Thursday, 21 November 2019
Report on Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017: Motion
That Dáil Éireann shall take note of the Report of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine entitled ‘Detailed Scrutiny of the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017’, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 8th November, 2018.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I welcome the opportunity to open the debate on the report. The Chairman of the committee, Deputy Deering, is unable to be here to propose the motion and as Deputy Martin Kenny who proposed the Bill is no longer a member of the committee, he cannot make the opening remarks. Therefore, it has fallen to me to do so.
I will take do happily.
In 2014 the sub-committee on fisheries examined the challenges in coastal and island fisheries. In its report, Promoting Sustainable Rural Coastal and Island Communities, 2014, the sub-committee recommended that the Government examine the feasibility of issuing heritage licences by the Department for rural coastal and island fishing communities. That was recommendation No. 10. Following on from that recommendation, the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017 was initiated in Dáil Éireann by Deputies Ferris, Martin Kenny and Doherty on 12 July 2017. The Bill was read a Second Time on 1 February 2018 and referred to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. As part of its work programme, the committee decided to undertake detailed scrutiny of the Bill, the objective of which is to provide a heritage licence for fishermen based on the islands who use traditional and/or small-sized methods for fishing in order that they may fish inshore waters. This will support island communities through the provision of an income stream from fishing.
One specific action is sought, namely, a small allocation of quota to be set aside for fishermen resident on offshore islands. It is envisaged that the allocation would be in the region of 0.5% to 1% of the overall quota for the country. The proposed mechanism is a heritage licence which would entitle the holder to access the additional quota. To hold a heritage licence, one must already be licensed to fish as per the current regulations.
At its meeting on 17 April 2018 the committee decided to seek a number of submissions from interested parties and held public hearings on 1 May and 12 June 2018 to explore the relevant issues and possible solutions. During the hearings the committee engaged with the sponsors of the Bill, departmental officials, seven fishing organisations and academics. I thank all those who appeared before the committee and submitted evidence for their valuable insight and engagement on the topic.
I will now walk through some specific issues and key recommendations made in the report. In concluding its detailed scrutiny of the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill the committee recommended that consideration be given to renaming the proposed heritage licence. It suggests naming the instrument a heritage fishing opportunity licence, HFOL, may be more appropriate.
The committee also recommended that an allocation of 0.5% to 1% of the national quota be set aside for heritage and traditional fishing which would only be accessed through holding a HFOL and that consideration be given to further detail regarding appeal procedures, review processes and provision for offences, sanctions and enforcement powers. These points may be addressed by incorporating these aspects of the HFOL into the current licensing system, recognising that it as an additional instrument intended to allow access to the additional quota.
Further recommendations are, noting recommendation No. 10 of the 2014 report of the sub-committee on fisheries, that the HFOL be introduced for island communities on a pilot basis; that consideration be given to expanding the scope of the Bill to include certain coastal communities that experience particular disadvantages; and that the requirement for a vessel to be licensed and entered in the polyvalent register be continued. The latter requirement protects the integrity of the register and the safety of the fleet.
It was also recommended that provision be made for the requirements related to track record to be set aside for quotas allocated under the HFOL but that similar requirements for ordinary quota remain in place; and that provision be made to allow for the transfer of the right to avail of or benefit from a HFOL between a number of named beneficiaries who were fishers who used the same licensed vessel.
The committee considered four categories of policy implications in the report: environmental, economic, social and legal. It recommends that the current system for allocating quota be reviewed and evaluated in terms of the economic benefit to every fisher with a registered and licensed vessel. In particular, the committee believes a system with an imbalance in quota allocation must be avoided. It recommends that consideration be given to putting a structure in place to ensure specific issues may be addressed at a higher level and that the need for consensus on issues at regional inland fisheries forums level be reviewed to account for island-specific issues. It also recommends that consideration be given to a cross-sectoral study of island communities in order to understand the overall losses to island communities, not just in terms of population and economic opportunity but also in terms of cultural impacts and opportunities for sectors such as tourism and infrastructure.
The committee acknowledges that the Bill has significant potential to improve the lives of island fishers and that there is scope for expansion to coastal fishers in extremely disadvantaged coastal regions. I refer to rural coastal fishers. The committee also acknowledges that the traditional fishing sector has less of an impact on the marine environment and that supporting it should be encouraged. However, the Bill should have due regard to the limits set by quotas under the CFP and suggests additional quota allocations for islanders pursuant to existing initiatives be explored.
The committee believes its recommendations provide a pathway for aligning the Bill with the overall policy objectives for fisheries at European and national level, as well as making some suggestions on how the wider policy framework for fisheries in Ireland can be improved to provide additional support for island fishers. However, some wider questions remain about the method of allocation of quota and the requirements to be met in terms of licensing and capacity.
The committee notes that the Department held a public consultation in April 2018 on trawling activities inside the six-nautical mile limit. The committee received correspondence from the Minister in January 2019 informing the committee that following this process all trawling activity by vessels over 18 m inside the six-nautical mile limit will end from the beginning of 2022.
I accept that. It was a typographical error.
On completion of its Detailed Scrutiny of the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017, the committee recommended that the Bill would progress to Third Stage, provided the scope is clarified to ensure that island and rural coastal communities are appropriately balanced.
That is what the committee report stated but I wish to add some further comments of my own on how things have progressed since then. This is a very important issue and I am aware the Minister and the Department have a particular view on the Bill, in particular that it might require a money message. Having looked at the reasons given for the money message, I think it is an excuse to block the Bill rather than there being a real need for a money message. That is a separate issue that has been debated widely in this House.
