Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Fishing Industry Development: Statements
The annual fishing opportunities for the Community's fishing fleets are traditionally agreed at the December Fisheries Council. This year the arrangements for 2012 are due to be negotiated at the Council scheduled to take place on 15 and 16 December. The process of preparing for the Council is well under way, with the publication of the European Commission's policy statement last May and its detailed proposals in September for fishing levels of key stocks of interest to Ireland. The details of the proposals are based on formal advice received from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES, and also take account of the views of the EU Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, STECF.
In May the European Commission issued a policy statement which outlined its intention to simplify the process for determining fishing levels by reducing the number of guideline rules from 11 to just three as follows: category 1 - where there is an agreed management plan in existence, follow it; category 2 - where there is no plan, apply the maximum sustainable yield, MSY, approach; and category 3 - if there is no population estimate, reduce the TAC by 25%, which is referred to as the precautionary approach. This approach applied a 25% cut in the TAC to any stock for which ICES did not present a forecast. Unsurprisingly, this approach has not received much support from member states. In response, the Commission, in its proposal for fishing opportunities, released in late September, moderated its position on category 3 as follows: 3.1, Data Poor 1, where ICES advises no increase or a reduction in catches on the basis of some analyses, apply 15% cut to the TAC; and 3.2, Data Poor 2, where ICES advises no increase or a reduction in catches on the basis of lack of data, apply a 25% cut to the TAC.
The October Fisheries Council in Luxembourg considered TAC and quota proposals for the Baltic Sea. In that context and in response to concerns other colleagues and I had expressed about the overall policy being pursued, Commissioner Damanaki gave a commitment to rethink her previously stated policy of applying automatic reductions of 15% or 25% to a swathe of stocks in the absence of full scientific advice. The European Commission now appears receptive to examining the scientific advice on a case by case basis which I have advocated for some time. The Commissioner, however, has stated she intends to implement, as a matter of principle, a level of cut to all stocks without full scientific advice, regardless of the indications in respect of available data and advice.
Turning to the national stage, the programme for Government gives a commitment that a sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment, based on consultation with all major stakeholders, will be brought before the Dáil annually before EU fisheries negotiations commence. This is an innovative step and a signal from the Government of the importance it places on the economic viability of the seafood industry and the well-being of the wider marine ecosystem around the shoreline. To facilitate and inform these deliberations, I initiated a consultation process, whereby stakeholders were asked to comment on the European Commission's proposals for fishing opportunities in 2012. On 10 October an online web portal, www.fishingnet.ie, was activated to enable electronic submissions to be forwarded for consideration and this facility remained open until 28 October. In addition, on 18 October I chaired a meeting of stakeholders to further assist and inform consideration of the proposals and the submission of comments.
An analysis of the various contributions made to the consultation process shows a general welcome for the early publication of the European Commission's proposals and an acknowledgement that the new national consultative process was a positive addition to the debate surrounding fishing opportunities and the interactions of fisheries policy with the wider environment. The balance of the contributions indicates a need for greater adherence to the scientific advice available to enable prudent and appropriate management decisions to be made. This is necessary to provide for sustainable fish stocks and support the viability of the fishing industry, while also protecting the broader marine ecosystem.
There were, however, criticisms expressed, which I share, regarding the arbitrary cuts proposed by the European Commission for fishing opportunities in 2012 and the narrow view taken on the scientific advice, or its absence in certain cases. There was concern that the cuts in quotas, particularly where the available science was showing a healthy or increasing biomass for some stocks, would lead to further unnecessary discards.
With regard to the conclusions of the sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment, it is important to note the expert contributions of the Marine Institute and Bord lascaigh Mhara, BIM, which formed an integral part of the findings. It is also important to note that the European Commission's proposal being considered is the only proposal for certain fishing opportunities in 2012 not subject to third party agreements. This includes mainly whitefish stocks and does not cover some pelagic stocks, such as mackerel, which is Ireland's most important stock in economic terms, horse mackerel, or albacore tuna.
What comes across loud and clear is that managing fisheries is a complex undertaking, more so in the context of mixed fisheries, which is the nature of the fisheries in the waters around Ireland, particularly in the whitefish sector. It is also clear that the Irish fishing fleets depend on healthy and sustainable stocks for their medium and long-term viability and that many of the stocks on which they depend are not in a healthy biological state, and are in need of urgent remedial action and protection, when and where appropriate.
I do not intend to go into a stock by stock discussion, although if Members have questions on specific recommendations, I will try to answer them. Members should examine the data that accompanies the impact assessment that has been produced by the Marine Institute, in particular the stock book, which I launched this morning and which goes through the state of Irish stocks, stock by stock. It is an excellent piece of work and I do not believe it is matched by any other country in the EU in terms of its level of detail.
I have consistently stated that wherever the scientific advice indicates a need for a cut in TAC levels, I will accept this measure. The impact assessment itself agrees with the need to cut the quotas for some of the stocks in 2012, although the level of these cuts is queried in some cases, while in others there is clear scientific data to suggest a cut is unwarranted. In other cases, the available evidence is that an increase in the TAC can be more than justified. Indeed, for one stock, the impact assessment goes against the norm in its assertion that the proposed increase by the Commission in TAC for Celtic Sea herring is actually too high and a lower TAC increase would be more appropriate for the longer-term stability of the stock. This has been agreed by the industry, which is a very responsible approach.
The major bone of contention is the Commission's insistence on only using some of the scientific data that is available and how it interprets this. I appreciate that the Commissioner has indicated a willingness to move from the Commission's original position and take account of all available advice which generates estimates of future catches and historical trends of landings and effort. However, it is unclear how this will impact on individual stocks. Indeed, in some cases this additional advice indicates healthy biomass levels, which we want to insist the Commission takes into account when making final recommendations.
