Wednesday, 21 May 2008
I thank the Minister for being here to respond. My matter relates to fisheries in the Cromane Bay, particularly Castlemaine Harbour. On Tuesday of last week, the draft netsmen had a licence to go fishing. At 5 p.m. on Monday of last week, they received notification that they could proceed to fish. However, the South Western Regional Fisheries Board received an e-mail from the Minister at 8 p.m. on that day, announcing that he intended to introduce a by-law to stop them from fishing. When I raised this matter last week with the Taoiseach, who has said he wants to get business done in a proper fashion, I asked him whether this was an example of the best way to do business. The netsmen thought they would be able to go fishing on Tuesday, but by Wednesday morning a by-law had been introduced to prevent them doing so. The Taoiseach said he understood that the Minister had introduced the by-law on the basis of scientific information. I have the information in question in front of me. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Minister has made this change.
The three rivers in question are the Caragh, the Laune and the Maine. I accept that there is a problem with salmon stocks on the River Maine. I have seen a map, which forms part of the scientific evidence on the basis of which the Minister made his decision. A line on the map represents an avenue used by salmon to get to the River Maine. In no way does it represent an interference with the journey of the salmon to the River Maine. Last year's surplus for the River Caragh was 1,121. The conservation limit was 531. One does not have to be great at mathematics to realise there was a surplus of approximately 600. The surplus on the River Laune last year was 7,265 salmon. There is a draft net quota for 6,166 salmon. However, the Minister will not allow the draft men to fish. I am in favour of the anglers being able to catch salmon with their tags, etc. I believe they can live in harmony given that there was a surplus last year of 7,265 and a draft net quota of 6,166. It must be admitted that those figures emerged as a consequence of the abolition of drift net fishing. When one has a conservation limit, and there is a quota of 7,265 above that, those salmon can be caught by private licence holders but not by commercial licence holders. I cannot understand why such discrimination exists.
I have a big problem with one of the people advising the Minister. The person in question, who is on the Central Fisheries Board, went to the High Court recently to claim that he owns the River Caragh. He lost the case. He is one of the many people on the Central Fisheries Board who is advising the Minister. He has a conflict of interest, which is not right or proper. It is not the proper fashion in which to do business, as the Taoiseach might say.
The Laune and Caragh rivers have had a surplus since 2006 and 2007, respectively, as a consequence of the abolition of drift netting. I believe that angling and draft fishing can live in harmony. I ask the Minister to rescind his by-law. I understand that the matter is to be raised in the High Court next Friday. I do not think it should go that far.
Under the Fisheries Acts, primary responsibility for the management, conservation, protection and development of inland fisheries stocks rests with the Central Fisheries Board and the relevant regional fisheries boards. I remind Deputy Sheahan that the South Western Regional Fisheries Board — not the Central Fisheries Board — is responsible for the fisheries in the Cork and Kerry fishery districts. The Kerry district includes Cromane Bay, which was referred to by the Deputy. I assume he was speaking about the location where the sea comes into Castlemaine Harbour at Dingle Bay, County Kerry. My function in the management of wild salmon fishery is to introduce the wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme regulations that specify, inter alia, which rivers have a harvestable surplus according to the management and scientific advice. I have signed an array of salmon conservation by-laws determining the conditions under which wild salmon can be harvested during the season.
On 23 April 2008, the South Western Regional Fisheries Board circulated proposals on how it intended to manage the Kerry fishery district in 2008. It was indicated that the fishery in Castlemaine Harbour should be opened on a restricted basis, with special conditions that included an obligation on fishermen to provide scale samples of all fish caught for analysis to determine the river stock to which they belong. Since 2006, the Government's policy has been to adhere to the scientific advice and to manage for conservation rather than for catch. In that context, when I received the board's proposals, I sought the advice of the standing scientific committee of the National Salmon Commission. The scientific advice I received, generally speaking, is that the harvest of fish should be contained to estuaries and rivers which are meeting their conservation limits. In the case of bays into which two or more rivers flow, the standing scientific committee, in specifying the available surplus for harvest, requires that all rivers meet their conservation limits. If it is the case that harvest is going to take place on the mixed stock, an appropriate reduction of the available surplus is made. The Maine and Behy rivers, two of the rivers that flow into Castlemaine Harbour, are not meeting their conservation limits.
I am mindful of the advice of the standing scientific committee that mixed stock fisheries pose a particular threat to the attainment of conservation limits in all rivers. In this regard, a fishery operating in Castlemaine Harbour outside of the river estuaries must be considered a mixed stock fishery as it is potentially exploiting fish from each of the rivers which flow into the harbour. I advised the board that I did not regard the arrangements, which were identified as being in accordance with the Government decision on the management of the fishery, to be in compliance with the scientific advice. The prosecution of a fishery in the common estuary of Castlemaine Harbour is not provided for in schedule 4 of the wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme regulations. In interpreting the regulations, it is my view that the precautionary principle must be adhered to. Therefore, no harvest of fish should compromise stocks which are identified as failing to meet conservation limits.
It is vital to afford every protection to the remaining salmon stocks and to clearly prioritise conservation over catch. We must fulfil our obligation under the habitats directive to maintain or restore fish stocks to favourable conservation status. To add further legal clarity to the matter, I introduced by-law No. 832 of 2008 which prohibits the taking of salmon and trout by all means, including draft net, rod and line, in the waters of Castlemaine Harbour, the common estuary of the Behy, Caragh, Laune and Maine rivers, between Inch and Rosbehy points. Any delay in restoring the commercial fishery can only assist in the recovery of those stocks which are not meeting their conservation limits, thereby providing the opportunity for a sustainable fishery in the future. I have asked the South Western Regional Fisheries Board to ensure that appropriate surveys are repeated to the satisfaction of the scientists to establish with certainty the status of stocks in the Behy and Maine rivers.