Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 April 2006

Priority Questions.

Fisheries Protection.

3:00 am

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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Question 1: To ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, further to his recent announcement that anglers now have a ten fish quota for the 2006 angling season with an all district total limit of 15,000 fish as per the scientific advice, the rule will still be in place which dictates that one fish can be caught by anglers per day to June first and three fish per day after that date; if compulsory catch and release will be implemented once 15,000 fish have been caught; the way in which the fishery boards will know when 15,000 fish have been caught; the way in which these measures will be policed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13604/06]

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I apologise for the absence of the Minister due to a family bereavement.

The National Salmon Commission, informed by the National Fishery Managers Executive, has recommended that total wild salmon exploitation in 2006 should not exceed 106,367, with 91,367 allocated to the commercial sector and 15,000 to angling, thereby fully complying with the national conservation limits established by its standing scientific committee.

I am advised by the fisheries boards that the total angling catch will be controlled primarily in two ways, by a reduction in the annual bag limit from 20 to ten fish and the imposition of mandatory catch and release in eight of the 17 fishery districts from the month of September.

I intend, by means of amendments to the Conservation of Salmon and Sea Trout By-law, No. 797, 2004, to limit the number of fish which can be caught per day to one per day until June and three per day until the end of September, subject to the maximum annual bag limit of ten fish. Once anglers have used all their tags they will be required to cease fishing.

I intend, by making a further by-law, to introduce compulsory catch and release from 1 September in eight identified fishery districts that are not meeting conservation limits. These are Dundalk, Drogheda, Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Shannon, Galway and Sligo. The fisheries managers have argued that there is an absolute need to conserve stocks in those districts. Given that commercial fishing ceases in the majority of districts on 31 July, they maintain that there is no reason that anglers should continue to kill fish up to the end of September.

I am advised that enforcement will be undertaken in the normal way through fisheries officers checking individual anglers for compliance. The fisheries boards are exploring opportunities to develop and enhance their protection regime, making use of modern technology and management methods, including the assessment of district-based quotas for the angling sector.

While I am relying on the assurances given by both the commercial fishing interests and angling representatives that they are fully committed to all measures associated with the conservation and protection of our valuable wild salmon stocks, I have, nevertheless, asked the fisheries boards to ensure that the new quotas are fully enforced. The fisheries boards will continue to monitor the fishery and I have asked them to keep me advised of necessary measures in the course of the season to ensure compliance.

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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It is no wonder that there is a significant degree of conflict between the commercial fishermen and anglers, given the difficulties, despite the best intentions, in regulating the angling sector. Will the Minister of State indicate how many licences were issued in 2005?

If one looks at the situation with the River Slaney in County Wexford, only 376 salmon can be fished. There are 75 draft net fishermen on that river who, in effect, can only catch five salmon. With regard to anglers, there is no control whatsoever. An angler can buy ten tags in one district and a further ten in another district. The word of the angler has to be accepted that he or she has not bought tags previously. There is no central control system. Potentially, up to 21,000 licences will be on sale this year. If that figure is multiplied by ten, that would amount to 210,000 salmon, whereas the quota for anglers is 15,000.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I have read the reports of the National Salmon Commission and met the chairman. I have also met the fisheries managers, groups of drift net, draft net and snap net fishermen and anglers from all over the country. There is general agreement that stocks must be conserved. There was also a general agreement that we would accept the recommendations of the commission this year, even though the 2006 figures are slightly higher than what was recommended by the scientists. Next year we intend to move fully to the scientific figures, which will have further serious implications.

I am aware of the situation on the River Slaney and the people in that area are not too happy with the fact that I am going to sign off on a decision that will mean they will be very limited in the number of fish they can catch. However, we must also take into account that while we have 21,000 anglers, a significant number of them do not fish or catch no fish. Furthermore, a certain number of the draft net, drift net and snap net fishermen do not fish.

The decisions we have taken for this year will have to be fully complied with. The Minister and I will meet the fisheries board managers in the next two weeks to discuss serious enforcement and ensure that the 15,000 and 91,000 limits are fully observed.

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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We are all in favour of the conservation of stocks and I am aware that the Minister has appointed a team to carry out an evaluation. However, if one wants to ensure fairness between commercial fishermen and anglers, the number of tags issued by the Department must be controlled. At present, there is no methodology whatsoever to regulate the number of tags sold or to prevent anglers buying multiple tags. In effect, if they so wished, anglers could buy 50 tags and there is nothing to prevent them from doing so. A system should be set up whereby anglers are given a registered number which is stored on a database and available to all tag outlets.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Nationally, 106,000 tags will be issued this year. That takes into account commercial fishermen and anglers. Like the Deputy, I have heard anecdotal evidence of the abuses to which Deputy Perry refers. For that reason, we will meet the fisheries board managers in two weeks' time to determine how we can strictly enforce the limits. We may look at new ways of doing so and perhaps take on board some of the Deputy's suggestions. We will also examine the utilisation of modern technology with regard to the issuing of licences, checking log books and so forth. There is much ambiguity which must be cleared up and I am determined to do that. I have been three weeks in this post. A decision has been made and I hope that we will get the support of the anglers and commercial fishermen this year. However, as in every walk of life, some people will want to break the law but we will take action against them.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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Question 2: To ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide details of the recent adoption of the recommendations of the National Salmon Commission; what the quota reductions will be; what will happen to salmon stocks after 2006; the remit of the three-person independent group to examine the implications, especially the financial ones, of the new regulations for the commercial sector in 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13603/06]

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I announced on 24 March that I had decided to adopt the recommendations made to me by the National Salmon Commission with regard to the total allowable salmon catch for 2006. This will involve reductions in the quota available to commercial fishermen and anglers in 2006. In doing so, I have also reaffirmed the Government's commitment to fully align with the scientific advice provided on the management of the wild salmon fishery by 2007.