From a broader perspective, as I have previously stated, Ireland is committed to having total allowable catches set at levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield, MSY, by 2015, when and where possible. The philosophy behind this approach is to obtain the maximum long-term catch, while simultaneously ensuring the stock size is kept large enough to maintain productivity. However, I stress that the transition from the current management framework to a framework based on MSY will need to be on a phased basis. Where we have the necessary scientific advice from ICES, I will be supportive of establishing TACs for 2012 ensure that we are delivering MSY for these stocks by 2015. In this way, the transition to MSY will take account of the socioeconomic impacts through reduced catches in the short term. The benefit of an MSY approach is that, in the longer term, we will deliver more stable and sustainable fisheries for our industry.
However, there are considerable implementing challenges with MSY which will require further consideration and a rational and pragmatic approach. The issue of delivering MSY for stocks which are "data poor" is a real issue. For example, the sole and plaice in fisheries off the west coast are so small that it would not be economically reasonable to do a comprehensive scientific sampling programme, as is done for the large commercial stocks such as cod. There are also challenges in regard to delivering MSY in mixed fisheries that require careful consideration. These issues will be considered in the context of the reform of the CFP discussions over the coming year. However, for 2012 it will be important to make decisions on TACs based on best available data.
As I said, managing fishing out-take in a mixed fisheries scenario is a complex matter. The real concern is that decisions taken for a reduction in the TAC for a single stock may result in increased levels of discards for that stock where it is a by-catch in other fisheries. The ICES advice has clearly highlighted the importance of introducing additional technical measures for many of the mixed whitefish stocks around our coast so that juvenile fish, in particular, are allowed to escape. We are making good progress in regard to some of the fisheries on that count.
Ireland has been to the fore in the drive to reduce and eliminate discards, as evidenced most recently when I launched the Irish "discards atlas", a detailed description of discards by the Irish fleet on a stock by stock and area by area basis. The atlas also outlines a range of potential measures to help reduce discards and to make fishing more targeted in terms of the stocks they are targeting. The atlas was compiled to inform an EU-wide debate on discards, to which it will make a significant contribution in the context of the CAP. I thank the Marine Institute for the phenomenal level of detail it put into that report.
In that case, I will leave the detail of my speech for Members to read and I will make some general comments. We have a number of concerns in regard to the Commission's new approach. The Commission wants to take a precautionary approach whereby it deems there is insufficient data available and wants to apply automatic cuts of somewhere between 15% and 25%. In this impact assessment, we make the point that we can provide data and reasonable information on trends that in some cases actually suggest the stock is not under pressure. In those instances, we will insist the Commission takes on board the data that is available to make an educated decision in terms of the health of fish stocks and issues such as fishing effort and TACs for certain stocks next year.
Much of the ICES and Marine Institute data is highly credible and is accepted by the Commission. The view that we should be taking decisions on the basis of scientific advice is one that needs to be adopted whether it represents good or bad news for fishermen. In many of the smaller fisheries, we might have an indication that the fishery is remaining consistent and there is no evidence to suggest it is under pressure, which can be measured by landings, the size of fish being landed and so on. While that data may not be sufficient to put in place a maximum sustainable yield policy, it still gives us a good indication of the health of the stock. We should be making our decisions based on the data that is available, of which there is a huge amount. The stock book which we launched this morning is the equivalent of a fish bible in terms of its level of detail.
I thank the Marine Institute for helping to prepare me to make arguments based on science rather than based on emotion, so we can get the best possible deal to protect stocks and, indeed, maintain a viable commercial fishery in the fisheries where that makes sense for next year. If Members have comments, I will take them on board. They may have specific questions and I understand we will have some 20 minutes for questions at the end of the debate.
I welcome this debate on sea fisheries and thank the Minister for being present for it. It is beneficial to discuss this industry which is of major importance to the Irish economy and plays an essential role in coastal communities. It generates more than €800 million and provides employment for 11,000 people. While it is important to talk about the sustainability of stocks, it is equally important to recognise the importance of the sustainability of fishery families around our coastline. The Minister must strike a balance in his discussions in Brussels between protecting the livelihoods of fishing families and protecting stocks.
We have a sustainable fishery industry and many fishermen have taken many hard decisions in recent years with the downsizing of the fishery fleet and fishermen having to work against the severe background of a lack of stocks and quotas but they have managed to survive. I speak to fishermen in Kilmore, Duncannon and along the Wexford coastline on a regular basis and I am sure other Deputies do likewise. We all recognise the importance of having a viable fishing industry. The programme for Government, as the Minister, Deputy Coveney, outlined, committed to introducing a sustainable fisheries impact assessment annually before the EU fishery meetings. I attended many of those meetings when I was in the Department in previous years and, to a certain extent, many of the decisions are made at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. following heavy negotiations over two or three days. I am sure the Minister will be at the coalface with his counterparts in other member states making sure that Ireland's fishery quotas are protected for 2012.
How many other countries carry out a sustainable fisheries impact assessment prior to the December negotiations? Are we showing our hand early in this case compared to other countries? From my experience, many of the decisions on the reductions of quotas or on what would suit Irish fishermen were taken at the eleventh hour of the discussions. I welcome the fact that we are having this debate today.
I am sure the proposals from the European Commission in September set alarm bells ringing in the fishing industry. I welcome the fact the Minister had productive debates with the stakeholders, although from talking to members of fishery organisations throughout the country I know they are concerned about the proposals and what decisions will be taken for Ireland at the final negotiations.
