-committee will ask departmental officials or those involved in drafting the amendment at European Union level what are the implications of such recognition and how we can make it work best for Ireland. From what I have heard, the witnesses are knocking at an open door in this sub-committee whose members have echoed most of what they have said, especially with regard to the length of boats. The sub-committee will revisit this issue based on the evidence provided today. It is important that we examine this issue.

Mr. O'Brien stated there are no inshore boats that are less than 30 years old. Perhaps the sub-committee should seek to obtain some data on that issue. While figures may have been furnished to us, it may be worthwhile to revisit the issue on foot of statistics becoming available on the age of boats.

Mr. O'Brien also raised the important issue of the role of Údarás na Gaeltachta and the IDA in supporting fisherman. The former was able to provide a certain amount of grant aid in the past but this was discontinued, probably for legal or policy reasons. It may not do any harm to ask Údarás na Gaeltachta and the IDA to clarify whether they are in a position to give support to the fishing industry and, if so, how they would be able to do so. Perhaps these organisations must now defer to Bord Iascaigh Mhara in respect of this type of work. I am aware that they were able to provide some support in the past.

On the manner in which the fishing quota is divided, this issue did not arise today or yesterday as it has been around for a long time. The quota comes within the remit of the Government and must be addressed if we are serious about keeping rural and coastal communities vibrant. I apologise again as I must leave to attend the Seanad.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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Mr. Aston referred to difficulties in developing piers. One of the sub-committee's recommendations, which I wholly support, is to make it slightly easier for local authorities to secure funding for the design element of planning for piers. Central funding is already provided by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the bricks and mortar to construct piers.

I am interested in the figures Mr. Aston provided on sea angling. Does he have any figures on the development of sea angling on Loop Head? More important, does he have proposals for developing this activity? The tourism agencies informed the sub-committee that they had identified sea angling as one of the markets they would like to develop. Mr. Aston appeared to indicate that Ireland's sea angling product is falling behind countries such as Iceland and Norway. What practical steps should be taken to correct this? How could we make it easier for groups such as the Loop Head Tourism Group to promote sea angling and attract tourists to their respective areas? Piers are one issue.

Mr. Luke Aston:

What we said was-----

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I will revert to Mr. Aston.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
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I do not wish to appear uninterested in the broader presentation but Senator Ó Domhnaill addressed in great detail the difficulties pertaining to salmon fishing and so forth.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I will ask the witnesses to respond when Deputy Ó Cuív concludes.

Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív:

I propose to focus on the process, the boring element of this discussion. Cén chaoi a dtiocfaimid ón áit ina bhfuilimid go dtí an áit ar mhaith linn a bheith? Is bóthar fada atá i gceist. Caithfimid tabhairt faoi gan dul ar strae ar an mbealach. It is very easy to have a long process. I compliment the Chairman on bringing us to the point at which we have produced this report. This was a straightforward matter, however, in the sense that we knew from the outset what we wanted to achieve. Fair play to the islanders in County Donegal who came here and put an argument to us. It was strongly believed by mo chara in aice liom, an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill, that we should hear what the islanders had to say. We subsequently decided to widen the discussion on the basis that all coastal communities need special attention. Under the direction of the Chairman, the sub-committee has produced a report which makes 29 recommendations.

I understand the witnesses would like us to make one minor amendment to increase the threshold for boats from 10 m. The reference to 10 m vessels in the report is indicative. I hope the representatives of coastal communities will agree that this report is fair and provides a good shopping list which, if delivered to a significant degree, would be a major step in the right direction. It sets out a good agenda on which to work. For this reason, we should not introduce all sorts of new issues until we have doggedly pursued what the proposals the sub-committee developed through this process. As I noted, minor amendments can be made because they do not require us to depart from the concept. We must focus, however, on trying to advance all 29 recommendations.

