Dáil debates

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage


2:40 pm

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to present the Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 for the consideration of the House. The purpose of this Bill is to confer an explicit power on Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for inland fisheries offences. It achieves this by amending Part 4 of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 by the insertion of a specific provision providing for IFI to have power to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for offences under the Acts specified. It will ensure that IFI can fully enforce the Inland Fisheries Acts. The Bill also makes some additional corrections to the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 to ensure that minor omissions in that Act, which could affect IFI's prosecution powers, are fully resolved.

Before providing Members with an overview of the different elements within the Bill, I will share some background. IFI is the State agency responsible for the protection, conservation, development and promotion of Ireland’s inland fisheries and sea angling resources. IFI was formed on 1 July 2010 following the amalgamation of the Central Fisheries Board and the seven regional fisheries boards into a single agency. Ireland has over 74,000 km of rivers and streams and 128,000 ha of lakes, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of IFI. IFI's jurisdiction also extends to the 12-mile limit around the coast.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment received advice from the Office of the Attorney General in February 2017 to the effect that IFI does not have a power to bring prosecutions under the Inland Fisheries Acts. It was advised that an explicit power to prosecute should be inserted into Part 4 of the 2010 Act as a matter of priority. The impact of this advice is that until the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 is amended, prosecutions brought by IFI for which proceedings have been initiated cannot be proceeded with. There are approximately 150 cases that fall into this category. It should be noted that cases that have already been finally disposed of by the courts are not affected. In light of this advice, the amendments to the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 are being pursued as a matter of priority. The Short Title of the Bill is the Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2017.

I shall now turn to the provisions of the Bill. The Bill comprises five sections, the main provisions of which I will summarise with the following definitions. Section 1 provides that “Act of 2010” means the Inland Fisheries Act 2010. The amendment of section 2 of the Act of 2010 updates the definitions section - section 2 - of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 to clarify that references to the “Act of 1962” refer to the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1962. In section 3 the amendment of section 77 of Act of 2010 provides for additional corrections to the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 to ensure that minor omissions in that Act, which could impact IFI's prosecution powers, are fully resolved. The amendments relate to the table in section 77 of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010. Part 2 of the table is amended to substitute "Section of Act of 1962” for “Section of Principal Act”. Part 2 of the table is also amended by the insertion of two news rows at rows two and three. These insertions make reference to section 28 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1962 and the associated penalties. Part 3 of the Table is amended by the substitution of “Section of Act of 1994” for “Section of Principal Act”. Section 4 deals with summary proceedings and amends Part 4 of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 by the insertion of a new section 80A following section 80, which will allow summary proceedings to be brought and prosecuted by IFI for offences under the Acts listed. Section 5 contains general provisions relating to the Short Title, commencement and collective citation. I look forward to engaging with Deputies in the debate on the Bill on Committee Stage.

As with all natural resources, inland fisheries must be managed carefully and responsibly. First, decisions on the management of fish stocks and the waterways must be made using the best available scientific evidence. Local knowledge is also important in helping to guide decisions. Decisions relating to fisheries and rivers may not always be popular but they are made in the interests of the different stakeholders and in the interests of the environment. Second, we must ensure that we have an organisation that can direct our policy of careful and responsible management of our inland fisheries. That organisation is Inland Fisheries Ireland, whose members work diligently to manage our inland fisheries for the benefit of us all. Our aim is to ensure that Inland Fisheries Ireland has the power to carry out this vital task and that is the purpose of this Bill.

Poaching is not a victimless crime. Every time a person poaches fish, he or she is stealing from you and me and from the people of Ireland. Poaching threatens not only the careful, responsible management of our inland fisheries but also the important angling sector. Angling is a hugely important rural recreation activity with benefits for local people and local economies in terms of the substantial tourism that it generates. This legislation will give Inland Fisheries Ireland clear and direct powers to tackle the crime of poaching. We also must acknowledge the problems of pollution crime and pollution caused by industry, which results in damage to our river ecosystems and in fish kills.

