Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 22 January 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Inland Fisheries Ireland: Discussion
From Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, I welcome Dr. Ciaran Byrne, chief executive officer, and Ms Suzanne Campion, head of business development.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a 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 they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Any submission or opening statements they have made will be published on the committee's website after this meeting. Members are reminded of a long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House, or any official by name in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind our guests and members to turn off their mobile phones or to switch them to flight mode as they interfere with our sound system.
I ask Dr. Byrne to make his opening statement. We will then take questions from members.
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to outline some of the significant activities of IFI last year and in recent years. I will touch on some of the key areas that may be of interest to the committee in 2018. In 2018, IFI engaged in more than 170,000 patrol hours. These were divided over 30,499 individual controls protecting the inland fisheries resource. In 2018, we seized 808 items, including fishing rods, fish, nets and various types of illegal fishing engines. An average of 14.4 km of illegal nets were seized in recent years. In 2018, we seized 11.5 km of illegal nets.
While this represents a reduction on previous years and is likely related to the reduction in the abundance of our salmon stocks, it is nonetheless a considerable volume of illegal net and is capable of doing significant damage to our fish stocks. IFI initiated over 83 prosecutions for fisheries and environmental offences in 2018, and 82 such prosecutions in 2017.
A significant amount of the work of IFI involves regulatory compliance. In this regard, we interacted with 33,000 angler inspections last year. The anglers in question were checked for compliance with licences, permits and bylaws. An average of 645 checks were carried out on fish dealers. Almost 24,000 environmental inspections were carried out on industrial, agricultural and wastewater treatment plants and civil engineering works. Forty-four fish kills were reported last year. Given the extreme climatic conditions experienced during the summer drought period, the number of fish kills was relatively low. This is a credit to our staff, working in tandem with other relevant agencies, and to the responsible actions of the farming community and others involved in water infrastructure.
IFI has invested more than €3 million in renewing its RIB fleet. Twelve specialised RIBs are being delivered to IFI on a staged basis. At this point, we have received eight of those boats. They are built to the highest standards of safety. Each boat carries an inflatable life raft and has a P6 license attached to it. On foot of this investment, IFI will be able to operate single RIB patrols, as opposed to the twin RIB patrols we have had to operate up to now. This represents a significant operational efficiency for the organisation. It also represents a carbon reduction.
The national strategy for angling development, NSAD, was launched in February 2016 following an extensive research and public consultation process. It is the first comprehensive national framework for the development of Ireland's angling resource.
In 2017, IFI developed an online grant application portal to improve systems and processes used in managing funding schemes and ensure public funds are managed in line with governance requirements. We also introduced an environmental assessment process to ensure environmental governance is achieved. During 2017, IFI helped angling clubs to deliver on the 50 locally-led projects that had been awarded under the 2016 capital grants scheme. In late 2017, we launched a number of additional funding schemes for implementation in 2018 and thereafter. Some €2.9 million was awarded to 174 projects across the country between 2016 to 2018. Approximately 60% of all schemes have been delivered at this point.
Angling access has been improved at 78 locations, with an additional 22 locations due for completion in 2019. Thirty-five habitat enhancement projects, which we expect to complete over this year and next year, were included in the 2017 and 2018 schemes.
In recognition of the difficulties faced by voluntary stakeholders in achieving governance standards, IFI has established a programme management office and appointed an overall programme director and five animators. Their role is to work directly with stakeholders to improve project development and delivery. The benefits of this approach were felt during 2018.
IFI's research division conducts a wide range of applied research programmes to facilitate the provision of data and knowledge concerning the habitats and species under its protection. This is used to support a range of Departments, including our parent Department, in policy development, in support of decision-making and in informing stakeholders and other agencies. The focus on applied research resulted in the publication of 27 international peer-reviewed publications in 2017.
IFI's national research programmes are reinforced by co-operation and partnerships with national and international research and funding organisations. We have had a degree of success in this regard. I refer, for example, to the COMPASS project, where we have achieved €500,000 in INTERREG funding, and to the Catchment CARE project, where we have achieved €2.37 million in INTERREG funding. These achievements were particular highlights in 2018.