The European Commission proposals refer to an arbitrary 25% cut in stocks which do not have complete data and full scientific advice available. As the Minister said, much of this is based on precautionary operations within the Commission and by the Commissioner. That may not be a good enough way to operate because those kinds of precautionary approaches will eventually affect how fishermen will survive in 2012. I accept that the Marine Institute is providing strong scientific data and doing its best in this area. I understand in the region of €26 million was spent in 2010 on data collection for quota stocks, some of which will have come from the EU. Will the Minister make increased funding available for 2012? I know this is a difficult time in his Department but will he make increased funding available for the Marine Institute to provide increased scientific data for 2012 to enable him to make more definite decisions in the future and, more importantly, to prove to the EU that we have a strong scientific basis for many of the arguments we put forward at EU level? Other reasons that scientists cannot perform robust stock assessments are related to complex problems such as historical data, length of time series and lack of coherence in assessment data.
Of the 24 stocks of interest to Ireland, all bar four are seeing significant cuts in the amount available to Irish fishermen. The cuts range from 15% and 25% for most stocks to a recommended zero quota for cod in the Irish Sea off the Donegal coast. It is important to recognise that such cuts will have severe implications for fishermen around our coastline. I expect the Minister will not accept such cuts when the serious negotiations commence in December. I am sure he and his officials will argue strongly for a serious reduction in what the Commissioner proposes.
We must also recognise the good news, namely, that increases are proposed for cod and herring in the Celtic Sea with a 25% increase in haddock in the north west. This is a result of conservation programmes for cod and herring in the Celtic Sea put in place primarily by the industry. It is important to note that the industry in recent years has recognised the need for conservation and to protect stocks and quotas. It has played its part but from talking to members of the fishery organisations I know they feel that they did not get any thanks for doing this especially when the Commission has put forward an arbitrary 25% cut in stocks and seems not to recognise that the fishermen have put conservation at the top of their agenda. We have a strong fishery organisation and strong groups that link into it. They told me they have gone into serious detail on the proposed cuts with the Minister and the Department and they believe there is no justification for the cuts that have been put forward by the Commission. The Minister, when responding, might give more detail on his discussions with them.
Fishermen face many reductions and difficulties in trying to earn a living. Haddock fishing in the south west and whiting fishing in the Irish Sea and off the north-west coast are closed and quotas for many species are heavily restricted. It is nearly impossible to keep the Irish fleet in business but I recognise it has played its part in trying to ensure we have a viable fishing industry. I am sure the Minister will continue to support the fishery industry to sustain a viable industry for fishery families around our coastline.
The Minister has to strike a balance between the sustainability of stocks and the substantiality of Irish fishermen. That is what it is all about. Previous ministers in their discussions in Brussels in December have tried to strike that balance. It is not always possible to get 100% of what one seeks because the European Commission will always try to balance it out but it is important that the livelihoods of fishery families in Ireland are protected. They have suffered greatly in recent years and it is only right that the Minister will be at coalface in Brussels arguing their case and I am sure he will do that.
I wish to ask the Minister about the inshore fisheries framework. He spoke about what was contained in the programme for Government and I heard him on numerous occasions speak about the development of the inshore fisheries framework. There is tremendous opportunity for development and expansion in this area but there is a serious lack of management in it. It is hard for us to make our own decisions outside the 12 mile limit but certainly what happens inside the 12 mile and six mile limit is totally a matter for the Minister and his Department.
Providing for proper management of the inshore fisheries framework is a matter for the Department and the Minister and I hope he will do so as quickly as possible.
I raise the issue of Bord Iascaigh Mhara being moved to within the Department. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform announced this would happen.
He did not announce it; it was changed at my behest. It is important to correct the record because there was concern in BIM about this issue. It has been agreed that an assessment of BIM's viability will be carried out by the middle of next year and decisions made on the basis of this assessment. No decision has been made to bring BIM within the Department.
I welcome this statement by the Minister because moving BIM to within the Department would be like moving the IDA to within the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. It is important that it be a stand-alone body. In that regard, it is welcome that Minister will carry out a review. This is an opportunity to reform BIM, but it should remain a stand-alone body. It does tremendous work and it is important that this be recognised. It has a major role to play in the development of the fishing industry.
Because I was a Minister of State in the Department, a number of fishermen have raised with me the closure of the ice plant in Dingle last August. When will it reopen? It is very important that it be reopened as quickly as possible. I do not know why it closed. I do not know whether it was closed by the Minister or the Department. Fishermen tell me that under Fianna Fáil they, at least, had ice, but under Fine Gael they have none.
I also ask the Minister to respond.
It is welcome that we are debating these issues in the House. It is important that the Minister put the gloves on when he travels to Brussels in December. Many decisions are made on the margins. I will not state they are made through wheeling and dealing but through dialogue and discussion with countries also concerned about huge cuts in quotas and the effect they will have on fishermen. I am sure the Minister will argue the case for Ireland. He has stated many of the proposals made are not acceptable, which is a good start.
I compliment the Minister on raising the discards issue which has been highlighted in recent months in a number of radio and television programmes which featured discussions on how they could be eliminated. It is welcome that the Minister launched the discards atlas. While I know he will encounter some opposition in the European Union, it is good that the Department and the Government are leading the charge in this area. I hope the Minister will be successful.
I wish the Minister all the best in the discussions in Brussels in December and hope he will be ato achieve a satisfactory outcome for fishermen who have suffered greatly in recent years. They are very important in coastal communities. We are aware of the numbers of jobs in companies which operate in Castletownbere, Kilmore Quay, Donegal, Dingle and other locations and know of the commitment of fishermen to the economy. There are still tremendous opportunities to further develop the fishing industry by adding value to products, many of which are being exported without value being added. This is of concern and needs to be examined. In the programme for Government the Minister committed to the development of certain areas in the sector.