Mr. Aston painted a very interesting overall picture, one which reflected the position of the sub-committee and fitted all the pieces of the jigsaw together. We want to create an industry whereby the benefits of the seas around the coast rebound significantly to the advantage of local communities, rather than the large operators which are not area specific. The large operators may operate out of one port and deliver their catch into another port 500 miles away. The report focuses on fishermen who fish from and land their catch at the same port.

Recommendation 14 proposes that only boats of a certain size would be allowed to fish within a certain distance from the shore. It does not matter what size of boat is specified, whether 10 m, 12 m or 15 m, or what distance from shore is agreed, whether 12 miles or 14 miles. In that context, it was not very European to use miles rather than kilometres. No European country will cede their right to fish in certain waters, whereas every small maritime community in Europe has an interest in having exclusive access to its maritime waters. If one made a case in Europe for excluding all French and Spanish boats from one's waters, it would be rejected. However, if one were to make a case to French fishermen operating small boats along the French coast that they should have exclusive access to their coastal waters for a distance of 12 miles, they would agree, as would Italian and Portuguese fishermen and so forth. We must develop proposals that fit into the European jigsaw because other proposals that may be more attractive from a chauvinistic point of view would never see the light of day.

The second issue emphasised in the report is salmon. The first requirement is to obtain information. It is amazing that despite the various bans on salmon fishing, there is not a counter in place on every river. Being able to produce boring detail of this nature will get us somewhere. If we could show that the number of salmon in our rivers is increasing, we would be in a better position. It was a lack of information that killed us previously.

I hope all the groups that appeared before the subcommittee and others will propose amendments to tidy up the report before we move on to the next phase. The amendment proposed today relates to the size of boats.

We could then all agree to pursue this through official channels to try to get it implemented. We should pick off each recommendation one by one and ask if it will be implemented. My experience is that some will be accepted, some will be rejected and some will be amended. However, the ones that are accepted can be ticked off once they are done. For the ones that are amended, the witnesses will need to see if they can live with the amendment and can then tick those when they are done. They then need to fight on the other ones to try to get a change of mind. Of course the more that are done, the more it is possible to focus on the remainder. We need to be very dogged and systematic and not be deflected regardless of how long it takes. If it takes five years to get somewhere, we should think that if we had started this ten years ago, it would have been all over five years ago. We have to start somewhere and it is always a slow route through bureaucracy so the witnesses need to have a clear policy set out.

There is a reference to Comhairle na Tuaithe. As the witnesses know, Comhairle na Tuaithe brings the statutory agencies, including the Departments, around the table. If the Departments are not at the table, there is no point in talking because so much rests on them. On the hill walking, there is Coillte Teoranta and all the relevant statutory agencies. In addition, there are farming organisations, Mountaineering Ireland, Keep Ireland Open and so on. All the players are around the table advising the Ministers and much of the time coming to common positions. We did extraordinarily well to come to common positions on all sorts of things where we could all move forward together. I believe if there was a permanent representative group, involving Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann and the small fishermen groups, it would give the witnesses a place at the table on a consistent basis every three or six months. They could go back and sit around the table and this would be on their agenda.

I agree with the recommendation that responsibility for the marine should be in one place, but that is not the case for the moment. This means that representatives of the relevant Departments need to come around the table in order to try to get them to move forward on the agenda. In the committee's work directly with the various Departments and agencies, it is vital to try to push the same agenda in parallel with the organisations represented here today.

There is one recommendation that is totally within the hands of the community organisations represented here today. It is recommendation No. 20, which states that while recognising there are a large number of representative fishing organisations based on geographical area, LOA, and fishing time, all fishing organisations should consider restructuring which would lead to the formation of an inshore fishing organisation to provide a unified voice. The absence of a confederation of local fishing organisations operating on a national basis is very detrimental to their interests. Despite differences in different areas, and there are the usual local loyalties and so on, when it comes to impacting on us as a committee and on the Departments, unless some consensus can be built between lobster fishermen in Connemara, Kerry and Donegal, and people interested in salmon in different counties, the witnesses are at a massive disadvantage compared with the industries that have a national voice. That is not something we can do. Only the people themselves can do that.

