Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Question 71: To ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has received and reviewed a report (details supplied) on the management and conservation of fish stocks on a global basis; his views on whether the present regional fisheries management system is adequate; the measures the Government is proposing at EU and UN levels to respond to the problem of overfishing and the potential extinction of certain fish species; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20623/06]
I have received the report in question which has been prepared by the World Wildlife Fund and Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring organisation. It makes a useful contribution to the important task of continually enhancing approaches to fisheries management.
Regional fisheries organisations, RFOs, are multilateral organisations operating under a UN framework which primarily manage fish stocks outside exclusive fisheries zones or fish stocks that straddle those zones. Ireland's participation in international fisheries management takes place in the context of our membership of the EU, within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. The CFP governs the management of all fisheries in which Ireland participates and Ireland contributes to the work and development of regional fisheries organisations within that framework.
The current regional fisheries management system is developing on an ongoing basis. The developing regional management system offers the best system for the development of fisheries management on the high seas. Where RFOs have developed, they promote agreement across international boundaries, reflecting the migratory nature of many fish stocks, which necessarily involves reconciling the views of a number of different nations.
For the eastern Atlantic waters, the main regional fisheries organisations are the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, based in London, and the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, based in Madrid. Both organisations make an important contribution to fisheries management.
In European waters, it has been clear for some time that there are problems in regard to certain stocks. However the CFP, through its review in 2002 in which Ireland played a prominent part, has put strategies in place to address these difficulties. These measures include strengthened control and enforcement, recovery plans for stocks outside safe biological limits and catch and effort limitations.
The clear conclusion of the report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Traffic organisation, Follow the Leader, is that regional approaches such as the European Common Fisheries Policy have failed dismally to protect worldwide fishing stocks. What is the Minister of State's response to this conclusion? Since the enactment of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, has anything changed in terms of the information we receive from the Commodore of the Naval Service on the monitoring of non-Irish vessels fishing in our waters?
Will the Minister of State indicate what is happening in regard to the EU fisheries control agency? Is it now up and running in Vigo where it was supposed to be established and is it in contact on a real time basis with Haulbowline? Is any new system in place and has anything changed? The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, played a dramatic role in the passing of that legislation. What has changed in recent months since the debate on fisheries control?
Where is it intended to site the new Irish fisheries protection agency? Will it be in one of the five fishery ports of Howth, Killybegs, Castletownbere, Dunmore East or Rossaveal? Is it intended to locate it within a fishery harbour? When will it be established and what resources will be made available to it?
To answer the last question first, the office will be based in Clonakilty and the service will be rolled out over the next six months. I read the document to which the Deputy referred, Follow the Leader. I suppose some of us follow the leader occasionally. Many of the issues raised in that report refer to the problems within the organisations to which the Deputy referred. We have dealt with many of the issues raised through the UN fisheries laws. During the Presidency of the EU we led the way in regard to conservation in terms of fishery stock management and putting in place measures to deal with the breach of international agreements and so on. Ireland is complying reasonably well with many of the issues raised in the report. Reference is made in the report to political will, sustainability, transparency——
A total of 16 recommendations are made in the report, some of which we have already put in place through the UN, the Common Fisheries Policy and the system in Europe. Ireland is reasonably compliant with many of the suggestions and ideas outlined in the report. Reference is made in the report to regional fisheries management organisations, RFMOs, and the need to become more accountable, transparent and upfront. We deal with two of these RFMOs — the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission and the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. We have complied, and will continue to comply, with many of the environmental measures introduced by it in recent years.
Will the Minister of State explain the allegations made by the former Minister to Commissioner Borg in respect of alleged fishing by Irish fishing vessels in Scottish waters? The former Minister alleged he had information on file which he would bring to the attention of Commissioner Borg. Why was this information not put on the record in the Dáil? If the Minister of State is in possession of this information, could he place it in the public domain?
It is not on record in this House. No proof has been offered to support these allegations, which have led to 30,000 tonnes being cut from the quota this year. Claims that Irish vessels are fishing in Scottish waters are merely allegations. The issue was debated in this House so why was this information not put on the record of the Dáil? If this information is in the possession of the Department, why has it not been placed in the public domain?
I attended a meeting with Commissioner Borg. The Commission intends to take 6,500 tonnes of stock back from Irish fishing. The matter is being dealt with under Scottish jurisdiction so we cannot interfere.
On a point of clarification, Irish fishing vessel owners are facing a cut of 30,000 tonnes; the cutback of 6,000 tonnes related to 2003. The cutback of 30,000 tonnes relates to the 2005 catch and has come about as a result of unproven allegations. Why was this matter reported to the EU without any proof being offered?
The actual figure is 37,500 tonnes. A total of 6,500 tonnes is being deducted at the moment while the remainder is up for negotiation. The information about matters being dealt with over recent months by the Scottish authorities is in the public domain.
Deputy Perry has only to ring the Irish or Scottish authorities to find out about the several hundred million fish sitting in the illegal hidden tank. This information is as much a part of the public domain as it needs to be.
The Minister of State claims that we have complied with all the various regulations. Does he not acknowledge that our scientists stated in a committee this year that they no longer believe the figures used for quotas under the Common Fisheries Policy, which is the most fundamental and important system? The scientists do not believe the figures because they do not believe the reporting. As the Minister pointed out earlier this year, the system is characterised by widespread illegal landings, overfishing and disregard for conservation measures.
It became clear from the dealings we had earlier this year that the only system on which scientists believe sustainable policies can be based is one involving immediate reporting of catching and landing of quotas. I understand the French Government is seeking the introduction of such a system and that it has already been raised at European level. Will the Minister of State inform the House when this system will be introduced? If immediate recording of stocks and landings is not introduced, the system will encourage corrupt and illegal fishing and the widespread cleaning of our seas.
We have held discussions on this issue with Commissioner Borg and have intimated to him that while we are putting our house in order, we expect him to put the European house in order and that immediate reporting should be introduced across the EU.