The island communities have worked very hard to try to sustain their livelihoods and life on the islands. It is very difficult to survive on the islands. The State should make sure that traditional island life is made as easy as possible given the difficult circumstances that prevail. In reality, the success of Ireland as a nation will be how we treat people that do not have the same advantages as people living in Dublin, for example, in Dublin 4. We must support traditional methods of fishing and ways of life in a respectful way that allows them to progress and to provide a livelihood for themselves and their families on the islands. I am sure the Minister will agree that life on an island is difficult enough without having to fight constantly against officialdom to ensure that one can survive.
Fishermen have constantly battled but they probably have not been as effective as farmers in terms of fighting their case for a livelihood in this country. Fishermen are diverse as well. Island fishermen are probably the weakest sector in the fishing community and they must be defended. We must ensure they can survive and continue to work using their traditional methods. Island communities landed 0.85% of the national quota in 2018. That is a minuscule amount. Increasing the quota allocation for island communities to 1.5% of the national quota would make no difference to larger fishermen but it would make a difference in terms of the survival or death of island communities. That is well worth pursuing.
The Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, IMRO, has done a lot of work in the meantime to try to ensure it can survive and continue. It has tried to meet a lot of the grounds the Department has insisted it must meet in order to be recognised as a producer organisation under the Department's requirements. However, IMRO has hit a brick wall because the Department has said it is a mandatory criterion for recognition that 30% by weight of the total production should be landed into a major port. That is fair enough but IMRO has never come across such a requirement anywhere. The view is that it was introduced at the last stage when IMRO thought it was getting places. That is the problem.
The Minister and his departmental officials will say the last thing they need is another producer organisation to deal with, but the reality is that IMRO is a producer organisation that is working on behalf of the fishermen it represents, while some producer organisations are so big and there are so many different sectors within it that they do not speak with one voice. IMRO is a group that would be speaking with one voice and it is vitally important to support it. It behoves the Dáil, the Government and the Department to facilitate people as much as possible. That is the road we should be going down. I urge the Minister to consider meeting with IMRO to explain the criteria it must fulfil. It has gone a lot of the way towards trying to meet the requirements and it might be able to go the rest of the way if the Minister were to meet with IMRO and explain the situation to it. That might go some way towards progressing the issue, which is vitally important.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the committee's report on the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017. I wish to reassure the House that both l, as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the Government recognise the value and importance of maintaining vibrant rural, island and coastal communities. That was the motivation for the Action Plan for Rural Development, Realising our Rural Potential, which was launched in January 2017 as a whole-of-Government strategy aimed at delivering real change for people living and working in rural Ireland. More recently, the Government Chief Whip and Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the islands, Deputy Kyne, has been asked to assist with the formulation of a national islands policy. To that end, the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, has already established an interdepartmental committee to identify the key stakeholders and to prepare a consultation paper to provide a framework for the development of the policy.
As regards the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill, it is already a matter of record that the Government is opposed to this Bill due to its incompatibility with existing EU legislation, namely, the Common Fisheries Policy regulations. The current sea-fishing boat licensing legislation and procedures already allow residents of Ireland's offshore islands to enter the fishing fleet in the same manner as any other applicant. The European Union regulation does not allow for a scheme of sea-fishing licences for individuals separated from the commercial sea-fishing boat, as proposed in the Bill.
In April this year I wrote to the committee Chairman and to Deputy Martin Kenny to advise them of the Government's reasoned response to a request for a money message for this Private Members' Bill. For the benefit of those present in the Chamber, I will read the letter into the record:
On the 2 nd April 2019 the Government approved a reasoned response to the request for a money message in relation to the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017.
The reasoned response (copy attached) sets out why a money message should not be issued for this legislation and includes: 1. The Bill is not compatible with existing EU legislation, namely the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) regulation and related regulations.
2. The recent Policy Directive 1/2019 introduces restrictions on the trawling activities by fishing vessels over 18 m in length overall inside Ireland’s six nautical mile limit and is expected to improve fishing opportunities for smaller vessels.
3. As outlined in my letter to you on the 31 st January 2019, improvements have been made in the communication of quota availability to the inshore sector. A further recent development in terms of small scale fishing activities is the launch of the Inshore Fisheries Strategy which was developed by the National Inshore Fisheries Forum in partnership with my Department, BIM, the [Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority] SFPA and the Marine Institute. I hope that the implementation of the Strategy will lead to further sustainable development of the small scale inshore sector and in this context I have asked BIM to work closely with the [National Inshore Fisheries Forum] NIFF to deliver the objectives set out in the strategy.
Finally, I continue to encourage any inshore fishermen and fisherwomen, islanders or otherwise, to work through their Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum to develop, advance or influence policies they feel can contribute to their inshore fisheries communities.
Yours sincerely," etc.
The reasoned response was laid before the Houses so I will not read that into the record now. In a previous letter on 31 January 2019, I advised Deputy Martin Kenny of policy developments of relevance to the rationale being used for this Bill. I will also read this letter into the record:
I am writing to you in relation to policy developments concerning fisheries management and particularly how these address issues which the Private Members Bill, "Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017" appears to have been influenced by. On 21 December 2018 I announced the outcome of a review on trawling activities by fishing vessels inside Ireland's six nautical mile limit which has culminated in the decision to restrict trawling activity by vessels over 18 metres in length overall within this zone.