Ms Majella Ní Chríocháin knows that when representatives of the various islands around the coast came together 30 years ago to form Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, they dramatically changed the status of the island lobby for 3,000 people. As a Minister, I found it greatly beneficial that representatives of Gaeltacht and non-Gaeltacht islands came together. Going back to that time, there was not a ferry to any non-Gaeltacht islands. In the beginning I believe some people in the non-Gaeltacht islands thought they would be totally subsumed because the Gaeltacht was much stronger. In fact, it worked greatly to the benefit of the non-Gaeltacht islands and brought them up. Therefore, I believe recommendation No. 20 falls back on the witnesses.

In my experience it is very difficult to communicate when it is necessary to communicate with 20 different disparate groups which might not agree all of the time and they have no mechanisms to come to agreement. That is one part that falls to the witnesses and not to us. We have made the recommendation. Europe and the State are organised on the basis of representative groups. Let us think about it - Europe in particular and national representative groups. If we are considering going down the route of a comhairle na mara, unless that is in place the witnesses will not have the impact they should have and they will not see all this happen. If that was put in place they would see a real force for making this happen. I hope that such an organisation could have a full-time office and people who could pursue this as only full-time staff can do. It is very hard for purely voluntary people to do.

Má chuireann tú ceist ar Ms Majella Ní Chríocháin, míneoidh sí cé chomh tairbheach is a bhí sé do na hoileáin. Nuair a raibh eagraíocht uile-oileánda amháin ar fud an chósta le 30 bliain anuas, rinne sé an-difríocht do phobal na n-oileáin.

2:50 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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As Deputy McNamara has just stepped outside, I ask Mr. Early to respond.

Mr. Jerry Early:

I thank Senator Ó Domhnaill. Many of the things he said reflect where we are going. My main response is to Deputy Ó Cuív's point on how representatives of the islands must come together. This is our third time in this forum. When I first came here, I came as an islander and was very intimidated by what I was about to face. I was very intimidated by the people to whom I was to make my presentation. However, I quickly realised that I should not be intimidated because I knew more about the needs of the islands than the people I was addressing. When we started this campaign seven years ago a wise man told us that we were wasting our time. I do not believe we wasted our time.

However, on the back of what Deputy Ó Cuív said about representatives of the islands coming together, since the report was launched on Inisír, the representatives of the Donegal islands - mainly two, even though we were joined by people from Tory slightly - came together as a group and formed the Donegal Island Marine Resource Organisation, DIMRO, which incorporated all the islands, which is up to eight islands, off the Donegal coast. We have moved away from focusing just on Donegal islands to focusing on marine resources, which is the key point, as Deputy Ó Cuív has just mentioned so eloquently. It is a resource that is our resource. I know the Deputy said we could not go to Europe - to France, Germany or Spain - and ask for something back because it would not happen.

The salmon was not taken from us by the French, the German or the Spanish but by our own people. They can give it back to us.

Since DIMRO was established we have been getting the islands to come together and form one large group, exactly as Deputy Ó Cuív proposed. We cannot speak for the coastal organisations. We have been active on the ground. We have been here for seven years so if the seeds sown by this report come to fruition in another five I and everyone here can walk away leaving a legacy.

I congratulate the Chairman. He has been very fair and thorough and many good things can happen with his guidance. We are well aware this is a process and we are prepared to stay with it however long it takes. Each day, month and year we lose people from the islands which needs to be examined urgently, sooner rather than later.

3:00 pm

Mr. Luke Aston:

The answer to Deputy McNamara's question is probably the answer to many of the questions from the fishing lobby, namely, product. It does not matter what one does or how one dresses it up, if one does not have what one says one is going to sell one cannot sell it. The first way to improve angling tourism is to sort out the fisheries. There is no point saying it is two different things. There are many little things one can do. One can bring the tourism people and do everything else about it but unless there is the product and the perception of product, Ireland will never improve its share of the angling market, which is a huge market.

