Wednesday, 12 October 2005
Question 88: To ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has reviewed the recently submitted recommendations from the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources regarding the issue of drift and draft net fishing and the dangerously low levels of salmon stock; if he will abide by said recommendations; the consultations he took on the issue; the steps he will take from here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27759/05]
While I am aware that the Joint Committee for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources submitted recommendations yesterday, 11 October 2005, regarding the future management of the wild salmon resource in Ireland, I have not had the opportunity to consider those fully in the intervening 24 hours nor have I had the opportunity to undertake any consultations on the committee's report since its publication. However, I welcome the publication of this report and take this opportunity to thank the joint committee for its decision to conduct a review and give all stakeholders an opportunity to be heard by the committee. This has illuminated the various and wide-ranging issues surrounding the management of this important natural resource.
The Deputy will be aware that as part of this review, the joint committee held public hearings in April of this year. When addressing those hearings, I made the point that the management of this natural resource is rarely a simple and straightforward matter. I also reiterated 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. I am pleased, therefore, to note from the report that the joint committee acknowledges the complexity of this issue and makes "the unequivocal observation that its report must not be seen in terms of winners or losers and that the debate and focus of effort must be on the survival of the salmon species".
I will examine carefully the recommendations made by the joint committee in this regard. As an immediate first step, I have already asked the new national salmon commission, which held its first meeting yesterday, to ensure that the joint committee's report receives priority in its consideration of how best the wild salmon resource may be managed, conserved and exploited on a shared and sustainable basis into the future, having regard to Government policy.
Does the Minister of State intend that the Department's officials, in addition to the salmon commission, will study the report and offer their recommendations? In light of the EU's unhappiness with the way Ireland is dealing with this, has the Minister of State reacted to the correspondence from the Commissioner for Fisheries? Ireland is the only country in the north-west fishing region that permits drift and draft netting. The British Government is also unhappy with this situation and has published an angling charter. It was dismayed that Ireland is the only country where drift net fishing is allowed. Does the Minister of State agree with the point made by Deputy Eamon Ryan that recommendations as to the number of licences to be issued were ignored by the Department? Does he intend in the coming year to abide by the scientific recommendations?
Both my departmental officials and I will study this report. We will also be in correspondence with the EU on the subject of fisheries and the general environment. It is very difficult to explain this situation. Even Deputy Perry accepts there is no other commercial fishing of salmon in the north west. I am confident Deputy Perry is not trying to deceive the House but he knows well and I will remind him that following a voluntary buy-out in the north east of England costing £3.25 million there are still 25,000 salmon being commercially landed in the north east of England. A similar buy-out in Ireland would be very substantial. If authorities in some other countries are telling us it is not happening anywhere else then they are mistaken. I ask the Deputy not to take my word for it but to ask the UK authorities which will provide the same information. We need to start from the same base if we wish to arrive at a conclusion.
On the question of the scientific advice, I did not hear Deputy Perry or many of his colleagues shouting last June when we established a quota of 139,900. I repeat this was the advice from the salmon commission and it was accepted by me and by all my predecessors in office. The scientific advice changed at the last minute. This was a partnership arrangement. The members of the salmon commission come from varying backgrounds. They presented me with this advice and I accepted it. It was not a case of me being advised by them to accept a quota which I then increased. The only sin I have committed is that I have taken the advice I received from the salmon commission, as did my predecessors. We arestriving to achieve what was advised by the year 2007.
I note the Minister of State did not disclose what was contained in the report of the sub-committee he stated he received 24 hours ago. Is he in favour of buying out the drift net salmon fishermen? Will he do so or will he stand behind the report? The Minister of State and the Government are responsible for the decision. Will he offer a buy-out scheme to the drift net fishermen in order to preserve the salmon stocks for angling and other tourism purposes?
I am not averse to doing so. I want to do what is right for the country, for angling, for tourism and for the commercial sector. It is possible to have a balance between commercial fishing and angling and tourist fishing. However I am opposed to the transfer of a resource from one sector to another at the expense of the Irish taxpayer. I am still awaiting offers from those who have both informed me and stated publically on numerous occasions they were prepared to make a contribution. I ask the Deputy to consider that if it were to be banned or if there were to be a complete buy-out, other important factors cannot be ignored. I refer to the issues of pollution, poaching and global warming. I have also asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to examine the issue of seals.
I support the comments of the previous speaker. What is the Minister of State's attitude to the report? Colleagues on this side of the House worked on the sub-committee. Given that all sectors must work together to arrive at a reasonable solution, does he not agree the report issued yesterday suggested a reasonable solution?
My great predecessor as Labour Party spokesperson, Michael Bell, four years ago proposed a buy-out under certain conditions. The report suggested a reasonable solution moving towards single stock management. Will the Minister of State endorse this finding and move forward on that basis in 2006?
I have a question to ask of both Ministers. Were they disappointed at the stance taken by the Progressive Democrats in this regard? I described that party as possibly an equally endangered but less useful species than our beautiful salmon. Will this issue bring down the Government? Will the eight Progressive Democrats, that small species of right-wing economists and business people, pull the Government down over this matter because of its lack of action?
I acknowledge the work of the sub-committee, three members of which are here in the Chamber and Deputy Durkan was a member at one stage. I have no hang-up about this matter. I am not in the luxurious position of being in Opposition; I must do what is right.
The situation is very complex and the answer is not a simple "Yes" or "No". I invite any party that wishes to present me with a report but it is ironic that many of the reports are similar, with a great deal of cutting and pasting.
All parties were party to the report. It does not recommend a complete end to commercial netting but hopes that better management will bring an end to it in the future. I can speak for my party — I do not know what the Fianna Fáil members can say. The Green Party requests that the Minister of State act on the report's recommendations.
The Minister of State is willing to talk about buy-out arrangements and he has referred to the cases in England. Is he willing to arrange a meeting, as a matter of urgency, with Mr. Vickerson, who was involved in the negotiations in that case and in four other similar agreements? He is a member of a conservation organisation that might help fund such a buy-out. If this issue is to be resolved before the next season will the Minister of State agree to meet Mr. Vickerson?
I have corresponded with Mr. Vickerson and have indicated my willingness to meet him. My office will be in communication with him in the near future——
It is a case of "wait and see". He has not offered funding. I am anxious to meet anyone who may be prepared to make a contribution.
I assure Deputy Eamon Ryan I referred to the important role played by all members of the sub-committee.