By way of background, in April 2018, I launched a public consultation on the issue of trawling activities inside the six nautical mile limit. This consultation followed initial analysis of [this] issue by both the Marine Institute and (BIM( and also preliminary feedback from the fishing producer organisations. The consultation document put forward three potential options in light of the initial analysis. There was a wide diversity of views expressed in the [approximately] 900 submissions received and all of the submissions are available on the Department's website.
The BIM analysis highlighted that the exclusion of trawlers over 18 metres in length would likely lead to a reduction of 2.6% (€5.5 million) of their overall landings. [I make that observation in the context of the point made by Deputy Pringle about increasing the quota from under 1% even to 1.5%. This initiative is getting to 2.6%.] This small proportion of landings being foregone by larger vessels will provide opportunities to smaller inshore and island fishermen which would represent a potential increase of 62% in the value of their landings. I recognise of course that this potential figure may not be fully realised by the smaller vessels but the percentage gains for those vessels that will take up these opportunities will be significant. Additionally, the increase in availability of sprat and herring to smaller vessels would represent a diversification opportunity as these species are found in bays and coastal areas during the winter.
The Marine Institute report identified that trawling by large vessels can have a more detrimental impact on the environment than smaller trawls. Coastal waters provide nursery grounds for a number of commercial fish species and mixed species trawls can capture higher proportions of smaller fish inshore. Thus the new measures will provide additional protection for [those] nurseries. The National Inshore Fisheries Forum (NIFF) made a submission on the proposals during the public consultation process. The NIFF is the representative body for the inshore fleet and is supported by a network of Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums (RIFF). Island groups are among the multiple stakeholders represented on the ... forums, including at national level. The [national] submission by the fisheries forum] was in favour of the option which has been approved to exclude vessels over 18 metres using trawls.
I believe that a compelling case for excluding trawling by large vessels in coastal waters inside six nautical miles has been made. I am of the view that there are enough opportunities for vessels over 18 metres outside of the six nautical mile zone. For just over 1% of these vessels, sprat constitutes a high proportion of the value of their landings. For this reason over 18 metre vessels will continue to be allowed to trawl for sprat only inside [the] six nautical miles until 2022. This phased process addresses the transitional period required by [those] vessels to adapt and I have asked BIM to work with the vessel owners and others toward a smooth transition. A total allowable catch of up to 2,000 tonnes, reflecting a reduction on recent years, will be permitted for these vessels during 2020, reducing to 1,000 tonnes in 2021. All trawling activity by vessels over 18 metres inside the six nautical mile limit will end from the beginning of 2022.
l am convinced these measures will provide for further sustainable development of the small scale inshore sector which the Government committed to in [its] "Programme for a Partnership Government".
My officials have advised that a further key issue which emerged during consideration of the Bill related to communication about the opportunities which ... exist for inshore and island fishers to exploit quota-controlled stocks. I understand that this has also been addressed through the provision of figures on quota availability and fleet policies to the Inshore Fisheries Forums. The National Inshore Fisheries Forum has a representative [on] the Quota Management Advisory Committee and I continue to encourage inshore groups to seek updates through the Inshore Fisheries Forums so that the messages about quota availability continue to be disseminated throughout the industry.
In relation to the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill itself and the Joint Committee Report on the matter, it is worth noting that the restrictions on trawling by vessels over 18 m will benefit all coastal inshore fishers, whether island-based or not. This is, I believe, in the same spirit as the Joint Committee's suggestion to extend the concept of a heritage licence beyond just islanders. Another important issue I feel needs to be addressed is the concept of a specific licence being envisaged to assign quota opportunities. This is not the current practice for quota management and the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 already provides regulatory tools in the form of notices and authorisations which are actively used to manage opportunities to take up quota across the fleet at present. Introducing an additional licence for this purpose may prove counter-productive to adaptive quota management and transferring opportunities between eligible fishing vessels.
I trust from the foregoing that it can be seen that many of the issues which gave rise to the aforementioned Private Members Bill have been addressed. You may wish to reflect on whether or not to continue with the legislative process in view of these developments.
Is mise, etc.
I am a firm believer in getting stakeholders involved in the development of measures that will affect their sector. It is for this reason that I regularly meet industry representatives from the various sectors my Department works with, including the fishing industry. The NIFF and regional inshore fisheries forums were established to develop and facilitate implementation of policies and initiatives relating to the sustainable management of those fisheries. The regional forum members include inshore fishermen, environmental interests, marine leisure, marine tourism and other marine stakeholders, including islander interests. In February of this year I was very pleased to launch the first industry-led strategy for the inshore sector. The Strategy for the Irish Inshore Fisheries Sector 2019-2023 sets out a vision for the future of the inshore sector, that it "will have a prosperous and sustainable future delivered through a united industry with a strong and influential voice." Key issues to be addressed through the strategy include enhancing business skills across the sector, sustainable management of fish stocks as well as attracting and retaining talent, all with a view to maximising the potential of the inshore sector to support Ireland's coastal communities.
Inshore fishing boats currently make up more than 80% of the fishing fleet and support an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 jobs. This economic activity is vitally important to the coastal communities around Ireland, including the island communities from which these boats operate. The national and regional forums are supporting initiatives that seek to protect the collective interests of the inshore sector in Ireland including on our islands. The NIFF has been effective in its participation on the quota management advisory committee, advocating on behalf of all small-scale fishers to influence how Ireland's uptake of quota is achieved.