I have lots of ideas. If one takes the product, the salmon was banned because of illegal fishing of salmon, and the perception of illegal fishing which made it easy for the angling lobby to use that against the fishermen. This is the best country in the world for making fantastic rules and not enforcing them. If there are new rules about the size of boats going into the 12 mile limit, the way of fishing and so on but the attitude on the ground is “ah but sure, it’ll be grand” that has to be tackled. We need to get a product, put a system in place and enforce it.

Fisheries and angling are covered by a lot of legislation for passenger licences and fisheries enforcement, the type of fishing and passenger boat one is allowed to use, and every one has a different agency, the coast guard, the navy, the fisheries committee and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. Why not have a coast guard and fishery protection agency? We are all told we have to save money. It would be simple to do this. There could be one agency with good-sized boats. The navy has just bought two fine new vessels. I do not what it costs to crew and run them. In Alaska there is one protection vessel with the fishermen and those involved in angling all on side. That is an obvious example. If we have two or three boats that can stay at sea for a reasonable length of time with a few people who know what they are doing to enforce it and have smaller boats inshore. They will inspect the angling boats and the fisheries. In west Clare, in the Loop Head area the salmon fishing was limited to four days and the type of gear one was allowed and it worked. That was a perfect situation. Had it been recognised as working there would never have been a lobby strong enough to get rid of that salmon fishery.

My business is angling. There is a P5 licence to go outside 3 miles from the land. I get a boat built to that standard, and jump through a lot of hoops to get the licence and I know several other operators who do exactly the same but a fellow can get any old bit of paper, or no paper and go out and there is nobody to stop him doing it. There are no inspections at sea. The person who jumps through the hoops is crucified with costs. If the committee wants to help develop angling the first thing to do is develop the product. That cannot be developed individually but must be part of an overall scheme on the 12 mile limit.

The tourism people will talk about lots of other little things, marketing and access. Only now are we starting to see flights return to the west coast. Up to five or six years ago there were full flights from Holland to Shannon, with a lot of fishermen. They have stopped coming. We think that if people want to come from Germany or Holland it is easy for them to drive for three hours down a fine road from Dublin to the west of Ireland. When one talks to them about it, however, one discovers that they are all, for some reason, used to driving much shorter distances than we are willing to drive. We have to be able to get them from their location to where the product is quickly and easily. In Norway and Iceland there is no limit on weight for fishermen. Little things like that could be done.

Another area of huge potential in Ireland is catch-and-release tuna fishing in Donegal Bay. It is ridiculous that we are not allowed to market it or, in theory, to do it, even though we would be catching and releasing fish because apparently in Ireland there is no quota to land tuna. It would not be landed. There must be joined-up thinking on product development and what we can do.

At any of the main angling shows I have been to in Holland or Germany every council area in Norway had a stand. They all have lots of CDs with sexy-looking fishing on them. I had no interest in angling until I started to do it out of necessity. I very much enjoy it now. Wherever I go in the world I always try to get in a day or two of fishing. I can honestly say there is nowhere like Ireland for fishing. There are 30 or 40 species. I have caught everything from shark weighing over 1,000 lb to tiny culver fish. The Norwegians have cod, haddock, a few plaice and cold fish and can build an industry in which 250,000 people spend €1,000 each. We have a fantastic resource but we are not able to market it. The tourism people tell us people do not go anywhere for fishing. There are 250,000 people from Germany who go sea-fishing in Norway. There are lots of other types of fishing. There are 1 million active anglers in Holland, and the same in Italy and France. America has not been touched. The Chinese love shark fishing. I have taken them out. They are incredible. That has not been touched yet the marketing people will tell us nobody comes to Ireland to go fishing. A basic start would be the recognition that angling produce is a huge market that has to marketed. The product must be there and protected and the facilities, the boats and infrastructure on the piers and so on, must be in place. That is a holistic answer to the question.