This legislation will help us with the careful and responsible management of our inland fisheries natural resource and the legislation will help protect this natural resource for the benefit of anglers, local businesses and communities across the country. This Bill is important because it impacts on IFI's ability to bring prosecutions and fully enforce the Inland Fisheries Acts. IFI needs these powers to effectively conserve and protect Ireland’s inland fisheries and sea-angling resource. My intention is that amendments to the 2010 Act will be in place well within the statutory period of the six-month timeframe for the initiation of proceedings following the date of alleged offences. This will ensure that anyone who commits an offence will still be liable to prosecution and it is intended that there should be no period during which offences can be committed with impunity. All current provisions and offences of the Inland Fisheries Acts continue in full force and effect. I am happy to commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this legislation. Fianna Fáil will be supporting this Bill. It is a critical and urgent amendment to confer explicit powers on Inland Fisheries Ireland to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for inland fisheries offences. As the Minister of State has indicated, the IFI is the main body with responsibility for protecting Ireland’s inland waterways - and up to 12 nautical miles off the coastline - and the fish that inhabit these areas from illegal poaching, overfishing and other illegal activities. The Minister of State is correct when he says that poaching is not a victimless crime. In some parts of the country it was almost a badge of honour for people to engage in the illicit poaching of fish. It has a detrimental impact on fish stocks. It also has a very negative impact on the fishing experience of many people who visit different parts of Ireland to pursue their leisure, and who return fish to their natural environment. The fishing sector is, in many cases, the only attraction for tourism into vast tracts of our State. I believe it is a sector that has been under-supported by successive Governments, as is evident from the length of time it has taken to bring such a Bill to the House. There are many locations dotted throughout the country that with a little bit of investment and support from the State - in conjunction with other State entities, be they local authorities or other significant landholders - could be made into very attractive locations from a fishing point of view.

3 o’clock

Fianna Fáil has put on record its position on developing the fishing sector. Our fishing policy paper highlights the need to appoint a Minister with full responsibility for fisheries and to place all responsibility for fisheries, including inland fisheries and marine leisure, in a single Department. This would ensure a uniformity of approach with a view to developing the sector more fully and proactively into the future. It would then have the capacity to develop as a business that could be marketed abroad in addition to meeting domestic demand. It could act as a very significant tourism attractor without a need for massive investment.

Our policy paper also highlights the necessity to prioritise fisheries and marine resources, such as harvesting high quality indigenous marine species, seafood processing, bio-marine ingredients, seaweed production and marine renewables, as key contributors to national economic recovery, job creation and balanced regional growth. Also included in the policy paper is the need to promote sustainable fishing and aquaculture practices to achieve long-term security of fish stocks and to secure the incomes of fishermen and related sectors. It is well accepted that there is a need for sustainability. The policies Fianna Fáil would bring forward would certainly ensure that is the case.

Those who are involved in leisure pursuits around fishing recognise the importance of ensuring that sustainable practices are in place. They want to see changes to the law enabling Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI to prosecute those who would undermine and impact negatively on the area for domestic users and tourists alike. In east Clare, where there are significant resources by way of lakes and fish stocks, local angling groups have struggled to maintain fish stocks over time because of pollution in the first instance and, in more recent years, because of the level of poaching. They tell me more bailiffs are needed. It is one thing having the legislative capacity to make a prosecution, but it is also vitally important that there is an adequate level of detection, which requires people working on behalf of the State.

There is also a necessity to look at our entire asset base in the development of the sector. For example, the Tulla and district anglers are having difficulty accessing a lake they fish regularly. They are having a battle with Coillte, which will not give them access although it allows other clubs and entities onto its lands. It is unsightly and unnecessary. We need to instil a recognition of the importance of our inland fisheries and their associated leisure and tourism pursuits in all our State agencies. There is a very significant tourism benefit to the area. If we allow the culture to deteriorate over the years, we will no longer have the ghillies and other people who provide the basis for the tourism sector. We do not want to see the practice dying out or being discouraged.

Those who work in restorative justice programmes helping to rehabilitate young people who, for one reason or another, have lost their way and find themselves before the courts, have identified fishing as a practice which has helped young offenders to get back on the straight and narrow. It is a pursuit in which they have found great capacity to interact again and pursue a meaningful existence. There are so many benefits to inland fishing and they are not harnessed enough by the State.

I welcome the Bill and recognise its importance. While it does not go as far as Fianna Fáil would like in terms of developing a policy, it begins to ensure that we can at least deal with overfishing and other activities that would damage stocks. It allows the IFI to pursue wrongdoers through the courts. While we support the Bill, we ask the Minister to take a more holistic approach to the sector and that he looks to develop policies from which legislative proposals would flow. Those policies should aim not just to protect what we have but to enhance and grow the sector across the entire space. All State entities should work together in a cohesive way to this end. The true potential of this sector has gone almost unrecognised.

I propose to share the remainder of my time with my party colleagues.

2:50 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Does the House agree to that proposal? Agreed. That is self-discipline.

