Dáil debates

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Priority Questions

Fishing Industry Development.

3:00 pm

Photo of Tom SheahanTom Sheahan (Kerry South, Fine Gael)
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Question 48: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the initiatives he proposes to ease the financial hardship for fishermen in the north west arising from the reduced days at sea; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12212/09]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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New rules restricting fishing vessels' days at sea in the Irish Sea and the waters to the north west of Ireland and Scotland have been introduced as part of the EU's revised cod recovery plan. The plan has introduced a new system of effort management that sets effort ceilings, expressed in kilowatt days, for groups of vessels or fleet segments. The management of these ceilings has been devolved to national level. Member states have received annual allocations of fishing effort for the areas covered by the plan, which include the Irish Sea — International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, area VIIa — and the waters to the north west of Ireland and Scotland — ICES area VIa.

The effort allocation levels were established by the EU Fisheries Council on the basis of a European Commission proposal. They were calculated by averaging the fishing activity levels of each member state in the areas during a reference period of 2004-06 or 2005-07 and then reducing that effort by 25%. This methodology means there is now limited fishing effort available for all Community vessels, including Irish vessels, fishing in the designated areas.

Under the plan, each member state is required to introduce a licensing regime to manage its effort allocations. Any vessel longer than 10 m overall must have an authorisation from its member state in order to operate in one of the designated areas using the fishing gears covered by the plan. Member states can decide on the method of allocating their national pools of fishing effort, which are broken down by fishing gear type. Following consultations with representatives of the Irish fishing industry, a pilot system of authorisations and allocations of fishing effort was introduced for the period 1 February to 30 April 2009.

The pilot scheme used the following approach to allocate fishing effort in areas VIa and VIIa to Irish vessels for the pilot management period of 1 February to 30 April 2009. First, the track records of vessels operating in areas VIa and VIIa during the reference period of 2005-08 were assessed to determine their eligibility to receive an authorisation to fish and an allocation of days at sea under the pilot scheme. Each vessel's "best year" of fishing days in the areas during the reference period was used to establish its track record. Second, distribution bands were established for each of the specified gear types to facilitate the allocation of days at sea to vessels based on their track records with those gears. Each vessel's level of track record with a gear type fit into one of the distribution bands for that gear type. The vessel was then allocated the number days at sea for that gear which were associated with that distribution band. Third, the days at sea allocations for the first management period, 1 February to 30 April 2009, were given on a pro rata basis for each gear type based on Irish vessels' traditional fishing pattern with the gears in the area during that those months. For example, if the months were traditionally very busy for a gear type, a higher portion of days at sea were allocated for that gear.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The balance of the reply will be included in the Official Report.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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While I appreciate that, the remainder is actually the essence of the answer.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That should have been front-loaded in the answer. I call Deputy Sheahan.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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The last page is exactly what the Deputies want to hear.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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This is outrageous.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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It is not outrageous. The time has been limited.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister should answer the question instead of waffling.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is an understanding that the Minister of State has two minutes to answer.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I appreciate that.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I gave him two and a half minutes. The Department should understand that the information should be front-loaded.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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He wanted to answer a question he was not asked.

Photo of Tom SheahanTom Sheahan (Kerry South, Fine Gael)
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If I may, I will afford the Minister of State my time to answer the question.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I appreciate the Deputy's sincerity in this regard. If the answer had been front-loaded, I would have read the following.

I appreciate that the introduction of these new conservation measures are a challenge and, therefore, we have established a steering group involving the Federation of Irish Fishermen, the Irish Fishermen's Organisation, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Marine Institute and the Department to provide support to the industry in regard to the practical implementation of these new measures. The effort allocations already made were done on a pilot basis only and I am prepared to make amendments where proposed by the steering group within the legal framework that was established.

With regard to specific initiatives available to Ireland under the terms of the regulation, the group has, at our request, examined the possibility of applying for exemptions for groups of vessels catching less than 1.5% of cod in their catch. On the basis of this examination, our officials have now made a submission to the European Commission seeking an exemption for any vessel which on an annual basis for the years 2007 and 2008 had less than 1.5% of cod in its catch.

Other measures being examined by the steering group could, under the regulation, be applied in order to buy back effort, which would reduce it from 25% to perhaps 20%, which would mean we would have more to distribute in terms of allocation for the boats that need it. The measures would include, among other things, the introduction of highly selective fishing gear that reduces cod catches to below 1% and cod avoidance measures such as both mandatory and voluntary seasonal and real-time closures. The Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara are currently examining options in this regard which will, in turn, be considered by the steering group.

Photo of Tom SheahanTom Sheahan (Kerry South, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State might add that vessels under 14 m would be exempt. Some vessels have no days at sea, as the Minister of State noted in his reply, because of history. With regard to job creation in rural and coastal areas, it is a well known fact that any job created at sea creates seven other jobs on land.

With regard to the scientific evidence on which this draconian measure, the cod recovery plan, was based, I do not believe there is any such evidence. Will the Minister of State provide funding for the steering group to undertake in-depth, real-time scientific surveys of stock assessment with immediate effect? We would then have real data and scientific evidence. What is happening at present is that vessels are moving to area VIIa.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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Indeed, and I understand the dangers inherent in that. I agree this is an extremely difficult issue. However, the scientific evidence is appreciated, even by the fishing organisations, which are not saying to us that there is no evidence pointing to a need for a cod recovery plan. What has been surprising to all of us is that the Commission has been so drastic and quick in implementing the plan. We thought we would have a little more time but we must live with what the Commission has decided.

I take the Deputy's point with regard to vessels of under 14 m. That would certainly suit my area of Balbriggan and Skerries. Many such fishermen are not members of the Federation of Irish Fishermen or the Irish Fishermen's Organisation and they do not feel their voice is being heard. I am glad I will be able to report that the call for us to seek an exemption is also coming from the other side of the House.

I cannot give the Deputy an answer at present in regard to providing funding, as he can well understand, but it is something I would appreciate following up on.