IFI remains seriously concerned about salmon abundance levels. If one looks at the pre-fishery abundance levels - the estimated number of fish returning to the coast of Ireland before any exploitation takes place - one will see it is currently estimated that between 240,000 and 300,000 wild salmon are returning to the Irish coast, as against highs of almost 2 million fish in the 1970s. If action had not been taken by the Government in 2006, it is likely that the decline may well have been more pronounced. Concern about salmon abundance nationally and internationally led to 2019 being declared the International Year of the Salmon. This is a joint worldwide initiative of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization and the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. It seeks to raise awareness of what humans can do to ensure salmon and their habitats are conserved.
Inland Fisheries Ireland will take a full and active part in the international year of the salmon to raise awareness of the state of Irish salmon stocks.
IFI successfully implemented two major transformational projects in the business in 2018. It transformed its fleet management and utilisation. All existing systems and processes were overhauled and electronic logbooks, standardised maintenance programmes for all vehicles, additional training for all staff and a vehicle telemetry system were implemented. This has resulted in significant savings on fuel, amounting to more than 30,000 l in 2018, and increases in organisational efficiency. On foot of these changes, IFI was awarded the Fleet Transport Association's VanSafe accreditation and our logistics manager was awarded a Road Safety Authority Leading Light award. In early 2019, IFI will complete this programme by replenishing the fleet with fewer, smaller and more fit-for-purpose vehicles, including a number of electric vehicles. In addition to further fuel savings, this element of the programme will generate a significant CO2 reduction and put IFI well on track for achieving its current carbon reduction targets.
IFI also implemented an organisation-wide time management system in which all staff are now recording daily time, absences and leave in a consistent manner via an online system. This system has improved IFI’s operational efficiency and allowed the development of appropriate management reports which will ensure that the organisation can easily demonstrate compliance with relevant legislation. It is planned to extend this system in 2019 and incorporate additional functionality, such as online subsistence and metric collation modules.
I will highlight an issue that could have positive impacts on IFI if resolved. The principal Act governing the sector is the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959. This Act, a consolidation of fisheries legislation from around the late 19th century to 1959, is 60 years old. While it has served inland fisheries well over the years, it is no longer fit for purpose and is holding back the modernisation of the service. My parent Department has done significant work on preparing a new fisheries Bill. While recognising that legislation falls entirely within the remit of the Oireachtas, I stress that from an agency perspective, the sooner we have more modern fisheries legislation the better.
I thank members for their attention and again stress that this is only a snapshot of some of the work completed by IFI. I would be happy to take any questions committee members may have.
I represent the constituency of Galway West. As Dr. Byrne will know, the western lakes are highly regarded and considered some of the most unique natural assets in Ireland and Europe insofar as salmonoid rivers and lakes are concerned. There have been a number of public meetings with anglers across the constituency. They come not just from the west but from all over Ireland. Their concerns relate to the upkeep and protection of our rivers and lakes and our brown trout and salmon, all of which are great national assets. Anglers believe the national strategy for angling development, NSAD, model is not working. They have informed public representatives that stocks are deteriorating. Under the previous model, which worked well, local fishermen with local knowledge worked on the ground to ensure the habitat and stocks were protected. Given that the anglers in attendance at the public meetings were from all parts of the country, one has a sense that they cannot all be wrong about the NSAD and how it is working. What engagement does the IFI have with the anglers on the ground who believe they are now at a distance? The local approach seems to have changed to a bureaucratic approach.
Investment on the ground is all capital-related. While this is welcome, not enough is being done to protect our natural assets. As I said, the perception on the ground is that the habitat is deteriorating. This issue is raised repeatedly and as elected representatives, we are very conscious of it. I ask Dr. Byrne for his views on the matter. Engagement with anglers and their sense of ownership are at the heart of this issue.
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
The Chairman has raised a few points which I will try to tease out. Regarding straightforward capital investment, we received two tranches of funding from the NSAD, €500,000 in 2016 and €1.5 million in 2017. Both of these allocations were for capital. As the Chairman will appreciate, we can only spend them on capital works. We have tried to the best of our ability to incorporate as much operational money as we can under the heading of capital works. However, they are explicitly capital works. That is a source of frustration because there are certain things we can do with capital money that we cannot do under the rubric of operational maintenance.