With regard to aquaculture, there is a serious lack of product throughout the European Union. There is, therefore, a tremendous opportunity to develop the aquaculture industry. How will the Minister deal with the licensing of existing aquaculture companies and possible new ones in 2012? What progress is he making on this issue?
It is good to have an opportunity to discuss this matter with the Minister.
There are two aspects to sustainability - the sustainability of fish stocks and the sustainability of the fishing industry. Three fundamental facts need to be taken into account in this regard: fish do not provide an infinite source of food for Ireland, Europe or the world; fishing practices, protocols and quotas have an impact, good or bad, on stock levels; and, from the perspective of the Government and the people, particularly those involved in the industry here, the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, has been and is deeply damaging to our interests. This final point is the one on which there seems to be resistance on the part of the Government.
The CFP represents a very bad deal for the country. Some claim we cannot renegotiate it, but I disagree. In any case, it needs to be stated it has been a bad deal. We should use this fact as a fulcrum to increase Ireland's share of the overall EU CFP quota. Unless the Government begins to take this approach in negotiations, we will tinker at the edges of what is a very flawed policy which is damaging to the country's interests and the interests of those engaged in fishing. We could increase the share of the quota for the fishing industry to promote its future development and growth, while at the same time reducing the overall fish take in our waters. We may have missed opportunities in this regard in the past. It is ironic to hear Fianna Fáil speak about a bad deal being done because it had many opportunities to renegotiate and put on the boxing gloves, to quote the previous speaker, to fight for Ireland, but it did not do so. However, it is not too late to do so.
Approximately 5,000 people are directly or indirectly employed or employed on a seasonal basis in processing. That is not an insignificant figure, but it could be far greater if Irish fishermen had a fairer share of the catch in Irish waters and if there was more processing of the fish caught in our waters in this country. The potential of processing to add value to the fish landed here and aquacultural products is illustrated by the fact that the value of fish landed is doubled when processed. However, the vast majority of the fish caught off our shores are landed and processed abroad. We have, in effect, handed over a massively valuable natural resource which potentially will be under threat if the same system of management - or mismanagement - is allowed to continue in place and unless we regain sovereign control. That is impossible, however, at the current time due to the straitjacket of the Common Fisheries Policy. Indeed, the processing industry based on the Irish catch faces the same threat of being run down or even closed down. Fishermen agree that levels are dangerously low for some stocks but they disagree about the cause. To a certain extent, what is happening under the CFP is a bit like our economic situation - those who caused the damage are not being penalised. The small guy and his family on the shoreline who is trying to earn a living from the fishing industry is being hurt over this.
There has been some recognition of this injustice by some EU states but Ministers have also admitted that this State has received no support with regard to addressing the fundamental issue of the quota. The overall impression is of this State constantly having to fight a rear guard action to preserve whatever crumbs have been thrown our way. That in itself is reason enough, as one of the significant stakeholders in the sector, to demand that the policy is reformed in such a way as to ensure the interests of Irish fishermen are protected and enhanced.
It is significant that at the same time as this State was negotiating entry to the EU, so also was Norway. The CFP was drawn up during the talks as a means of allowing "equal access" to British and Irish waters for the fishing fleets of the then six member states - Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. The Norwegians sensibly decided that such a sacrifice of their national asset was not worth it. They still have a thriving fishing sector.
The harm done by the CFP is generally recognised. In 2002, the review group which reported to the Forum on Europe referred to the "inequalities and injustices" inherent in the CFP. Perhaps it best summed up the situation when it declared that "Ireland has only a small piece of its own cake".
The 2004 estimate of the catch by the Irish fleet in waters around our coast was that it amounted to 15% of the total catch. Within the area under EU jurisdiction it was only 28%. In the same year it was estimated by the Marine Institute that the value of the catch in surrounding waters was €800 million of which €460 million was taken in the EU zone.
EUROSTAT statistics place the accumulated processed value of fish taken in Irish waters between 1974 and 2004 at around €200 billion. That is five times the value of the total transfer funds we received from the EU, mainly in CAP and structural funding, over the same period.
Had our fisheries been properly managed and developed under domestic control, they might have become a valuable resource that could have played a vital role in the economic development of the country. Instead the Irish fishery was squandered and is currently in mortal danger. Many believe, with some justification, that EU policy is deliberately designed to reduce the Irish fishing sector to insignificance, thus making it easier for the larger players to take over this business.
What is worse is that the intent of Brussels is being reinforced by the actions of the Irish State and its enforcement authorities. This is illustrated by the manner in which the sector is policed under legislative changes to both the Criminal Justice Act and the Sea Fisheries Act which, in effect, criminalised fishermen in a manner not applied to any other economic sector. The Minister's party and the Labour Party opposed this when in opposition. They promised to replace the criminal sanctions with administrative measures, so I trust this will be followed through. I expect it will be.
Another area relevant to the sustainability of fish stocks around our coast is the level of illegal fishing. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is as much as one third of the value of the entire legal catch in Irish waters, but that could be a gross under-estimation. The reason why it is hard to come up with an accurate estimate concerns the inadequate policing Irish waters and foreign vessels there, in particular.
Irish fishermen believe they unjustly bear the brunt of fisheries protection surveillance and that, in any event, this State does not have the necessary resources to monitor the non-Irish fleet adequately. Nor does it seem that the states from which those vessels originate are particularly concerned about what their boats do while in Irish waters.
There is undoubtedly an issue regarding the sustainability of Irish fish stocks. Consequently, we need to take measures to ensure that those stocks do not reach a critically low level. Unfortunately, some people, including some of those who have made submissions, appear to take EU statistics at face value. They do not factor in the economic, social and national interest issues at stake in the fisheries sector, not just for Ireland but also for other member states.