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I, too, am delighted to support the Bill. It is crucially important. We can have all the laws and Bills in the world but we need the leverage to implement them. We have seen continued depletion of our lakes and rivers. We need to urgently address the situation as we are leaving IFI vulnerable to legal challenge simply for doing its job of protecting the inland waterways and the fish that inhabit them. I come from the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan. In Cavan, we are renowned for having 365 lakes. Some 30% of overseas visitors who come to Cavan do so solely for the purpose of angling, which brings a huge boost to the local economy. Both Cavan and Monaghan are very dependent on the tourism that comes from inland fisheries.

We depend on IFI to ensure that our lakes and rivers are protected from poaching and pollution. That is why I am so happy to see the Bill coming before us today. Inland Fisheries Ireland inform me that, in the upper Erne catchment, which runs through Clones towards Three Mile House, Ballybay and on to Lough Egish in County Monaghan before moving into Bruskey and Lough Gowna in County Cavan, there were five on-the-spot fines for breaking the law of conservation last year. One prosecution was secured in February 2017 in respect of a case from last year. I have also heard first hand from some of the angling clubs about the challenges they face in terms of funding, the poaching of their waters and the lack of membership. This area needs further investment and could be very much improved upon. Midlands counties like Cavan and Monaghan do not have beautiful coastlines to attract tourists and are very dependent on resources such as lakes and rivers. This area has not yet reached its full potential. Angling clubs across Cavan and Monaghan are to the forefront of pushing for angling among young people and those in the autumn years of their lives. That is to be welcomed and encouraged.

In 2013 Inland Fisheries Ireland published a study of the socioeconomic importance of recreational angling. The study concluded that up to 406,000 individuals participated in recreational angling in 2012 and that there was a total expenditure of approximately €550 million. That is vast for a small island like ours. Given that we are an island nation, it is all the more important. These are significant sums of revenue and job numbers. The jobs are often placed in rural areas that need economic development and a boost.

Inland Fisheries Ireland plays a major role in eliminating and addressing any environmental issues. Unfortunately, we have often had oil spillages and other environmentally unfriendly incidents. Of course the organisation plays a major role in all of that. However, without adequate powers, Inland Fisheries Ireland is completely unable to do its job effectively. Like my colleague, Deputy Dooley, I believe it is important to have a Minister with full responsibility for fisheries. We should place all responsibility for fisheries, including inland fisheries and marine leisure, in a single Department. It is important that we promote sustainable fishing and aquaculture practices to achieve long-term security for fishing stocks and incomes for fishermen and related sectors. I will conclude now because I want to give my colleagues an opportunity to speak. It is important. I am happy to support the Bill.

3:00 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I am happy to be able to contribute to the debate on the Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. The objective of the Bill is technical as well as urgent in terms of enhancing the prosecution powers of Inland Fisheries Ireland in order that it can enforce legislation. There is a lacuna in the law that prevents the organisation from doing so at the moment. Therefore, the Bill is urgent and important and we fully support it. It is important that the organisation has the powers to carry out its functions. That is a key aspect of what it needs to be able to safeguard the stocks.

It is important to take stock, in every sense, of where we are in terms of fisheries and inland fisheries in the wider sense. Stocks are under severe pressure not only in Ireland but throughout the world. Our focus is here. There are some things that we can control and some things we cannot control. In the case of those things we can control, it is important that we do so.

I note that salmon stocks globally have fallen from a peak in the mid-1970s of tonnage of 12,500 to approximately 1,500 tonnes now. There has been a 90% decline in salmon catch internationally since the mid-1970s. In Ireland, the decline is not quite as bad but there has been a 75% decline in salmon stocks and catch. Salmon in the rivers is down 75% from the peak of the 1970s. Our sea trout are under increasing pressure. Our eel population has been decimated in the same period, although for somewhat different reasons. It is along the same vein.

What can we control? Netting and poaching are addressed in the Bill with provision for prosecutions. Inland Fisheries Ireland needs every power available to do that. Sea lice and global warming are factors as well. We can contribute to the mitigation of these factors but they are not things we can directly control. It is important to realise those factors arise as well.

The fisheries industry is importance to Ireland. Often, we promote ourselves as a food hub or green island centred on food, tourism and everything we have to offer the visitor. Our visitors include local visitors and those who come from abroad. I believe up to 400,000 people are involved in recreational angling every year according to the most recent survey. Half of these people come from abroad. There is a major tourism uplift in that sense.