There is no question that the situation has changed.
IFI was established in 2010, following the amalgamation of the Central and Regional Fisheries Boards. In one sense, the ownership model has changed, because people had a close linkage to the Western Regional Fisheries Board and were only a telephone call away from a board member, which kept that sense of people being accessible on the ground. On the governance side, the fisheries service went from 164 board members to ten and from regional boards to the unitary IFI.
There were also changes in staffing. Like every State agency, we experienced commensurate reductions in the difficult period of the recession. Our agency went from a head count of approximately 440 whole-time equivalents to 269 at the lowest point. We also supplemented the 440 staff with up to 60 temporary seasonal staff. In the peak of summer as many as 500 people were working on the ground. Resources were certainly cut back. As an agency, we are forced to look at how we deliver the service. The question for us is whether we can be the people on the ground all the time. We cannot do that with the resources we have.
One of the big developments was a lot of negativity towards the NSAD. I am aware of this. Obviously it became very political and public. We established the programme management office. Our programme manager comes from a western constituency and he is very much aware of the needs and the individual stakeholders. A chap called Mr. Liam Gavin, who is one of our assistant inspectors, manages that office. He is very much clued in on the situation on the ground in the west. I have tried to engage the programme manager's office with the project owners and the applicants on a regular basis.
There is another element, which does not just apply to IFI but is common to all State agencies. Governance requirements have increased significantly over the years. In our area we have financial governance requirements, as does every agency, concerning how we distribute taxpayers' money, grant money and whatnot. We also have a separate box, which is environmental governance requirements. There has been a much greater focus on them. I will be honest with the Deputy. The level of governance required is significant, and many clubs that might have been able to tip away and do a few bits and pieces find it is beyond their grasp. That is why we have invested so heavily in the programme management office to try to bring those clubs up to standard.
That issue has come up with anglers. They are now dealing with hydrology reports or Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, reports that no voluntary organisation or group would be able to manage. I take that point. We all need to ensure that we have standards and we are protecting the environment, but their point is that they did this very well in the past. They see a deterioration in the level of stocks and the habitats. The key point is that the local knowledge of people who knew the waterways and lakes and were maintaining them is being lost. Any organisation can be hit and miss where standards are concerned, but anglers are seeing a deterioration and they do not believe the NSAD is working as well as it could. I appreciate the constraints Dr. Byrne has referred to but they see a lot going into capital investment. I appreciate the reasons for this but I think there needs to be a greater focus on maintaining the product and the natural resource we have. I am sure some of my colleagues will have similar questions.
I would like to welcome the witnesses. Their report is comprehensive so I will not comment on each item. I met them in Roscommon and I thank them and their staff for the excellent work being carried out in my vicinity in the lake just beside our farm. The fishing stands are of excellent quality with beautiful presentation. They are certainly very attractive.
I will bring up the old issue of which I am now just a bit tired. I refer to the gross unfairness of charging for a permit to fish in a number of rivers and lakes, particularly in Roscommon, Longford and east Galway, including the River Suck, which is in the village of Castlecoote, where I live; its tributary, the Derryhippo river; Lough Linbaun; and Black's Lake. They require a permit and the charge is quite a disadvantage. It is €45 per year for an adult and €20 for a child. One day costs €20 for an adult. No permit is required in any other part of Ireland.
That the chief executive of IFI can stand over such discrimination against our area is outrageous. I am sick of listening to people such as the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, trying to explain this away over a long period. It is clear discrimination.