It would be possible to balance both measures - fish stocks and economic sustainability - to protect stocks and reallocate quotas to ensure that Irish fisheries can survive and prosper. A number of key issues must take centre stage in the forthcoming negotiations. The Government must argue for a fundamental reform of the CFP to address inequitable distribution of quota and lack of national control. We must increase quota for Irish fishermen. EU member states have to understand that the original assignation was wrong, unfair and should not have been agreed by any Irish negotiating team.
The Minister needs to put the case for less centralised control, not more of it. Irish fisheries ought, to the greatest extent possible, be administered from this country and not from Brussels. I know the Minister will take this approach in the negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy, and I agree fully with him. The Irish Government knows better what is best for Irish waters than any central European system.
There needs to be more consultation with the real stakeholders who are the fishermen, processors and others involved economically in the harbour-side of the industry. Their economic future is tied up in this sector.
I understand there are proposals to restrict Irish fishermen further, including the use of satellites to monitor small fishing boats, but the Minister should reject such proposals. It might seem like a sensible thing to do but it would simply add to the suspicion that Europe is intent on creating a hostile environment designed to drive fishermen out of the sector.
Those are the issues I wished to raise in this debate. Will the Minister negotiate upwards the quota for Irish fishermen at December's Fisheries Council meeting? How much input did fishermen and others involved in the industry have to the agreed management plan, to which the Minister referred?
I wish to echo the commendation of the Minister's stance on discards, which is both sensible and reasonable.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the fisheries sustainable impact assessment. I thank the Minister for giving us a chance to address this important issue. The Common Fisheries Policy is widely accepted as having failed. The policy deliberately set out to hamper and destroy the Irish fishing industry. It has been said by other speakers that prior to our entry into the European Economic Community, EEC, the rules were changed to ensure equal access to all fisheries waters within the European Union after we joined. That left us at a very severe disadvantage, and even at that stage we were unable to negotiate around fisheries because our team was told that if it wanted to discuss fisheries, all the talks would be called off. We are living with that legacy from over 40 years ago, as the EEC, as it was, set out deliberately to steal the resources of a so-called member or partner state in the Community that was established.
Every year we discuss the issue and the total allowable catch, TAC, in December in Brussels, and that legacy continues to place a stranglehold on the Irish fishing industry. I often wonder what the west coast of Ireland would have looked like if over the past 40 years we had equal access and a fair share, or if the European Community looked to develop smaller nations and allowed them to reach their full potential. We would not have had the unbalanced development we had, where Dublin now holds almost half the population of the country. Instead, we would have had a vibrant west coast rather than an area which is in decline and suffering depopulation.
Fishing in Donegal is not only an economic activity but it is also a way of life. It is central to the identity and prosperity of Killybegs, where I come from, which is 85% dependent on fishing for employment. Every other coastal community has an equal dependence. The seafood industry here employs almost 12,000 people and contributed more than €700 million to the economy last year. Fishing communities are located in all our most disadvantaged areas, and anything we can do to develop and grow the industry will lead to increased employment in those areas.
The European Commission has presented its proposals for the 2012 fishing opportunities for certain stocks in the Atlantic and the North Sea. The total allowable catch for some stocks, such as monkfish and Celtic Sea cod, herring, haddock, sole and megrim could possibly be increased. It is a different story in area 6A, west of Scotland, and in the Irish Sea, where the Commission proposes that no fishing will take place in 2012. There has been a ban in place for area 6A since 2009 in an attempt to protect cod, haddock and whiting. It has effectively banned the use of most fishing gears in area 6A, with the exception of very specific tall gears only. That has forced small inshore fleets to concentrate solely on crab and lobster, which will in time put those stocks under pressure. This decision did not take into account that the inshore fleet catches little or no cod but it has severely inhibited a fisherman's ability to survive. It places their way of life at risk in coastal communities and particularly in the island communities in Donegal.
Will the Minister seriously examine management arrangements within the six mile limit and use his powers to exert our national control over these areas? That would ensure that small inshore fleets can be sustainable and provide a way of life, as they have done for many years in local communities.
In the proposal it is stated by the Commission that poor data hampers the management of stocks and despite successive cuts in total allowable catches over the years, the stock still appears to be falling in area 6A. For stocks where data is too poor to estimate a size properly, the Commission has applied a so-called precautionary principle, reducing TACs by 25% initially, although this has since been moderated to between 15% and 25% until more reliable data is made available. What steps are being taken to deduce the stock position? Irish fishermen are extremely annoyed that quotas on a range of species, including hake and prawns, are being cut by up to 25% despite the Commission not having sufficient information on their state. The proposals from the European Commission are not based on science but on a policy paper issued by the EU earlier this year indicating that quota proposals would be based on a categorisation which Europe had made. This means that where there is insufficient information, the quotas will be cut severely.
The Commission's stated goal is to set TACs at science-based levels, which help recover stocks and make fisheries sustainable in the long term. Fishermen have always had doubts about the science used and the Minister has recently stated the current fiscal position is placing limitations on the amount of research that can be carried out. How can we have faith in the science as a result? We need a commitment to ensure that adequate research will take place along the west coast. The recent report on the mapping of discards is good and comprehensive but the Marine Institute admits that even with that, only 1% of catches were analysed. It is very difficult to get accurate figures for discards.
The mapping document for discards concluded that approximately 38% of fish caught off the north coast of Ireland is discarded because the fish are too small to sell or banned by the EU from being landed. The Commission wants to ban discards completely by 2015 but this should only be done by introducing technical measures such as selective gear and gear that allows juvenile fish to escape. Areas should be closed effectively at spawning times. Only when such measures are in place can every fish caught be landed. A system that penalises fishermen for landing fish that they do not have a quota for will not work and only a system that allows those fish to be sold and consumed will be effective. Otherwise, discarding will be forced underground and there will be illegal dumping of fish at sea.