One of the recommendations in the joint committee's detailed scrutiny report is to extend the notional licence to others in coastal communities experiencing disadvantage. The existing system is established in national legislation and reflects EU requirements under the Common Fisheries Policy for each member state to licence all commercial sea-fishing boats, small scale or otherwise, and to maintain its fleet within certain limits. The licence system proposed in the Bill would apply to "small scale coastal fishing", a narrow subset of fishing that can only be undertaken in vessels of less than 12 m overall length and which must not use towed gear. Small-scale coastal fishing is commercial sea fishing and is regulated in that context. There are also quota available for a number of relevant species to licensed fishermen using smaller fishing boats. Communication on the availability of these opportunities has been improved and the NIFF is now involved in the quota management advisory committee, which makes recommendations to me on the uptake of the State's fishing opportunities. I stress that the existing legislation in this area provides an independent licensing process for sea-fishing boats and contributes to managing Ireland's fishing fleet within EU rules. The existing legislation and procedures are available and apply to islanders.
If the Bill progressed and licences were issued to individuals to operate in parallel to the existing system, to walk onto various vessels and bring mobile, separate entitlements, this would present a significant challenge to Ireland in demonstrating compliance with various Common Fisheries Policy regulations. Article 16 of the Common Fisheries Policy regulation explicitly requires Ireland as a member state to manage its fishing opportunities in the context of allocations to vessels flying its flag. This is a serious responsibility for Ireland to manage carefully and responsibly, particularly in the interests of achieving maximum sustainable yields for the stocks under quota management. I also believe it would impact on the principle, which has been part of the Common Fisheries Policy since its foundation here of quotas being a State rather than a private asset.
That is a point worth reflecting upon.
The Government cannot support this Bill because it is not compatible with the Common Fisheries Policy regulations. This Bill is well intentioned. I appreciate Deputy Kenny's initiative has focused a debate on a sector that was long excluded from broad fishing consultation. The development of the National Inland Fisheries Forum, NIFF, and the regional fora, and the exclusion of people outside of the inshore sector now for large boats are all positives.
The Government is committed to implementing meaningful and supportive policies that accurately reflect the needs of island communities. I have set out the improvements in communication and engagement when it comes to fishing quotas and the significant policy changes that demonstrate that this Government is responsive to those needs and to the needs of the communities.
I am glad on behalf of the Labour Party to avail of this opportunity to contribute once again to the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill. This is a Private Members' Bill from 2017 produced by Deputy Kenny, among others. We in the Labour Party unequivocally supported that Bill on Second Stage, not just in terms of its objectives but in the underlying sentiment around it, and we continue to support it following its scrutiny by the committee, of which I am a member. We now have the report emanating from the joint committee, which has been presented by Deputy Pringle to the House this evening and which pertains to a focused and detailed scrutiny of the Bill. I made my views and those of the Labour Party known in the course of the Second Stage debate in this Chamber prior to the referral of the Bill to the joint committee for detailed scrutiny. I endorse again all of the sentiments I expressed at that stage.
I reiterate that the overall aim and thrust of the Bill is essentially to facilitate the continuation of traditional fishing on Ireland's offshore islands and thereby fundamentally to provide for sustainable fishing communities on the islands for the future. The licence would help to achieve sustainability by reversing the population trend decline that is evident, and it would help sustain many of the offshore islands.
The Government has already indicated, and the Minister, Deputy Creed has reiterated again this evening, that legal the advice is that the Bill is not compatible with EU law or the Common Fisheries Policy and is inoperable in its current manifestation. The Government has also reached once again for use of the money message, which is fast becoming discredited, but the Minister, Deputy Creed, did not refer to it this evening. It is difficult to fathom how it might apply in the context of this Bill. Indeed, the reverse of the request to expend money would be likely to arise as the maintenance of viable and sustainable communities would more than likely generate additional revenue and resources for the Exchequer.
The Government asserts that fishing licences are attached to fishing vessels, not to individuals, and that all of the applications for such fishing licences are decided by the sea fisheries licensing authority, an independent authority, and not by the Minister, which is fair enough. The genesis of the Sinn Féin Bill can be traced directly to recommendation No. 10 of the Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries report of 2014 on promoting sustainable rural coastal communities that urged the examination of the feasibility of heritage licences to be issued by the Department for island and coastal communities, which would facilitate fishing practices in conjunction with the establishment of a producer organisation to represent the smaller fishery vessels in these specific areas.
I have read the Minister's reasoned response to the Bill, specifically referring to sections 1 and 2 and to the advent of recent policy developments, which it is suggested have a material bearing on the matter set out in the Bill, something he reiterated this evening. The Bill defines small-scale coastal fishing as being carried out by fishing vessels of less than 12 m in length and not using towed gear such as trawls or dredges. Section 2(4) envisages that the licence could not be transferable, but in our scrutiny review, we recommended, correctly, in my view, that provision must be made to enable such licences to be transferred that clearly would be consistent with the current system applicable to sea fishing boat licences. This was one of the Minister's objections, which we have dealt with.
On section 2(6), which deals with regulations underpinning the non-transferable island quota, the committee recommended the allocation of up to 1% of the national quota to be set aside for heritage and traditional fishing that can only be accessed if a person holds a heritage licence and if it is used on board a licensed sea fishing boat. Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy enables a member state to formalise support for the islands and ensure a fairer allocation of fishing opportunities. Paragraph 20 of the policy preamble states that small offshore islands that are dependent on fishing should, where appropriate, be especially recognised and supported to enable them to survive and prosper.
The Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, IIMRO, gave some figures to me for 2018 , which were obtained independently from the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority and that make for interesting reading. I am not an expert in this area and would know more about inland fisheries, so I defer to my colleagues in the Chamber who are more expert. Ireland's uptake in respect of vessels under 12 m and species type of demersal and pelagic, as Deputy Pringle said, is less than 0.85%. Regulation (EU) No. 1380/2013 provides that small offshore islands dependent on fishing be especially recognised and that preferential access be given to small-scale fisheries. In other words, empower small-scale fishery areas.
Small-scale fishing is less damaging on the marine environment as these traditional boats do not tow trawls that damage the seabed and do not collect or catch huge quantities. This activity could also promote the use of traditional fishing methods that are environmentally sustainable. Fishing families would benefit from higher wages and prices achieved from the new situation. Indeed, families would be more likely to remain in the island communities all year, resulting in a more vibrant community. It would assist in keeping traditional ways of life alive and could lead to an increase in the number of tourists to the area. This would lead to increased spending in the area with a better and more sustainable future. There could be all of the attractions of local heritage in this type of fishing, with heritage boats, currachs, which we all learned about when we were going to school, and an increase in tourism activity. There are a great number of things that would lead to a viable future.
Why is there always in evidence a bureaucratic opposition or resistance to a Bill such as this? Every conceivable objection is dredged up to show incompatibility with this or that regulation or system. We would rather that the Minister adopted a more facilitative or accommodating mode that would enable laudable legislation such as this Bill to be amended so that it can become the law of the land and help out a group of people who are playing a positive and protective role in respect of our heritage, language and a unique way of life.
The excellent research unit in the Oireachtas Library has been of great assistance in helping to identify appropriate international comparisons. Other countries have already gone to the trouble of positively devising policy options to help sustain small-scale fisheries. Many case studies have used some of these policy options to help conserve sustainable local coastal communities. A number of these were detailed in the Grieve report of 2009 on environmental and social criteria for allocating access to fishery resources, three of which are the Koster-Vadero fjord, Sweden, the Shetland Islands off Scotland, and the Lira marine reserve in Spain.
The Koster-Vadero fjord was Sweden's first national marine protected area, and local trawling found a co-existence. It is part of a government-developed co-management initiative for managing Sweden's inshore fisheries. Under the initiative, continued access to northern shrimp and Norway lobster resources was allocated to a limited number of local fisheries. The Shetland Islands, 50 miles of the coast of Scotland have traditionally been one of the most fisheries-dependent communities in Europe. To protect their way of life, they developed a community quota scheme, which included ring-fenced quotas and quota pools. In Spain, the marine reserves are protected by fisheries legislation. Spanish marine reserves are primarily used as a fishery management tool. Their primary goal is the enhancement of fishing resources and maintenance of sustainable, traditional, artisanal fishing in the areas. Over the years, conservation of marine biodiversity in general became one of the core objectives, and the primary focus remains on fisheries and protection of these reserves from users outside the census of traditional artisanal fishermen. The most widely recognised maritime protection areas, MPAs, in Spain, where fishermen are involved in the declaration an implementation of MPAs, are in Lira and Cedeira, both off the Atlantic coast of Galicia.
It can be done. I have watched here in 27 years - starting my 28th year next week - where every bureaucrat in the place is wheeled out. The definition of a bureaucrat is to find a way to block. The definition of somebody who wants to do something is to find a way to accommodate and facilitate. That is our job here. The people in the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation, IIMRO, which Deputy Pringle and others are very familiar with, are not fools. This Bill is only about allowing access to a small percentage of relevant national fishing quota species for small island boats under 12 m using untowed fishing gear within the six-mile limit. We have discussed the six-mile limit ad nauseamin the House in respect of the London Agreement. Quota uptake for the year 2018 for under 12 m boats, which make up over 60% of the Irish fleet, stands at 0.85% of the national quota that has been allocated, as Deputy Pringle has stated.
This access to a small amount of the quota will enable the reinstatement of the seasonal fisheries system around the offshore islands that obtained in the past. Fishers will be required to be aboard their own registered vessels while fishing. Boats will be registered island vessels, with appropriate tonnage, kilowatts and polyvalent general licences.
There will be no increase in fishing as a result of the Bill. The Bill is fully compliant with the requirements of the Common Fisheries Policy. That has been confirmed by the European Commission. Why do the Minister's officials contradict this? Why do the Minister, his officials and the European Commission not have a round-table discussion to see if we can make some progress. The administrative allocation of a small amount of relevant quota of the existing national quota will not impose any additional cost on the Exchequer, so forget about the money message. More than 2,000 boats and Irish fishing vessels were registered in 2018. Only 70 boats are on the islands polyvalent general register. I rest my case, as somebody who comes from the bogland, the heartland and the midlands of rural Ireland. I cannot understand why something that I watched on television, read in Peig Sayers book and so on will be lost because of the intransigence of bureaucrats who advise the Minister.
I thank Deputy Connolly for letting me in ahead of her. I am under a bit of pressure for time. I welcome the report. My party supported this Bill on previous Stages and we support the report today. We recognise that this is an excellent initiative to maintain sustainable, traditional fishing methods while facilitating a format to manage docks and quotas while having minimal interference on the total allowable catch under European rules. I commend the committee that prepared the report, including Deputies Martin Kenny, Thomas Pringle and others, as well as my colleague, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher, who has spoken on the subject many times. I bow to his superior knowledge on the issue and he highly recommends that we endorse this initiative. As always, there are some technical amendments that may be tabled if this Bill proceeds to Committee Stage. All of these issues and concerns that have been raised can be tackled on Committee Stage. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I am sure the way can be found.