Fáilte Ireland is attracting people to the area under the Hidden Heartlands scheme. When a fisherman or fisherwoman asks if there are any fees or permits in the area, he or she is told there are and that they are being administered by bailiffs. They can drive less than 20 miles to the River Suck and fish there without any charge being imposed. That is wrong. It is affecting our area and destroying fishing tourism there. IFI can build all the fishing stands it likes, but very few people will use them as long as this situation continues. In Newport, juvenile anglers were given equipment to encourage them to fish. I do not know how long the agency will continue to stand over this. It is totally discriminatory. How many summonses have been issued by bailiffs to people fishing without permits in this area? Dr. Byrne will come back with the usual excuse about the ESB, its licences, etc., but the latter is a State body, as is IFI, and this matter is being kicked to touch all the time. I have heard Ministers do this regularly. I can only go so far. However, I ask the Chairman that we put it to Dr. Byrne and his colleague, the business development manager, that it is difficult to see how one can develop a business in an area where there are beautiful coarse fisheries to which people are not coming because they are afraid and do not want to pay extra charges.
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
I thank Senator Leyden for his kind comments and his hospitality when we were in Castlecoote, which we very much appreciate. The project to which he refers is both worthwhile and excellent. He is correct that we have discussed this matter quite a few times. It would be beneficial to note as the other members may not be aware that there is a permit scheme in the upper Shannon area. Every year, the Central Fisheries Board, followed by IFI and the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, manage that on behalf of the ESB. These are State-owned waters for which the ESB is responsible. The permit is to allay in some way the cost of managing the upper Shannon. The permit generated for IFI in the region of €120,000 per annum over the last five years. The average between 2013 and 2017 was €118,000 so rounding it up gives €120,000. We provide approximately €50,000 per year to the midlands fisheries fund. In the Roscommon area, the upper Shannon generated a permit revenue of approximately €51,000 over that period yet we put back almost €56,000 in the midlands fisheries fund. The latter, which constitutes more or less half or perhaps 40% of the permit fee, we give out to clubs and groups to do the works like those the Senator referred to at Stoneham's Lake. Over that period, we disbursed approximately €240,000 and of that funding, 24% went to the Roscommon area. I take the Deputy's point that his area is slightly different to that of the people down the road but we are managing the upper Shannon on behalf of the ESB. It costs in the region of €700,000 to manage the upper Shannon and we are generating €120,000 back for it. I accept that anglers say that the €45 fee is considerable but one should look at it in the context of other recreational activities. That sum would just about pay for one round of golf on a Saturday in July. That is the level of fee we are talking about. It goes back to some extent to the issue to which the Chairman referred, namely, the upkeep of the resource. We are working in a resource-limited environment. The Senator's is the only area in this context which pays a permit and our view is that we should probably have a slightly different pitch, namely, that everyone should pay for permits or make some contribution to the upkeep of the resource. It is an asset and it requires investment.
There are no permits on the River Shannon. One can fish there to one's heart's delight and not pay for a permit. This is total discrimination. The IFI is discriminating against an area. It was the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board which put the fee in place originally. I remember when the trout fishermen came in here and there was chaos. It almost brought down a Government.
All of a sudden, the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board decided to bring these charges in to raise money. How can IFI justify this? There are very few rivers in this position and they are all in our area. I live on a farm and I cannot fish on the lake on our land. I cannot fish in the Derryhippoo river without a permit. What kind of country is this? Talk about rivers running free. Either bring the damn thing in or get rid of it. Inland Fisheries Ireland has a choice. Is it going to extend the fee across the country or end the discrimination?
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
To clarify, it is not just in the Senator's area. We also have permits in Castleconnell and some of the other ESB fisheries. ESB waters are permitted and the fee is generated to protect them. We are at a significant loss in that. We have met the ESB on a number of occasions and are scheduled to meet it again on this matter. Ultimately, the ESB is the owner of the fisheries. It is not within IFI's gift to introduce permits across the country. That is more of a central policy issue.
I do not want to bring it in across the country, I want to get rid of it. The River Shannon belongs to the ESB but there is no fee whereas IFI is managing the River Suck and there is a fee on the Linbaun river and Black's Lake. It is beyond me. I cannot understand how Dr. Byrne and his board can stand over that. I want to see it eliminated as quickly as possible. I am very hopeful that the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, who is from our area, will do something other Ministers have refused to do on foot of the representations which have been made from our area.
I welcome Dr. Byrne and Ms Campion to the committee. My questions are brief and straightforward. I refer to fish kills. Who is taking the prosecutions in those cases? Is it Inland Fisheries Ireland, local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, or a mix of all three? What are the main sources of pollution?