An economic benefit of up to €555 million was noted in the most recent survey in respect of direct spending. The figure is to €836 million in terms of the value to the economy from the spend on fishing and fishing-related activities. These affects are being felt in areas that are not seeing the benefits of wider economic activity. These are rural and less-populated areas in the regions. Those of us in Fianna Fáil are supportive of enhancing the economic opportunity and potential. I imagine the Government takes this view as well. It affects everything from guest houses to pubs, restaurant, cafes garages and other services. All of this increases visitors to these areas and this gives a major lift.

I want to leave time for my colleague, Deputy Murphy, who will wrap up on our side. Fisheries are a great national asset, as are the fish. Those responsible for fisheries need to be proactive about managing fish in terms of protection of the resource. They need to support that resource and be proactive by encouraging, enhancing and safeguarding it for future generations, because we do not miss what we have until it is gone. Let us hope we do not end up there. I very much support the Bill and I look forward to working with future versions of it.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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Like my colleagues, I hope this Bill will solve the issue and that we will not be back to deal with the matter again. We all know there is a considerable problem throughout the country with poaching. This is something that we should acknowledge. Communities have approached us. On numerous occasions in the past two or three years communities have approached me and brought me alongside the River Shannon. In one case they showed me ten pike laid out and being gutted. All the waste was being thrown back into the river. I was told that the fish would be exported and sold as a delicacy in a certain country. I have the proof, as do many people. We are as well to be upfront and honest about it: this is going on. I hope this can be addressed by the Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2016.

My colleagues on either side of me have spoken about the number of people involved in recreational fishing. The figure is extraordinary at in excess of 400,000. More extraordinary is that 250,000 of this number are our people. We are told the expenditure involved is €555 million. That is a lot of money and it has a serious income impact of €755 million. Recreational angling activity supports almost 10,000 jobs in the country. I have no doubt that this figure could be increased to 15,000. I think we need to get even more proactive.

In one way I was surprised that there was not more about this at the launch of the new rural programme. I accept that more money is being invested and a programme is in place. However, many communities are deprived - the Minister of State knows this as well - and this could be a lifeline for them. Many lakes are inaccessible. Many lakes could be restocked. This is the second part of that jigsaw given that we know we have the facilities and lakes and rivers.

My home town is Strokestown. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows this - he knows the county well. There are 65 lakes within a ten mile radius. It was the envy of much of the country for many years. Sadly, much of that has died away. One reason is that we have not put the facilities in place. We have not developed enough lakes. The River Shannon runs from one side of Roscommon to the other, as the Minister of State is well aware. We have major opportunities there. I am keen to see a greater hands-on and proactive approach. I want to see more involvement with communities. We need to consider all the other leisure activities that we can build around lakes and rivers, including picnic areas and walks. Much could be done from a tourism aspect to create considerable revenue for the State and create jobs in communities. That is something I would like to see developed further. I realise my time is up. Perhaps we will have a greater debate on this in time to come.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
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I am sharing time with Deputy Martin Ferris. I will not need 20 minutes.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I know that we have been around the reasons for it. The purpose is to correct the flaws in the 2010 Act. It is important that our inland waterways, lakes and canals are protected and that the fish stocks in them are protected too. This is important for fishermen and the local angling clubs that do great work. It is important for tourism that we have a good system of enforcement in place. I welcome the fact that we got a good briefing on the matter from the officials in the Department. That was very helpful.

A good deal of damage is done by illegal fishing. This includes wilful damage, flouting the law and flouting regulations. It causes many problems by destroying fish stock in inland waterways and canals.

In my constituency, we want to try to ensure that the waterways of the Barrow and the Nore and their tributaries, such as the River Erkina and the River Goul, as well as the canal from Monasterevin to Vicarstown, are maintained.

There is a huge amount of voluntary work being done right throughout the State by local angling clubs. They do a great deal of work maintaining rivers, streams and canals, stocking the waterways, ensuring that they are being maintained, protecting the native fish stocks and restocking brown trout, etc. They work with Inland Fisheries Ireland, local communities and local councils in that regard. What they are doing voluntarily plays a huge part in protecting the rivers, waterways and the environment, in improving the facilities for access to fishing and in providing a valuable recreational facility. There is also the financial benefit of tourism. While the State is tapping into that, I am of the view that a great deal more can be done. There is major potential there. I have seen figures over the years which indicated that one salmon caught is worth so much to the local economy. The figures are huge. They may be a little exaggerated but the amounts involved certainly run into hundreds of euro in terms of the benefit to local economies through bed and breakfast establishments, hotels, pubs, shops, car hire and everything else. That needs to be taken into account.