Sustainability is a major issue but we must consider who benefits from it. The discussion is somewhat lopsided by the fact that we are straitjacketed within the Common Fisheries Policy. I agree with the Deputies who said this has been an absolute disaster for Ireland and that we must examine our fisheries completely rather than tinkering with quotas within the confines of that policy. Comparisons with Norway are appropriate as it is an example of how a country maintained control to the benefit of society as a whole.
The discussion must be seen in the context of the depletion of the fishing resources and the destruction of fishing communities. There are serious issues which are clearly problems for society but not confined to Ireland. On the global scale there is a rapid depletion of marine fish, with 75% of major fisheries either fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted. On the other hand there has been a massive assault on the livelihoods of ordinary fisherman, and there are now over 1 million vessels fishing on the world's oceans. Many family trawlers and smaller fishing enterprises have been driven out. We know the dangerous nature of a fishing lifestyle and two men in my constituency lost their lives earlier this year. For smaller and medium fishing enterprises and those with family trawlers, it is becoming harder every day.
There has been erosion of the smaller harbours and a consequent impact on local communities. That is particularly true in my area with the harbours in Balbriggan, Rush, Loughshinny and Skerries, all of which are in tatters or a bad state of disrepair. They are under the administration of the local authority, which has given no money for improvements or remedial works. Generations have fished in these areas and now Balbriggan operates with 16 boats. At one time Skerries was one of the leading harbours in Ireland but now it only has four boats. These issues are putting our fishing communities under threat, and that is made worse by prices paid by supermarkets etc.
Quota size is important but the issue of transference of fishing concessions is still live; that must be introduced to the debate. That is nothing more than extending neoliberalism into every aspect of life. The Minister previously indicated that this is the privatisation of fishing quotas in Ireland even further, which will reduce the fleet as there is no doubt that the big boys will move in to buy the quota, putting smaller fishing enterprises out of business. It would mark the death knell of many of the small harbours dotted around our coast. There will not be a single harbour operating in north County Dublin if that transference goes ahead.
Other Deputies have pointed out that there have been few economic benefits from the way fisheries are managed relative to what we should have. Nearly all those benefits would be lost to large European conglomerates which would buy up the quotas at a cost of thousands of jobs and a major impact on the economy. That is a serious threat but it is not idle; it happened in Africa when countries were forced to sell their fishing rights. The result has been a decrease of approximately 50% in Africa's fish population. Many fishermen have lost their jobs. That is the backdrop to this discussion which must be factored in, namely, the acceleration of the process where the small fisherman is thrown to the side and the big factory trawlers are still ruling the roost. In that context the overall Common Fisheries Policy needs to be examined rather than just the area of quotas.
I am puzzled by one or two issues and perhaps the Minister could help me with the puzzle, in particular the contradiction between the environmentalists and the fishing industry. Both of their arguments seem plausible and the Minister must try to reconcile them.
I was briefed on the issue by one Minister who was in the Department. He suggested a few points which are important in terms of the global outlook of the fishing industry. The first point is to ask why there is not a fisheries Ministry. The Minister who spoke to me said there was enough work in the area to keep him fully occupied as a Minister of State in the Department and that fisheries tended to be neglected as an important part of the Irish industrial landscape because it is lumped in with agriculture, which in itself is a job for the senior Minister. It appears that fisheries have been neglected by successive Ministers because it has been lumped in with agriculture and the marine.
The Minister will be aware that a marine co-ordination group was examining fisheries under the previous Government. A group of Secretaries General of various Departments were involved. The group was set up to break through the bureaucracy that has cursed the industry. I wonder if it is still active.
That is important. I am delighted the Minister has replied to the question.
The Minister may have addressed the second point in his opening speech but I did not hear him; it relates to the licensing of bays and whether it is still producing a formidable delay to the development of the fishing industry, in particular shellfish.
The big question is one which I cannot resolve but which the Minister is probably at pains to resolve, namely, the problem of over-fishing. I was impressed by what Deputy Pringle said about that. In an amateur way I was also impressed by a briefing I received from the Pew Environment Group. The argument is that scientific limits, which appear to be totally arbitrary, are pretty well ignored. It seems that the figures for the EU limits, with which I presume the Minister is familiar, are breached by approximately 48%. They go above the scientific limit. The scientific limits do not seem to matter at all. Approximately 70% of the assessed stock is over-fished by the industry.
The other matter on which I would like the Minister to respond is the World Bank report. It was called something quite obscure such as, The Sunken Billions. It is a dramatic report which indicates that over-fishing globally costs approximately $50 billion per annum.
Subsidies appear to be a thorny subject, particularly from the European Union. Figures kindly provided to me by Deputy Pringle indicate that the European Union is paying tens of millions of euro in fishing subsidies to countries that have neither fishing fleets nor even a coastline, and that landlocked countries such as Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic shared a sum of more than €20 million in a single year despite none of them landing any fish according to a report from the environmental group, Oceana, into the scandal of EU fisheries.
There are other instances of subsidies being almost inexplicable. A total of approximately €13 million was distributed by the European Union to modernise fishing fleets between 1994 and 2006 with a further €130 million paid out to owners to scrap the same vessels. In one case a Spanish owner was given a €1,000 subsidy for improvements to his trawler and then just 17 days later he was handed €26,000 to dispose of the same boat.
Spain is the biggest beneficiary of EU fishing subsidies, pocketing more than €5 billion in grants since 2000. This sum is about a third of the fishing aid spent across the EU and accounts for almost a third of the value of the fishing industry.