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
Typically, we take prosecutions when we can. We have a very close working relationship with local authorities and the EPA. While I do not have exact figures on the sources for last year, they come under three broad categories, namely, agriculture, wastewater treatment plants and other civil infrastructure, and urban sources. Outside the room, I can provide the Deputy with the breakdown of the number of kills we can attribute to each. If we have 44 fish kills, it does not equate to 44 prosecutions as the threshold and burden of evidence is high. In many cases, it will not be possible to attribute the cause firmly to any particular sector. We might have ideas about it, but it may not reach the threshold required to take a criminal prosecution.
Ms Suzanne Campion:
The East Mayo Anglers Association's project was a huge one. It was a project on river access for persons with disabilities. The association developed the riverside and access to it. We had in-stream enhancement projects also, albeit these only came forward in 2017 and 2018. The 2016 scheme involved dry works only. The projects were on infrastructure and access, for example, stands, stiles and car parks, to facilitate anglers to get their gear to particular fisheries. In 2017, we had projects on information and awareness, infrastructure enhancement and access projects. We accepted applications under all of those headings.
The presentation outlines a figure of 83 prosecutions, which seems quite low considering the number of inspections carried out and the number of hours involved. A huge number of patrols and inspections were carried out. I think I saw a figure of 33,000.
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
Yes. That relates to the patrols. They are seizing nets or commercial netting and this leads to prosecutions. Anglers typically receive on-the-spot fines or warnings. We try to engage with anglers rather than getting into that. Prosecution is for a criminal offence so we keep the prosecution, if we want to call it that, for the very serious offences. In addition, the Deputy will be aware that we had an issue in 2017 regarding advisability of prosecuting. Emergency legislation was brought forward and that had an impact on the figures.
I have two further questions. I will be brief. It is alarming that salmon stocks are down to approximately 15% of what they were in the 1970s. In terms of salmon coming into our rivers, the figure has fallen from an estimated 3 million to possibly as low as 240,000. To what is this attributed? Is it due to marine activity, plastic pollution or global warming? It is an extreme example but we saw images of thousands of dead fish floating on top of the water and on the shores of lakes in Australia. I know a little about salmon. They need to be in cold water. Is global warming a factor? Our guests engage with the people who are dealing with these matters. What reasons are being given for what is happening, which is giving rise to quite an amount of concern?
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
It is extremely concerning. To be honest, one of the big factors is what we call marine survival. In 1983 or 1984, when 100 juvenile salmon left Ireland and took a right turn up to the North Atlantic, between 15 and 20 of those - in a good year, 25 - came back. By the mid-2000s, 100 fish would go out and up to the North Atlantic but only three to five might return. There is quite a decrease in marine survival and in biological terms there is always a multitude of factors for that. IFI has identified that, potentially, an additional 39% mortality can be due to poorly managed fish farms. There can be climate issues at sea. In some cases, we believe there are feeding issues at sea.
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
Warming of the seas is quite probably an issue as well. We have seen what we call grill fish, which are summer salmon, coming back at 2 lb, 3 lb and 4 lb. They are tiny fish, and it is obvious that they are not getting food at sea. There is a concern that where they are going at sea is not where the food is located. There are temporal issues as well because when a juvenile, which is a salmon smolt, goes out to sea, if it warms up too much in fresh water, it can smoltify earlier and miss its food cues and so on.
My final question concerns licensing. I do not want to reopen the debate on the permit system but I do not understand the licensing regime. In certain areas, one will see signs for licences. Will Dr. Byrne give us a brief outline of the way fish licences work for inland fisheries because I am totally confused about it?
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
It is for specific places. We only have a licence for salmon and sea trout. The issue Senator Leyden raised is that the upper Shannon is ESB's private water and one pays a permit fee for that. We are probably unique in the developed world in that we do not have a licence for all the other species. That would go some way to contributing a sustainable stream of funding to developing and enhancing the resource. Currently, there is no requirement for a State licence for trout, pike, course or sea fishing. One may have a requirement for permit fishing depending on whether the waters are privately owned.
