Wednesday, 12 October 2005
Management of the wild salmon fishery is rarely a simple and straightforward matter. It is the Government's long-held view that our wild salmon stock is a national asset which must be conserved and protected, as well as being exploited as a resource by all on a shared and sustainable basis.
While there remains an abundance of salmon returning to Irish rivers, the Government has accepted the scientific advice that reductions in the overall fishing effort are required to sustain and rebuild salmon stocks nationwide. For this reason, current Government policy has been designed to bring spawning escapement up to the level of the scientifically advised conservation limits as soon as possible. In keeping with this policy, when setting the commercial salmon quotas for the 2005 season, I gave a firm commitment to fully align the exploitation of salmon, both at national and district levels, on the scientific advice by 2007.
I have asked the new national salmon commission to advise how best the alignment of exploitation of salmon with the scientific advice can be implemented by 2007, bearing in mind the requirement to ensure the future biological viability of the salmon resource in all catchments and also the needs of all stakeholders, including those who derive their income from the wild salmon resource.
A move to single-stock management of the wild salmon fishery would take time and significant additional resources. This could not be achieved without further and considerable scientific input, infrastructural investment and planning. The impact of such a move would have to be fully examined and understood before its introduction. I expect the national salmon commission along with the relevant State agencies to examine the prospects for single-stock management within the Irish fishery and to advise me in this regard.
I can assure Deputy Eamon Ryan that I will examine carefully all recommendations, including those relevant to single-stock management, made by the national salmon commission.
The national salmon commission could not agree what time of day it is, let alone this issue, and the Minister of State knows that.
The Oireachtas committee has examined this complex issue in detail and drew a simple, urgent and adamant conclusion, which is the move towards single-stock management. Recognising that it will take some years to do that, the committee recommended an interim procedure for a voluntary buy-out. It would ultimately mean the complete cessation of drift netting at sea. The Minister of State needs to provide a yes or no answer on that matter. It is his responsibility to decide and he can no longer hide. If we delay making a decision for another year we will have a recurrence of this summer's events when the Minister of State ignored scientific advice and issued a quota for 150,000 fish, yet the catch was down to 100,000. That signifies what the scientists have been saying for years — that salmon stocks are at crisis levels and are close to extinction of the species in many rivers. Unless the Minister of State acts now the situation will be irreversible.
This is an important political issue. If it comes to a vote, it is clear that parties in the House have committed themselves to an end to drift netting. The Minister of State must make a decision. If we are to do it for next summer, he will have to make a decision now and use the interim months to establish the system recommended by the Oireachtas committee. I want to hear if the Minister of State's answer is yes or no. If he cannot give an answer, why not? We have spent long enough talking about this matter and examining it. The ball is in the Minister of State's court and he must decide what arrangements will be put in place. He should not pass the buck to a commission that cannot possibly decide on the issue.
I would have thought that Deputy Eamon Ryan, of all Members of the House, would understand clearly that the issue is not as simple as that, although that may be the perception. More people in this House, as well as people in the media, should take the time to understand all this.
There is a need to establish the level of information required to manage the fishery on a single-stock basis. It is not a question of saying yes or no. It is not as simple as that.
This would be required on an individual river basis. Anyone who knows anything about fish stock management would realise that it is not as simple as the Deputy suggests. While many of the requirements have been or are being put in place, the level of information is not yet sufficient to permit the management of fishery on a single-stock basis. Those who served us well for a number of years on the national salmon commission, which I have re-appointed, will do so again while representing the stakeholders. They are people who are particularly interested in ensuring that we will have a sustainable fishery. We are the custodians and we want to assure these matters into the future.
The Deputy tries to give the impression that nothing has been done but in 2002 we had a quota of 219,000——
——that decreased last year to 139,000. The Deputy is not interested in those statistics but he knows this country has been built on the principle of partnership.
There is a partnership arrangement within the national salmon commission whereby its members advise me.
The Deputy forgets that it is not all about science. There are human and social factors involved also. If I went to Europe in December to fight on behalf of the Irish people on the basis of science alone, the Deputy and others would be the first to criticise me for not taking the human and social factors into consideration. The Deputy should get into his car or on his bicycle and visit the west coast and the islands to see the importance of this matter to the people there. I am being responsible in this matter despite the fact the Deputy and others are trying to portray me as otherwise and suggest that I am only interested in local politics. Of more than 800 licences, approximately 120 of them are in Donegal. The Deputy should remember the extent of the coastline from Malin Head to Bundoran. The Deputy needs to be realistic and sensible. I will work with all sides to try to ensure we have a sustainable salmon industry into the future.
Prior to my election to this House, I spent my entire working life on the Donegal coast and I know exactly what the Minister of State is talking about and I appreciate the need for social development. However, it is in the interests of those people as much as those of everybody else that we follow scientific advice and protect the species for the long-term future of those people. While the Minister of State spoke of partnership, ultimately we live in a democratic Republic and certain decisions, as with this one on whether to continue drift-netting, must be made at a political level by the Minister of State. If he fails to make that decision nobody else will make it for him. We cannot put it off for another year which would result in exactly what the Minister of State has said. Three years ago we caught 200,000 fish and this year it will be 100,000. If the Minister of State continues as he has done, next year this could reduce to 50,000 which would finish off the stock forever.
The Deputy chose to ignore the late run. He should go to Waterford and speak to its representatives where it was necessary to extend the season by one week because it had to be interrupted owing to the presence of the tall ships. The Deputy can talk to many others who are much more familiar with it.
I recently presided over a meeting in this city at which we established the regional advisory council for the north and west coast waters. All the fishermen with an interest will have an input into the matter. While we are talking about other species, the matter must be considered from a number of perspectives.