Thursday, 19 October 2006
Question 7: To ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the three-person expert group on salmon will conclude and publish its report; if he will follow its advice and the decision of the National Salmon Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33418/06]
I received the report of the independent group to which the Deputy referred earlier this week and it is to be presented to Government for its consideration shortly. Until such time as the report is presented to Government, I am not in a position to comment on its recommendations or implementation. The question of publication of the report is a matter for the Government, the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and myself.
Given the steps involved in putting in place an appropriate regime to take effect from January 2007, including, for example, public consultation about any change to the wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme regulations, decisions about the report must be taken quickly.
As the Deputy is aware, I have undertaken to follow the recommendations of the standing scientific committee of the National Salmon Commission to fully align the management of the fishery with its scientific advice for 2007. I established the independent group, to which the Deputy referred, earlier this year to examine the implications for the commercial sector in 2007 and beyond arising from this alignment. The group was expected to make recommendations on the options available to address any financial hardship arising for individuals involved in commercial salmon fishing.
I expect that the National Salmon Commission, having considered the advice of the standing scientific committee and the fishery managers, and in the context of the report of the independent group, to bring forward in accordance with its terms of reference advice on measures for management of the wild salmon fishery in 2007. The National Salmon Commission is aware of the importance of my receiving its advice at the earliest possible date. I understand it has a number of meetings scheduled over the coming weeks. I expect to receive its advice in sufficient time for the publication of the necessary draft regulations governing the 2007 wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme. There will be a period for public consultation prior to enactment before the start of the 2007 season.
Will the Minister of State indicate if the report will be published openly or will it turn into a Deloitte & Touche affair, so to speak, whereby it will not be published for months and then eventually published in an underhand way?
The Minister of State mentioned addressing financial hardship for individuals in his reply and we know the advice of the National Salmon Commission given last year. Members of the public are generally aware of the impact of the continued multi-stock fishing on the nation's reputation. Has the Minister of State considered any detailed measures or costings in regard to addressing financial hardship for individuals? Would it be of the order of the previous scheme in regard to those fishing for white fish in the south east, or would it be much more narrowly based?
The EU habitats legislation was considered yesterday at the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. How will that legislation impact on the Minister of State's decision?
The report will be eventually published. The report and the recommendations I put forward to Government in respect of the three wise men, as they are known, were accepted, set up and approved by Government. At that time I stated that this report would be presented to the Government following consideration by me, the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey and our Department. We expect to do that as quickly as possible. Once the Government has made a decision on it, the report will be published.
With regard to the EU habitats directive of which we are in breach, are the Minister of State's hands not very much tied with regard to the new stipulation, bearing in mind that the scientific recommendations to date have been ignored by the Government? With regard to the recommendations by the scientists and the National Salmon Commission, is the Minister of State saying that he will act entirely on the scientific recommendations to Government?
The Government is committed to accepting the scientific advice for 2007. As agreed by Members on all sides of the House, we set up the strategy group to examine the implications of that. We intend to accept the scientific advice for 2007. We have received the report from the three people involved. It will go to Government shortly and we will make decisions accordingly.
The inland fisheries report was commissioned by Farrell Grant Sparks and following its completion, a year and a half elapsed before it was published. Will there be a similar delay in the publication of this report? In the case of the previous report, a situation similar to this one prevailed and the report was presented to Cabinet but it was not published for a further 18 months. Is the Minister of State saying that by mid-November, which is a critical time for the putting forward of recommendations for 2007, that this report will be discussed by the Cabinet and a decision made on it recommendations?
As an addendum to that question, the Minister of State seems to be dodging the question of the costings. Will he and the Minister make any recommendations to the Minister for Finance arising from the report, given that they have accepted the advice of the standing scientific committee?
The three wise men, as they are known, were asked to deal with the financial implications, and they have done that. Their recommendations or advice will go to Government and it will have to make a decision on any financial implications on foot of the report's recommendations.
I understand the Minister of State must await Cabinet approval before publishing the report and answering in respect of the financial implications involved or hardship schemes that may be put in place. I imagine the report cannot but be published in the next month, because as the Minister of State said, there is a timeline in terms of the upcoming season. This report will inevitably have to come out within a matter of weeks and the Government will have to make a decision on it within a matter of weeks. The Minister of State reiterated several times that the Government is standing by the advice of the standing scientific committee of the National Salmon Commission, which is welcome. That committee's advice could not be clearer, namely, that we need to put an end to the mixed stock fishery and catching of wild salmon. There will have to be an end to that mixed stock fishery. The only question for the Cabinet to decide is what will be the consequential management in terms of hardship, the defining of mixed stock and so on. Ultimately, the Government has agreed that the scientific advice is correct and we should move towards ending that mixed stock fishery.
The Government and the House have agreed that we would get to the scientific figures by 2007. We only received the report this week. We will give it serious consideration, present it to the Government for its consideration and, depending on its consideration, we will have to act quickly. I outlined the deadline dates within which we have to work. As soon as the Government makes it decision, we will operate within that deadline.