It is important that Inland Fisheries Ireland continues to work with local clubs to develop that even more. Local councils have a key role to play as well, particularly in light of the demise of the drainage boards. The drainage board for the River Nore has been gone for a long time, as has that relating to the River Barrow. That is unfortunate but it is something that may be a bit of an add-on to the local councils. The matter needs to be given closer attention. The role of local authorities is important in circumstances where they have taken the place of the old drainage boards. It is very important that there is close co-operation with the officials from Inland Fisheries Ireland and that they have people out on the ground building up and maintaining good relations with the fishing clubs. We can pass whatever laws we want in this House but if they are not enforced or are unenforceable, they have no effect. That kind of networking and roots in each area are very important.

The final matter I want to mention is with regard to the related matter of the ban on eel fishing since 2010. I understand that approximately 150 people are affected by it. These are individuals who were making genuine livelihoods from eel fishing. If this happened in any other area of employment - such as, in the context of agriculture, a ban being placed on sheep farming - there would be a compensation package or a hardship fund provided straight away. I ask the Minister to comment on this matter. I raise it today, although I know I have mentioned it to him in the past. What stage is that at? What is the likelihood of that happening? Is there any provision being made for it or what is the likelihood of it for those people whose businesses genuinely ended? Many of them are at an age and living in an area in which it is not easy for them to access alternative employment. I would appreciate a response from the Minister. What stage is it at and what hope is there for it?

We will be supporting the Bill. I know that Deputy Ferris wants to raise a particular issue as well. Overall, we welcome this Bill and will support it. We look forward to it progressing through the House and being on the Statute Book. The most important thing is that we do this with local communities, fishing clubs and anglers. We must not lose sight of that. It is like the Garda Síochána, in respect of which there has been a lot of discussion. It needs the local community on its side. If there is a separation between officialdom and the people on the ground, nothing happens and it will not work. We want to try to encourage that.

3:10 pm

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry, Sinn Fein)
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Like my colleague, Deputy Stanley, I am very supportive of the Bill. We will facilitate its passage through the House without any difficulties. Effectively, the Bill does little more than give actual powers of prosecution to Inland Fisheries Ireland. It puts the onus of responsibility on the latter to ensure that our rivers are properly policed, to protect the environment of those rivers and, I hope, to ensure that rivers in decline are facilitated and restocked through hatcheries and so forth.

I was a member of the agriculture, marine and fisheries committee when the drift net offshore salmon fishermen were taken off the seas. At that time, I argued strongly against the move. I still believe that it was a retrograde step. They became the victims of an agenda to place all of the blame on drift net fishermen. My understanding since is that, despite counters on the rivers and so forth, the stocks have not increased. Obviously, the problem was elsewhere but nobody was prepared to face up to it. Instead, the easy victims were the fishermen and fisherwomen. However, that is for the past. Obviously, those in coastal communities paid a huge price and suffered a loss of income.

I fully appreciate and understand the tremendous contribution to our economy of a very vibrant tourist angling sector. That goes without saying. The value of fish caught in rivers and put back has a huge impact on many parts of rural Ireland, particularly on the west and not least in Donegal. I had the opportunity of being in Donegal on the day after Mr. Martin McGuinness's funeral. I travelled all over the county and met local fishermen. I also with angling groups in Killybegs - people from the Rosses and Fintown angling clubs who fish the Gweebarra River. What I find very disturbing is that a case involving three of their members - John Boyle, Peadar Ó Baoill and John Boyle Reilly - has been before the High Court for some time. I am sure the Minister of State is as well acquainted with that situation as I. There is support, I imagine, right across the divide in the House for giving Inland Fisheries Ireland legal powers to police and look after the rivers. However, pursuing this case certainly makes no sense if Inland Fisheries Ireland wants to build confidence and support in areas in which this is happening. These cases are sending out the wrong message. For many, it amounts to a form of bullying by Inland Fisheries Ireland. We also have to take into account the huge financial burden on the families of these three fishermen, as well as the emotional effects it has on their families and wider families. It would be a very good statement on the part of Inland Fisheries Ireland if these cases were not proceeded with. My understanding is that they will have no legal standing because we are only now giving powers of legal standing Inland Fisheries Ireland

There needs to be huge investment in the sector in order to restock the rivers. There is also a need to ensure that they are restocked in a way that they will become increasingly vibrant for our tourism economy, as well as from a recreational point of view for Irish anglers and so forth. Therefore, the Minister of State has our support on this. I would like to see the cases of the three Donegal men currently before the courts dispensed with in order to facilitate a good environment going forward. We support the passage of the Bill through the House.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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As it is 3.30 p.m, we will adjourn the debate. Deputy Willie Penrose will commence his contribution when the debate resumes.

Debate adjourned.