Dáil debates

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Adjournment Debate

Fisheries Protection.

8:00 pm

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal North East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I welcome the Minister of State. As of last Tuesday no drift net fishermen or draft net fishermen operating out of Lough Foyle have been paid under the hardship compensation scheme. Perhaps the Minister of State has a further update, but that was the position up to Tuesday. We are talking about a number of fishermen who have been fishing all their lives and generations of their families have been involved in salmon fishing. These fishermen bought into this scheme in good faith and surrendered their licences and their nets. It is nearly Christmas yet none of these fishermen has been paid. It is a serious issue because the hardship scheme and the ban on drift net fishing damaged the fabric of a way of life not just in Donegal and the Lough Swilly area but around the inlets of the island of Ireland. This will always be remembered.

It is an extremely sore point given that the fishermen bought into this scheme in good faith but must now await EU approval. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, stated that this must be sanctioned by the European Commission. While the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, probably does not have this information to hand, the question that needs to be asked is when the State aid package was sent to Europe for consideration and sanction. There is no point in members of the Government telling fishermen in Donegal that Brussels is responsible. The onus is on the Government to expedite the processing of this approval. The only way this can happen is by making direct contact with Commissioner Joe Borg in Brussels. I ask the Minister of State to use his good offices with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to come to some resolution.

More generally, the community in County Donegal, which includes my constituency, is very much a coastal one. There have been dramatic changes in its way of life in recent years, with fishermen not being allowed to fish for salmon and having to sell their licences. In addition, another decommissioning of the white fish fleet is coming down the track for 2008. Many fishermen had difficulty with this fund being named the hardship fund. Effectively it is more a redundancy package. These men had a way of life in an industry that contributed to the local economy. The only difference from a redundancy package is that the payments from the fund will be taxed, which is another cause for concern and a bone of contention.

We are fighting a battle to retain jobs in this sector. While some fishermen are diversifying into shrimp fishing or returning to lobster fishing, there are job losses as a result of the scheme. It is difficult to map out a future for any type of coastal activity. There was a gaping hole in yesterday's budget regarding funding for the coastal community following the cessation of drift net fishing.

In Brussels, Joe Borg stated that compensation packages would be available for the Government to access. Where are they? The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, needs to answer this question. Where are the measures for the different types of investment schemes which were discussed seven months ago? They are not in place and are not included in this year's budget, unless they are hidden between the lines.

Coastal communities have many difficulties. I raised the issue of the coastal stations at Malin Head and Valentia with the Taoiseach yesterday. We are getting rid of a way of life in rural Ireland. This is an issue we need to take seriously and we have enough coastal public representatives to make sure it does not happen. Why are we seeking to remove services from Malin Head and Valentia, two of the most peripheral parts of the country, given there are 17 jobs at each station? We must stay focused on this issue. I look forward to a favourable reply.

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank Deputy McHugh for raising the matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan.

By way of background, the Minister would like to advise the House that in May 2007 approval was given by the North-South Ministerial Council for the introduction of a suite of five regulations to be administered by the Loughs Agency of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. The regulations provided the Loughs Agency with the necessary powers to manage the North Atlantic salmon fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas in compliance with the EU habitats directive and the recommendations of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, NASCO. Recognising the impact that cessation of the mixed stock fishery at sea would have on a traditional salmon fishermen, approval was also given for an associated hardship scheme to be offered to former drift and draft net licence holders with demonstrable fishing experience during the period 2002 to 2006.

Historically, commercial salmon fishing has been undertaken using drift and draft nets. Drift net fisheries have operated in the Foyle area, with draft net activity being concentrated in recent years in the tidal River Foyle between Derry and Strabane. There is no commercial fishery for salmon in the Carlingford area. As the stocks exploited seawards of Lough Foyle are mixed and include stock from rivers not achieving their conservation limits, the agency must end the fishing of salmon in this area. While the stocks exploited in both Lough Foyle and the tidal area of the Foyle by the commercial fishery are currently achieving their conservation limits, evidence indicates that rationalisation of fishing effort is necessary for stock levels to continue to achieve conservation limits and for the continuation of a viable commercial fishery. It is therefore recognised that the cessation and rationalisation of commercial salmon fishing will have a significant financial impact on those who historically operated in these seasonal fisheries.

The salmon hardship scheme being administered by the Loughs Agency is intended to provide a measure of relief to individuals in line with the degree of hardship likely to be experienced on foot of the cessation of fishing for salmon arising from the closure of the interceptory fishery seaward of Lough Foyle and the reduction of the number of commercial licences operating within the lough. The scheme is based on the fishing history of those who are impacted by the need to cease fishing and of those who may accept it on a voluntary basis to facilitate the rationalisation of commercial fishing effort.

The agency has estimated the maximum total cost of the scheme at €4,270,000 if all the licensees were to take up the package. The agency will collect and destroy the decommissioned fishing gear and those wishing to receive the hardship package will be required to give a commitment to leave the salmon fishing sector permanently. In fact, the number of drift nets that operated in the Foyle area in 2007 reduced from 112 to 18 and the number of draft nets which operated within Lough Foyle and the River Foyle decreased from 50 to 12.

The scheme is joint-funded by the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. Both sponsoring Departments have simultaneously lodged a State aid notification with the Commission. The necessary State aid approval by the European Commission of the Hardship Scheme is still awaited and it has not been possible for payments to be made by the Loughs Agency to date. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, recently discussed the issue with the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland, while participating in a sectoral meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, and they resolved that they would pursue the European Commission for an urgent decision. I am advised that as soon as approval is received, applicants will be invited to complete their applications and payments will commence.

The Dáil adjourned at 8.10 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 December 2007.