Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 December 2007

8:00 pm

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)

I thank Deputy McHugh for raising the matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan.

By way of background, the Minister would like to advise the House that in May 2007 approval was given by the North-South Ministerial Council for the introduction of a suite of five regulations to be administered by the Loughs Agency of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. The regulations provided the Loughs Agency with the necessary powers to manage the North Atlantic salmon fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas in compliance with the EU habitats directive and the recommendations of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, NASCO. Recognising the impact that cessation of the mixed stock fishery at sea would have on a traditional salmon fishermen, approval was also given for an associated hardship scheme to be offered to former drift and draft net licence holders with demonstrable fishing experience during the period 2002 to 2006.

Historically, commercial salmon fishing has been undertaken using drift and draft nets. Drift net fisheries have operated in the Foyle area, with draft net activity being concentrated in recent years in the tidal River Foyle between Derry and Strabane. There is no commercial fishery for salmon in the Carlingford area. As the stocks exploited seawards of Lough Foyle are mixed and include stock from rivers not achieving their conservation limits, the agency must end the fishing of salmon in this area. While the stocks exploited in both Lough Foyle and the tidal area of the Foyle by the commercial fishery are currently achieving their conservation limits, evidence indicates that rationalisation of fishing effort is necessary for stock levels to continue to achieve conservation limits and for the continuation of a viable commercial fishery. It is therefore recognised that the cessation and rationalisation of commercial salmon fishing will have a significant financial impact on those who historically operated in these seasonal fisheries.

The salmon hardship scheme being administered by the Loughs Agency is intended to provide a measure of relief to individuals in line with the degree of hardship likely to be experienced on foot of the cessation of fishing for salmon arising from the closure of the interceptory fishery seaward of Lough Foyle and the reduction of the number of commercial licences operating within the lough. The scheme is based on the fishing history of those who are impacted by the need to cease fishing and of those who may accept it on a voluntary basis to facilitate the rationalisation of commercial fishing effort.

The agency has estimated the maximum total cost of the scheme at €4,270,000 if all the licensees were to take up the package. The agency will collect and destroy the decommissioned fishing gear and those wishing to receive the hardship package will be required to give a commitment to leave the salmon fishing sector permanently. In fact, the number of drift nets that operated in the Foyle area in 2007 reduced from 112 to 18 and the number of draft nets which operated within Lough Foyle and the River Foyle decreased from 50 to 12.

The scheme is joint-funded by the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. Both sponsoring Departments have simultaneously lodged a State aid notification with the Commission. The necessary State aid approval by the European Commission of the Hardship Scheme is still awaited and it has not been possible for payments to be made by the Loughs Agency to date. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, recently discussed the issue with the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland, while participating in a sectoral meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, and they resolved that they would pursue the European Commission for an urgent decision. I am advised that as soon as approval is received, applicants will be invited to complete their applications and payments will commence.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.