I know the Minister has read into the record a number of letters to the committee, particularly to Deputy Martin Kenny, outlining the reasons why a money message may be put forward. I do not necessarily accept those reasons but I welcome the fact that the Minister wrote to the Deputy, because I have introduced many Private Members' Bills that did not get any letter or response from the Government. A letter to say no is better than no letter at all. I commend the Minister on that. Maybe he will ask his colleagues to take up a similar approach to other matters. Deputy Penrose is from the midlands more so than I but, as Deputy Martin Kenny said in previous debates, we all have an affinity with coastal communities, fisherman and traditional ways of life. I grew up in a coastal community, in Courtown Harbour in County Wexford, where boxes of whelk, periwinkles, mackerel or even sea bass on occasion were never too far from the house or home or indeed the kitchen table. My grandfather was very fond of fresh seafood and ran a hotel in Courtown Harbour. It is certainly an industry that I had some familiarity with as a child, if not today. Fisheries have always been part of Ireland's economic well-being. This Bill contains provisions on quotas and allowable catches. It is fair to say that our agricultural sector was protected, preserved and boosted but at that this was at the expense of our fisheries sector.
An undue focus was probably placed on it at the time for a variety of reasons. In 1976, Fianna Fáil, in Opposition, tabled a Bill to the effect that quotas would be revisited and that the Common Fisheries Policy would be reviewed. In the round, it did not happen and that has often been said. The Law of the Sea is an excellent academic work on the subject and the prelude to that would suggest the same. Much has been said and there is certainly some truth in the suggestion that when we open up the Common Fisheries Policy, considering the size of the seabed and the offshore resources available to us, we perhaps did not negotiate as well as we might have. We did a better deal with regard to agriculture. There may be swings and roundabouts in that regard.
There has always been pressure on our stocks and from the boats coming in. On the flip side, we have always gone out. If one listens to people from coastal communities such as those in Greenland, Labrador and Newfoundland, one will find Irish accents, dialects, names and, I am sure, DNA if we were to dig deeper, because we have always travelled. The story of fishing is a story of migration around the world. It is said that when Columbus allegedly discovered America and claimed it for the Kingdom of Spain, he either did not notice or did not report home that several Basque fishing boats were ahead of him in some of the estuaries and had been going there for centuries. That did not suit the narrative at the time. Often politics regarding fishing in other areas is subject to the prevailing wisdom of the day. British colonial policy towards Ireland was to support, in ports such as Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen, industrial super-ports and its own fishing industry while trying to keep the Irish fishing industry weak because it was seen as an economic threat. Part of that was done via a policy of divide and conquer. Rather than having an investment in scale, it was to support a myriad small jetties, wharves and piers, which were not really sustainable. There is a need for economies of scale and investment in these matters.
The report before us today makes a lot of sense. It is a way to preserve that coastal tradition and economic imperative. It needs to be carefully phrased and managed. Some of the questions posed during debates that have taken place at the committee about how to ensure it is an island resident and that the fishing measures are legitimate and reasonable, but there are measures in the Bill, which have been debated at the committee, to mitigate that. This can and should be done. I hear the Minister and his officials say that it is in breach of EU law. I am certain that if it is, the impact would be so minimal that it can be addressed through amendments on Committee Stage.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate. I thank my colleague, Deputy Pringle, for outlining the situation and the report from the committee. I will not repeat what he said but I will place the matter in perspective. Less than two months ago, on 17 September, the Dáil passed a motion which I had the privilege of moving, regarding development of a policy for the islands. The Minister mentioned that but he failed to mention the effort that had to go into getting that motion passed. I cannot remember whether the Minister voted for it but it passed by an overwhelming majority. It highlighted the absolute lack of policy for the islands. That is why we were forced to table that motion on 17 September. When speaking on that night, I pointed out that, going back to 1996, a report was published of the interdepartmental co-ordinating committee on island development, a strategic framework for developing the offshore islands of Ireland and so on. There were many good ideas, none of which were enacted. There was another interdepartmental committee in 2019. I welcome it but it was certainly not what my colleagues or I wanted. It certainly does not have proper representation. The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, used unfortunate language when he said: "Having islanders on this committee could be contrary to what Members wish for because I do not believe there will be openness among officials regarding the preparation of their plans." That was the statement on the night. That seems to be a significant problem in officialdom. Listening to people and then taking on board what they are saying appears to be problematic.
The Minister has given us the background. I read the recent opinion and I see some of the difficulties with the Bill as it stands but these can be rectified. I mentioned the original report from 1996. In 2014, we had a detailed report which again set out recommendations. Deputy Pringle has referred to recommendation 10, that we should explore the feasibility of a heritage licence to be issued by the Department for rural, coastal and island fishing communities. Deputy Pringle has pointed out that we are not just focusing on island communities. We hope it would be developed for coastal communities too. That is the background from 2014. Another committee then looked at this, as Deputy Pringle noted, in November 2018. Nothing has been done in a hurry. Everything has been slow and tortuous. In the meantime, the population of the islands is declining and it is difficult for people to have hope.