I welcome the fact that the Commission appears to be receptive to looking at the scientific advices on a case-by-case basis. It is a difficult task especially in mixed fisheries.
I am aware that the Minister is working closely with stakeholders. Anecdotally, there is a view among fishermen that certain stocks are replenishing. I refer to hake, haddock and, in some cases, cod. What measures or interventions are possible from BIM and the Marine Institute in terms of them becoming involved in collecting more data in consultation with stakeholders and fishermen to see how much stocks are replenishing?
Specific talks are taking place at the moment. I met fishermen in my constituency and I am sure Deputy Pringle has met some in his constituency also who did not take the money in the buy-out salmon scheme. They understood that if they were to take the money they would not be allowed to fish again. I accept the buy-out scheme for those with salmon fishing licences was offered under a different Department. Would the Minister consider examining the potential for fishermen who did not take up the buy-out scheme, who now find themselves in that situation, to consider facilitating them in the shellfish industry? I accept we are crossing from one Department to another. I accept also that there are not many fishermen in that situation but they were of the belief that they would not be allowed to fish again. Perhaps we should offer some facility to help them enter the shellfish industry.
I wish to raise the issue of prawn fishery, which is a sustainable fishery. I understand we have a 9,000 tonne quota but we will only catch 3,000 tonnes this year because of the cod recovery plan. Could the Minister comment on how we might get around that problem?
My other question relates to prawn fishing in the Porcupine Bank. Does the Minister intend to remove the separate quota that was introduced this year and allow the seasonal closure put in place previously by the industry, which was working very well, to do its job?
In reply to Deputy McHugh's questions, as he indicated, the salmon buy-out scheme is under a different Department and even if I wanted to change the rules to allow people to catch salmon again commercially I would not be able to do that without getting agreement from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte. We are always open to looking at new ways of creating viable businesses for coastal communities but salmon fishing will be difficult. There is nothing to prevent someone from entering the shellfish sector. If he or she wants to apply for a licence, there is a mechanism for doing this. We have put in place a template for shellfish aquaculture licences.
Other Deputies asked questions about aquaculture licences. We are working through the frustrating process of having to undertake an environmental impact assessment of all Natura scheme bays, the bays around the coast designated as special areas of conservation by the European Union. This must be done before we can consider licence applications in these bays. That process is well under way and we will have completed the assessment of four or five bays by the end of the year and will be accepting aquaculture licence applications as soon as possible after that date.
A number of Deputies asked about the collection of data. When the European Commissioner came to Ireland recently, she made a point of outlining how impressed she was by the level of data collection here, the people in the Marine Institute and the accuracy and credibility of its technology. Anyone who reads the Stock Book which assesses fish stocks in various areas will see that our capacity to collect data and make a credible argument based on science, to which the industry and the scientists in the Marine Institute have contributed, is better than that of any other country in the European Union. That is our starting point. If we need to build and improve on this, we should try to do so, but we are starting from a good place. When I entered politics, there was considerable friction between the fishing industry and scientists in the Marine Institute with regard to the facts. We have come a long way since and it has been a positive development.
Deputy Ross spoke about the Sunken Billions report. The title refers to income that will be lost to the fishery sector if we do not implement a maximum sustainable yield approach to stock management. The report outlines the precautionary approach we need to take to ensure we will have viable fish stocks. Otherwise we will lose billions of euro of potential revenue.
I wish the Minister and his officials the best in the Council negotiations in the middle of December. I am sure he will do his best for the country and the fishing industry.
Will the Minister consider helping small inshore island fisheries, given that the pelagic catch is small, sporadic and seasonal? These fishermen are always looking over their shoulders with regard to enforcement. It is a traditional fishery and probably the most sustainable, in terms of catch, effort and power. It should be maintained.
In the light of this year's successful figures for the tuna fishery, will the Minister consider fighting for an increased total allowable catch, TAC, for albacore tuna in the coming season? We have not had such a good tuna catch for some years and our TAC of tuna has gone down because of this. We were considerably more successful this year.
A sustainability policy requires enforcement in respect of our own and visiting fleets. Will the Minister make a statement on the introduction of electronic log books to underpin enforcement measures and the sustainability of our fisheries?
I probably know less about fish than Deputy Ross, although I love to eat all kinds of fish. As long as it is dead, I will eat it.
I am amazed by the discarding of fish and that there is no better way of dealing with this issue, especially for smaller boats fishing off our coast. Could some accommodation not be found? It is being said the landing of cod will not be allowed and that boats will either have to throw it back into the sea or pay a penalty for bringing it ashore. No one will land cod if a penalty awaits them onshore. Surely a scheme could be organised, whereby a fisherman would not receive the full value for cod and it would go to a depot where local people could buy it at a reduced rate. This would be better than throwing it back into the sea. Seemingly, cod do not survive very long out of water. There is a way around every problem. Forcing fishermen to discard fish is a simple way to regulate catches. However, it would make much more sense to devise a scheme in order that fish, of which we are short, would not be wasted.
I thank the Minister for addressing the House on this very important matter for the fishing industry. I commend him for his efforts to date on its behalf and for his proactive approach, particularly on the issue of discards which has been mentioned but in numerous other areas also. I echo the comments of Deputy Harrington in wishing him the very best in his work in the European Union on behalf of the industry. His performance will be crucial in ensuring the future of the industry and for many households around the coast.
In view of the effective management plan for the Celtic Sea herring fishery, will the Minister make a decision soon on the management of the fishery in 2012? Will sustainability be a key element of that decision? Has there been further progress on the matter discussed in Clonakilty last July of adding value onshore to catches by foreign fleets? A number of representatives of the French fishing industry visited Clonakilty on that occasion and we had an informative gathering. Has further progress been made or has contact been made with other countries on the matter? It represents a great opportunity for coastal communities and has major job creation potential.