On that point, the witness will know about the row about trout fishing that took place here in the past when Brendan Daly was Minister and the campaign that would have frightened any Government in terms of introducing further licences.
Is the River Shannon not owned by the ESB as well?
Permits are not required on the River Shannon. I do not want them to be introduced because I want us to continue to attract tourists to Ireland. We have lost a massive amount of fishing tourism over the years. All of these are disincentives. IFI can develop all the stands it wants but it will not have them on it. Why is the River Shannon excluded when the River Suck is not?
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
It is to do with the licence agreement between the ESB and what was the Central Fisheries Board. The waters in the upper Shannon to which the Senator refers are covered under that agreement; the main River Shannon is not covered. The ESB retains control of the main River Shannon because that is important in the context of the water levels at Ardnacrusha. It keeps a very close watch on the water levels in Lough Ree and Lough Derg, specifically in respect of the corresponding levels at Ardnacrusha.
In the context of my previous questions and linking them with the marketing and promotion of this fantastic asset, I return to the concerns of the angling community about the concentration of funding on the capital projects, which are welcome. Ms Campion mentioned access, car parks, etc., but is the board of IFI carrying out a review of the impact of the NSAD and how it is helping - or not - the habitat in terms of enhancing streams and waterways? How is IFI assessing that? Anglers are telling us, as elected representatives, that it is deteriorating. It is fine to pick a strategy but it needs to be monitored and assessed to see if it is working. Anglers have indicated that it is not working. They managed it better when it was done at local level and they are saying that there has not been any engagement with them. We need a clearer answer from Ms Campion on how IFI will work with anglers because there is a real disconnect between them and IFI.
Ms Suzanne Campion:
There is a real willingness within IFI to work with anglers. We have five officers who work and engage with them fully. We track all the hours spent trying to engage with anglers. At this stage, 60% of our €2.9 million is delivered, which means there are many angling groups delivering projects. We have reviewed the success of the projects in terms of the officers going out to do that.
The issue for many of the clubs is that previously they would give money to IFI and then we would do the work for them. They thought they were doing fantastic work themselves because they were handing over the money, and it was really useful. IFI previously had more staff and could deploy them to do the work. We no longer have the staff. By the same token, we can no longer just jump into a river and do work because we get a lot of criticism in terms of security. We have to get the environmental governance right. There are screenings, assessments and so on that have to be carried out in order to facilitate in-stream projects and while we want to be doing many of them, they take a long time. We have tried to empower stakeholders to do that for themselves and many of them are a little taken aback by that in terms of asking, "What will we do?". In order to do that, we have put a panel of experts in place that anglers can access. We will fund them to access those experts and guide them on what they need and how they can tender for them. We are almost bending over backwards for them but they are up against the barrier of governance and the tradition that used to exist when we had many staff on the ground and could jump in and do the work. I refer to the habitats directive, Natura 2000. We cannot go into a river and cause flooding or biodiversity degradation. We understand that. We have held workshops in many areas. We have developed an environmental assessment process. Everything is available online. We have made videos to explain the position. We have our project officers providing training to our staff and stakeholders. Our staff are going out-----
Ms Suzanne Campion:
Yes. It is not just anglers who do these projects; it might be community groups. There are many Tidy Towns committees involved. We want to help anybody who has an interest in the fishery and wants to develop it.
The project office only came into being last March and we went from one project to 60% of projects being finished at the end of 2018. The stakeholders, whether they were anglers or others, had an expectation that all the works would be done within a year. That is never the case.
Are they mainly capital projects as Ms Campion outlined to Deputy Stanley? While capital projects are welcome, the concern is about the deterioration of the habitat and the work on enhancement of streams.
Ms Suzanne Campion:
We have 35 enhancement projects going into delivery. To give an example, there is an issue with particular groups of anglers who want to develop the rivers. They have access to allow them to do the work but they do not have permission from the county council to do the work or they do not know what the planning status is. We have met the planning authority and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, and we have told them that they need to have a pre-planning meeting with the planning authority and there may be no planning permission needed. We cannot give the anglers public money to deliver a project in somebody else's river. They will not do that because they are afraid that access to the river will be taken away completely. One can understand that a farmer might become anxious that his ownership will be called into question when somebody else is apply for planning permission to do works in a river. There are many issues to be ironed out. We do not demand planning permission, we just want to know what the status is.