I notice one of the submissions to the committee came from Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, which is from Galway West, which I represent. It is a huge constituency with huge variation, and includes the three Aran Islands and Inishbofin. We had somebody from Inishbofin make a presentation, as well a person from the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation. I recognise both of the names, and one is from Inisheer in my constituency.
In addition, I see a contribution from Dr. Ruth Brennan, who pointed out the difference between equality and equity and forced me to think about that. I hope the Minister will also be forced to think about that point, namely, what is equality and what is equity? She gave a very good anecdote that explains it. Equity means a lot more than equality. When we look at the islands, we want to deal with them in an equitable manner. All this motion is asking for is that we let the Bill go to Committee Stage, and that we look at the difficulties in the Bill and work them out, in recognition of what the islanders have asked for over an extraordinary length of time. Why? It is because it is very good for the economy to have islands that are functioning, with people living there on every level, which I went into on the last occasion I spoke about this issue.
It strikes me as a little arrogant that the Minister talked about the Bill being well-intentioned but ill-informed. Perhaps there might be ill information on the Government side as well. I am only quoting the committee, which had the experts in. Its report states:
Recitals 19 and 20, Common Fisheries Policy (Regulation 1380/2013)
...Small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing should, where appropriate, be especially recognised and supported in order to enable them to survive and prosper.
Recital 19 states: "Member States should endeavour to give preferential access for small-scale, artisanal or coastal fishermen." In addition, the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation very helpfully pointed out that the preamble to the Common Fisheries Policy states, at paragraph 20: "Small offshore islands which are dependent on fishing should, where appropriate, be especially recognised and supported in order to enable them to survive and prosper." Equally as helpful, page 4 of the committee report tells us there are precedents for doing this, and it points out a number of international case studies where local communities have found ways to sustain their traditional fishing methods. It mentions, in particular, the Shetland Islands, the Koster region in Sweden and Lira in Galicia, Spain. It would appear that the absence of information is on the Government side in regard to policy. There is a very limited interpretation of regulations to suit the fact it does not want this Bill to go through.
The Minister mentioned policy changes and I welcome those that have happened in regard to the exclusion of certain boats within the six-mile limit. Of course, it begs the question why it took up to now to do that when it could have been done before, in recognition of what fishermen have been saying for a long time. The second point the Minister itemised was in regard to communication, which he said had improved. That again begs the question of why communication could not have improved many years ago. We do not need to go back too far but certainly back to the 2014 report, which made certain recommendations.
I have no hesitation in supporting the motion, although I foresee problems with the legislation. I read the reasoned opinion but I think there is a much bigger picture and a challenge to the Government to make a reality of its words. If we want a sustainable island community, we urgently need a policy. In the formation of that policy, we need to hear the voices of the islanders. If they cannot sit on an interdepartmental committee, then that committee is not right and we must change it so we have the people who matter. Every report I read in preparation for this debate and the debate last September said the voices of those who are going to live on the islands are the most important voices. That is who we should be listening to.
In regard to the producers' organisation or the group that attempted to comply with the rules and play by the regulations, it did not succeed and it was refused on 20 September 2019 because of the criteria. I understand there might be mandatory criteria that would have excluded it if it did not reach that level but, at the very least, that should be all very apparent to any group that is coming forward to form an island fisheries producer organisation. At the end of the day, we want small groups, small businesses and co-operatives on the ground. They are the backbone of any country.
I hope the Minister is listening and I hope, at the very least, this Bill will go to Committee Stage and that the Minister will meet the groups on the ground. He mentioned forums. Clearly, they are not adequately reflecting the opinions on the ground. The Minister is shaking his head, but we would not be here at 6.45 p.m. on a Thursday unless we were reflecting what people are telling us on the ground and asking us to say it in the Dáil.
I thank the committee, its Chairman, Deputy Pat Deering, and its staff for the work that has been done. The report is an excellent piece of work and it sets out many of the issues we expected to come out. I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate. In truth, the Minister's response is somewhat disappointing. I acknowledge that he wrote to me. Given that others who have had problems with money messages did not even get that acknowledgement, I appreciate it. I also appreciate that he is engaged and interested, and he is trying to come up with a solution in this respect. However, it is falling well short of where we need to be.
Others have spoken about the island fishing communities and people living on the islands. The few times I have visited an offshore island, it struck me that while they were so much a part of the nation, they were also apart from the nation in a very physical sense. We can all say we are isolated in rural areas and we cannot get to places and so on, but nobody is as isolated as a person who is a couple of miles across the sea. There has to be an acknowledgement of that huge disadvantage experienced by people who live on the islands. Deputy Connolly mentioned equity, which is at the core of this. Sometimes, in order to achieve equity, we have to treat a group in an unequal manner and give them an advantage that others may not have because they exist in such disadvantage. That is at the core of this issue. This was recognised by the previous committee in its 2014 report and it was in response to that report that this Bill is with us.
There has been some positioning, in particular in regard to the Department stating that every fishing vessel has to have a licence already and it should not need a second licence. If the Government was to change the term and call it something else, such as a "fishing opportunity" or otherwise, that is fine as we are not hung up on words. The opportunity to do all of that would come when we get to Committee Stage of this legislation.
The issues have been brought forward by the various groups who came before the committee. I thank all the organisations that gave evidence and which were, in general, very constructive. Many of them come from their own set positions because they are looking after their own corner but, at the same time, many were generous enough to recognise and understand that island communities need that little bit of special attention and that extra advantage they do not have at present.