I listened with interest to the Minister's comments. I am sure he will agree with me that any reduction in the opportunities available to the fishing fleet in the north west would be devastating. We have seen the devastation in ports across County Donegal. Killybegs Harbour is still operational, but many other ports, including Burtonport, Bunbeg and other smaller ports, are no longer operational to the same extent. We cannot see a reduction. What would such a reduction do to the Government's current plans, particularly those announced six months ago next week in Killybegs? Deputy Pringle and I were in attendance when the Minister announced the creation of 250 jobs by 2014 and 58 jobs in the seafood processing sector. Six months later, however, not one of these jobs has materialised, as the Minister indicated to me yesterday in response to my parliamentary question.
I understand the process in terms of the 58 jobs that require the completion of capital works if they are to be created. Is the Minister disappointed that none of the 308 jobs announced six months ago has materialised? What would be the impact of the Commission's proposals on such jobs, particularly the 250 identified for Killybegs in the jobs initiative?
I will ask two brief questions. In terms of inshore fisheries, what scope does the Minister have to allow fishermen to work within the six-mile limit, particularly in the context of cod recovery plan area 6A? The ban on net fishing therein is having a severe impact on the inshore fleet.
I welcome the Minister's comments on the completion of the appropriate agricultural assessment of four bays. Unfortunately, a further 86 bays remain to be assessed. It will take an inordinate amount of time. Will the Minister examine the process used by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in respect of Sruwaddacon Bay in north-west County Mayo, where an appropriate assessment seems to have been carried out rapidly to allow a major construction project - the building of a tunnel to take gas ashore - to go ahead? Perhaps this model could be used regardless of a Department's gold plate.
Deputy Harrington asked about next year's tuna quota. It has been decided and we have managed to secure a roll-over of this year's quota into next year. This will be deemed a success, given the amount of pressure applied by some countries to take greater shares of the quota to satisfy other interests. They have not been given those shares.
Deputy Clare Daly referred to the matter of electronic log books. The Commission has insisted that fleets across the EU should implement a system of electronic log books, which would give the enforcement structures of countries like Ireland instant data on what is being caught, where it is being caught and who is catching it. This means we would not need to rely on a paper trail, which has proven to be an ineffective way of matching catch with boats' quotas. The electronic log book concept has been welcomed by the Irish industry and will help us to create a more level playing pitch in respect of catches in waters for which Ireland has responsibility.
Deputy Wallace's point about discards was correct. I feel strongly about the issue, as does the industry. Voluntary initiatives in the industry are being taken to try to ensure fewer juveniles are caught, for example, through the use of better targeted fishing gear on the Celtic Sea. When one tries to catch cod, one also catches whiting and haddock, which are in the same fishery. We are considering ways to allow fishermen to be more targeted through the use of, for example, escape hatches and alternative mesh sizes, and to try to release juvenile fish when and where appropriate.
The main objective in combating discards must be to avoid the catching of out of quota or unwanted fish as opposed to landing everything caught. This is particularly so in the case of juvenile fish. Killing them makes no sense as they are not marketable, people do not want them and it damages future stocks. The following year, they will be mature and we can catch them.
By changing equipment one can also be more targeted in terms of species, but there will always be an element of by-catch and we need to try to deal with it in a pragmatic way. We should not incentivise wrong catches. Once landed, however, we must put a mechanism in place to deal with the issue.
To respond to Deputy Doherty, I was in Killybegs at the start of the summer to launch an initiative. Local stakeholders wanted to put together a jobs document that could create up to 250 jobs during the coming years. I will launch the document in the next few days, but no one promised 250 jobs or even a portion of that number within six months. The Deputy should not try to twist something that is positive for his area. In co-operation with my Department, the local authority, fishing interests and other interests in Killybegs, stakeholders in his area have done a considerable amount of voluntary work in drafting a report so that a sustainable development plan for the region, driven by fisheries, can be put in place to create jobs in the next two to three years. We are about to launch the finalised report that I announced at the start of the summer. It is a positive news story and it would be helpful if people did not misrepresent what we are trying to do.
Unlike many ports, Killybegs relies mainly on the pelagic sector, but we are not discussing that sector today. Rather, we are discussing whitefish quotas. Any reduction in quota will impact on the north west, as it will on any other part of the country. The primary focus of the study under discussion is on the allocation of whitefish quota, but the pelagic sector is an important one.
Deputy Pringle asked about inshore fishing. We are seeking changes to allow certain fishing to take place, for example, jigging for pollock and gill netting for spotted dog which is used for bait in the crab fishery. Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, and the Marine Institute have done trials to add to our arguments and I can send the Deputy further details on the matter.
There are a number of vulnerable areas. When I saw the initial Commission proposal, I was concerned about its impact on the overall fishery. Where appropriate, we have worked hard to change the Commission's proposal by putting together data that are based on science and collected in a credible way.
Regarding area 6A off County Donegal, we accept that there remains a significant problem in terms of cod. Where Celtic Sea stocks of herring are concerned, we are encouraging the Commission to be more cautious. The question of Irish Sea cod is receiving a great deal of political attention from myself and my counterpart in Northern Ireland, Ms Michelle O'Neill, MLA, to try for a united approach, North and South. In terms of making appropriate assessments for new quotas next year, the Commission has got the boarfish issue all wrong. Thanks to the Marine Institute, we have sufficient credible data to put a new, strong argument in December to improve what is a difficult situation for the industry. I am determined in this regard. If people want to contribute to the process, we will happily try to take their points on board.