Perhaps Inland Fisheries Ireland will engage with the anglers who want to do this work. I am hearing that the issue is one of engagement. Many anglers, although not all, want to do this work and did it in the past. For example, the Corrib Fisheries Association in Galway did a large amount of this work.
Ms Suzanne Campion:
As far as I know, a group of anglers in that part of the country - I am not sure if it was the particular group to which the Chairman referred - engaged design consultants to design a project. All we are waiting for to get those projects across the line is the professional indemnity insurance of their chosen group. We would have expected that a long time ago, but from our engagement with the group, we learned that they were waiting on that insurance.
It is about finding ways to resolve the issues, because it is very contentious. Is the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland looking at this issue? Has it published anything or responded on this? What is the board's view on the NSAD and how it is working? Is there a member of the board present?
Dr. Ciaran Byrne:
No. We would have asked a board member to attend if we had known this matter would arise. Perhaps we could come back and have some members of the board accompany us.
In terms of governance, we have taken an internal audit of the NSAD. We have also done an internal review of the NSAD to see whether the strategy works and whether we need to do anything differently. One of the fundamental issues that we are facing is that the funding we received for the NSAD is capital funding. No matter what way one dresses that up, this money has to be spent on capital works because if we did not spend it on capital works, I would have to come before the committee to answer a different question.
The works on habitat enhancement to which the Chairman referred are operationally funded works. The old fisheries was a manpower based organisation. IFI has a significant funding deficit. The entirety of our own resources and income will pay the deficit in non-pay funding. We now have a €2.6 million annual funding deficit in our pay resources. We do not have enough money to keep current staff and we are effectively trying to borrow the family silver to do that work. That has direct current impacts on the kind of work we can do on the ground in terms of operational funding. We would absolutely love it if a tranche of money came to IFI through the NSAD to do operational works. That would mean a scheme could open along the lines that Ms Campion has identified and would allow habitat work to be done.
As I am sure members are well aware, things have changed. Sometimes in our frequent discussions with stakeholders one is brought back to another time because we all think the times were great back then. We all think things were great in the past. To take the example of Lough Corrib in the past number of years, we lost char from the lake in 1995, there is extensive development around its banks, roach have been introduced, lagarosiphon has been recorded and there is eutrophication of the lake. Lough Corrib as we know it from our memories was what we term a cold, clear oligotrophic lake, which was pretty much entirely composed of salmonidae. It had salmon, trout and eels, and back in the 1950s it had perch and pike and that was pretty much it. Now there is a fairly decent supply of coarse fish and because the climatic and environmental conditions have changed in the lake there are significant populations of roach in that lake. It is changing the dynamic of the lake. These are things that we probably cannot stop. This is linked into the question on climate change and warming.
One of the subsystems of Lough Corrib is the Owenriff system, which some of the Chairman's constituents have also mentioned. For considerable periods last summer, we were recording temperatures in the mid-20s in the Owenriff system. Salmon and trout are cold-water species. We also have cool-water and warm-water species. Temperatures in the mid-20s are pretty much lethal to cold-water species. That is an example of the changes we are seeing on the lake. Inland Fisheries Ireland, of its own volition, took a leadership role in respect of lagarosiphon. The western and central boards said that the presence of lagarosiphon was an issue. The Chairman has probably seen the before and after pictures of Rinneroon Bay. We managed that programme on a shoestring. We kept at it. We borrowed and begged for money to keep the show going. Even though we still do not have statutory powers, we are still doing this because we think it is important. We are contributing to the development of the lake. We are not doing so in the way that many of the stakeholders want because we are not operating in the same environment.
I think we have asked all of our questions for today. We look forward to engaging with Inland Fisheries Ireland again in the future. Is it agreed that in advance of our next meeting on 19 February next, all opening statements will be published on our website? Agreed.