Accepting the recommendations of the National Salmon Commission and the National Fishery Managers Executive, the total allowable catch in 2006 will be 91,367 for the commercial sector and 15,000 for angling, fully complying with the national conservation limits established by the standing scientific committee. These reductions in overall fishing effort are required to sustain and rebuild wild salmon stocks nationwide.

I propose to amend the Conservation of Salmon and Sea Trout By-law, No. 797, 2004, to restrict the annual angling bag limit to ten fish per angler for 2006. While the National Salmon Commission had recommended a limit of 15 fish per angler, I believe the lower level to be necessary to contain the total harvest by anglers to 15,000 fish, given that there has been no appreciable reduction in the average angling catch in the last five years and in the interest of balanced treatment of all stakeholders.

I intend to introduce a new by-law to provide for the introduction of compulsory catch and release from 1 September in eight identified fishery districts that are not meeting conservation limits. The fisheries managers have argued that there is an absolute need to conserve stocks in those districts.

I recognise the considerable efforts made by the commercial fishing industry in recent years to build a sustainable fishery and it has endured large cuts in the quotas available to it. I realise that these reductions have caused the industry difficulty and that full alignment with the scientific advice will probably compound these problems. For these reasons, I have decided to appoint an independent group to examine the implications of the new regulations for the commercial sector in 2007 and beyond and to make recommendations on the options available to address any financial hardship that may arise. The group will also determine the extent to which those stakeholders deriving economic benefit from the decision should contribute to any scheme, whether in cash or in kind, including improved tourist access.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

I have also accepted the National Salmon Commission's recommendation that measures should be considered to deal with the exploitation of multi-sea winter salmon stocks, including consideration of the length of the angling season. The fisheries managers, having considered the scientific advice, will identify appropriate measures in time for application in spring 2007. The scientists will also be asked to tender advice on the management of sea trout stocks over the coming months.

The standing scientific committee has indicated that mixed stock fisheries pose particular threats to the status of individual stocks and that fisheries operated in estuaries and rivers are more likely to fulfil national and international obligations. In this context, the National Fishery Managers Executive has identified a range of pilot projects to facilitate the commercial fishery to move from areas of indiscriminate mixed stock fishery exploitation. The feasibility of these projects will be evaluated by the Department in conjunction with the fisheries boards and the Marine Institute with a view to their implementation in 2007 and beyond.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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The scientific advice was released towards the end of January of this year and the narrow decision of the National Salmon Commission followed some weeks later. There is much confusion among fishermen, anglers and in fishing communities as to what will happen in 2007. The Minister of State stated the TAC for 2006 is 91,000, which is disappointing to many such as those in the Stopnow campaign. What will happen in 2007? Is the Minister of State indicating that commercial fishing for wild salmon will stop in 2007? Is there any intention to put in more salmon counters, given that there is not enough information on stocks?

Has a division of the single stock management for salmon, the precautionary principle, as articulated in the report of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, been introduced? An expert group comprising Padraic White, Professor Collins and John Malone was appointed. Has the Department made any estimates of the total losses for commercial fishermen? I have seen estimates of €7 million plus. Does the Minister of State have the figures?

Will there be a buy-out in 2007? If so, will it be voluntary or compulsory? Will the same happen to commercial drift net fishermen as happened to Dublin taxi drivers? Will the Government appoint a hardship panel to award certain amounts of money in compensation?

The wild salmon is a key national symbol but we have become a pariah in Europe because of our treatment of our salmon stocks. Everyone wants to see the commercial fishermen treated fairly in whatever mechanism is used. I welcome the establishment of the expert group which will report in August.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Over the years figures from €30 million to €150 million have been used in describing the financial implications of banning drift netting. When I returned to the Department in October, it was still an issue. I believed it was time to examine the implications of adopting the scientific advice for 2006. There will be severe hardships on the netmen with a quota of 91,000. There are already severe hardships considering their quota was 250,000. In 2006, the scientific advice was used to base the TAC and it will have serious implications.

The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and I put a proposal to Government for the appointment for a group of three learned men to examine the implications of financial hardship, compensatory measures and implications on coastal communities. It will report in early August with its recommendations. I have asked the group to examine all options, including voluntary and compulsory buy-outs, and the effects on fishing communities.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin North East, Labour)
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The group will make a recommendation to the Minister of State which he will follow.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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It will make a recommendation that will be considered by the Department and will then go to the Government. If a financial recommendation is made, which I expect will happen, it will have to be approved by the Government.

The establishment of the group by the Government means there is an expectation of some monetary compensation. The most recent figure I have been informed of is €30 million. I have not told the independent group of this. Padraic White was involved with the scallop industry. John Malone was involved in drawing up compensatory packages in the farming sector. We should allow the fishing for this year with the TAC of 91,000. By early August we will have the report of the independent group and we can then make strong decisions on 2007.