All of that must be done and the answer to the question is holistic, as there is not just one element. There is much potential.

3:10 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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We have heard some passionate contributions. We referenced sea angling as a tourism offering within the body of the report as an area of potential. The comments highlight the need for something like a comhairle na mara type of organisation so everybody can be around a table for debate.

Mr. Luke Aston:

We have an Irish charter skippers association, formed with the help of Inland Fisheries Ireland. I am a member of the board and the annual general meeting is normally in the Inland Fisheries Ireland offices. There is currently a discussion about the possibility of introducing an angling licence, involving consultation with all kinds of people. We are banging against the door trying to get consultation.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is one of the reasons a comhairle na mara could be established.

We have scheduled an appearance of the Minister before the joint committee, of which most of us are members. Anybody else on the sub-committee will be invited to attend on 27 May when, if everything goes to plan, the Minister will be here. That is as opposed to waiting for the report to be discussed on the floor of the House, as that is a lottery because many reports are produced by all the committees. I am mindful that the Minister is organising a seminar on harnessing our ocean wealth on 18 June in Dublin Castle, and I hope that will have all the industry players present. It is a starting point.

Some key actions must be taken to continue the momentum, and Deputy Ó Cuív has highlighted a potential framework for progress. We should start with the recognition of the need for a forum, which could be comhairle na mara, and we could consider the issues of the Fisheries Local Action Groups, FLAGs, and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, for example. As Mr. O'Brien indicated, there is probably an anomaly in the rules in getting new vessels running and newly trained fishermen back in business. There is also the matter of the establishment of a national inshore fishing organisation, of which the islands would be a component. We specifically discussed anybody inside the 12-mile limit and the 80% of people forming the ownership and control of the fishing fleet. There would be a sectoral approach but the islands form part of the approach. The amendment would provide recognition and give a good basis for the likes of a comhairle na mara, allowing vehicles for funding such as the FLAGs, the EMFF or others. There would also have to be consideration of the rules guidelines. The committee provided recommendations regarding heritage and pilot licences, as well as drift netting, where data has established that stocks are being replenished. These are specific recommendations, including the limiting of fishing within the 12-mile limit to boats of 12 m or less.

We have the bones of working recommendations which somebody should pick up and drive on. We have proposed the recommendation of a structure to allow that happen. The committee can facilitate but it needs a specific driver. Comhairle na Tuaithe used the likes of the Leader money to pool others to access funding and drive to a roadmap for national trails and walkways, leading to tangible outputs. In spite of what one might read at times, that has been quite positive. People have established and maintained paths while getting paid to do so; these people are not paid for doing nothing. There is harmony in that respect.

Until the Minister comes before us, we can do little else. We will emphasise many of the points raised today and we will take on board some of the suggested tweaks from initial observations of the report. It is the key working document for where we go from here. As somebody not directly involved, I can still see there is a need for anglers, islanders and everybody else - particularly those involved with drift netting and anglers - to sit down together and understand the issues. There were times when they were felt as incompatible but it can be demonstrated that there is compatibility, which will lead to a more swift progression.

That is a reasonable summary of what I consider to be the issues. I was very pleased to be in a position to chair the sub-committee, although I admit I had the least expertise. The sub-committee came together and worked productively to publish a report. It is not intended for it to gather dust, and that is the reason we are having today's meeting and trying to drive the matter in a timeframe. We hope that at the harnessing of our ocean wealth seminar, which is to be an annual event, there will be recognition of this sector. After all, it concerns 80% of the fishing fleet. It has the ability to address much aspiration, even in the amendment to the Common Fisheries Policy.

I thank the witnesses for coming to today's meeting. Unfortunately, some members had to leave, although they were anxious to be here. Deputy Ferris could not be here and Senator Ó Clochartaigh and Deputy Harrington had to leave. They take the report seriously.

The joint sub-committee adjourned at 3.50 p.m.sine die.