I have got very friendly with one man who now lives close to me but who was born and grew up on an island. He says the one thing they always knew they had was a bit of fishing. They had nothing else because there were no other opportunities to make a few pounds, but they could always go out on the boat and get some fish. The other point he always drives home to me is that the way those fish were caught, and the tradition of doing it that way, is something that had a unique selling point which was separate from the fish that were caught by a super-trawler in a big net.
I have spoken to some of the celebrity chefs about this idea, the niche market for fish caught in this manner. If this were done properly and marketed properly, there would be a story to the food. I think we have often talked about this from both an agricultural and a fishing-----
It is in the strategy, and that is exactly what we need to do. My point is that this legislation feeds directly into that strategy and into how to do this if we can do it properly.
The big stumbling block we have is that the Minister and the Department say this is in breach of EU legislation and that we cannot do it because it is illegal. However, and as others have pointed out, the European Union has clearly said this is not the case. In fact, Commissioner Vella was asked the question, "Can the Commission clarify if EU regulations can provide for Member States such as Ireland to implement a licensing system that would allow for heritage licences to be issued to island fishermen conducting small-scale and artisanal fishing [...] in order to facilitate the continuance of traditional fishing practices on Ireland's offshore islands, with specific reference to fishing within the six-mile territorial limit, including the baseline?" The answer he gave was as follows:
In line with Article 6 (1) of Regulation (EU) 1224/2009 establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy [...], a Union fishing vessel may be used for commercial exploitation of marine biological resources only if it has a valid fishing licence, [which all such vessels have and must have in order to do this in the first place].
Fishing licences referred to in Article 6 of the Control Regulation shall be issued, managed and withdrawn by Member States for their fishing vessels in accordance with this regulation (2).
Indeed, small-scale and artisanal fishing, including by island fishermen using traditional fishing practices on Ireland's offshore islands, is to be considered commercial exploitation.
Therefore, it is up to Member States to decide whether they wish to put in place a licensing system such as mentioned by the Honourable Member. In any case, the issuing of licenses must comply with the ceilings set out in the Annex II and Article 23 of the Basic Regulation on the common fisheries policy.
This relates to the quota system. We are therefore on exactly the same page in this regard. The Commissioner says one must have a licence and access to quota to have a boat and go out fishing and that it is up to the member state as to how it divides that quota and works out the solution. That is what we need to be able to do. This is not some kind of Rubik's cube that we are not able to solve. We can come to a solution here if we can sit down and work it out. Unfortunately, however, because of the notion that a money message is needed for this, we are blocked. Are there 2,700 people currently living on the islands? We are talking about a small portion of the Irish population who need a special advantage because of their isolation and their special status within our economy and our society.
I think we have it within us, we have the genius within us, to work out a solution here. I appeal to the Minister and the Department to go back and try to find a solution. This legislation is not perfect, and I am not suggesting it is. None of the speakers tonight suggested it was perfect. However, it is enough to build on in order to provide a solution which will help those people who so need help. It was pointed out in various reports and by various witnesses who came before the committee that the island population is in continual decline and that the only way or the only chance they have of being able to sustain themselves is for something unique to be put in place for them. I absolutely respect and understand that coastal communities, particularly small-scale fishers in those communities, have similar problems, but they have other options that the islanders do not have. That is what sets them apart and makes them different.
In the context of all that, I appeal to the Minister to go back and reconsider the money message. Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle could advise and assist us in that respect. There are a lot of those money messages and we need to come up with a solution to them. In this case the burden on the State in providing this mechanism to give that advantage to a small sector of people who are so very disadvantaged would be so tiny that it is not worthwhile putting a block in its place, as the Government has done.
I acknowledge that the Minister's commitment to and understanding of the fishing sector is probably greater than mine - he is much closer to the sea than I am - yet we find ourselves on two opposite sides of this issue when we should not be. We should be together on the one side to work out a solution and move forward to ensure we can deliver for this small sector of people. If we can do something that will work for them, we will be able to look at the small inland fishing communities that are also under strain and stress and see what can be done for them. However, there needs to be a unique solution for the unique set of people who live on the islands.
I offer my appreciation and great thanks to Seamus Bonner, Enda Conneely and others in the island organisations who have done so much work and put so much pressure on in order to drive this forward.
Finally, I ask the Minister again, as others have asked him, to sit down with and meet the island fishery organisations, talk to them about this and come up with a solution. I ask him to bring his officials to those meetings not from the point of view of what they cannot do but from the point of view of what they can do. If we enter into this with a can-do attitude, I think we will be able to come out with a solution.
I welcome all the contributions. I wish to make just a few observations in response to points that have been raised.
Deputy Kenny in his concluding remarks and, I think, Deputy Penrose laid the blame in a way on bureaucracy. The line Deputy Penrose used was that our job was to "find a way". From the engagement I have had with all the officials in my Department, I believe there is an absolute commitment and an ongoing endeavour to maximise the opportunities for the smaller players in the fishing industry. The evidence for this is there from both them and my own commitment in this regard.
Initially, all my engagement with the fishing industry was with the established producer organisations. Deputy Pringle will be very familiar with them as among the most powerful of them is in his own back yard. In fairness, one of the last acts of my predecessor was to establish the NIFF and the RIFFs - the National Inshore Fisheries Forum and the various regional fora that feed into it. Participants in the regional fora are the island people. As a consequence of the voice they have been given, they now sit around the table as equal partners. That is as it should be because in numerical terms, in terms of boats on the water, they are far more significant, but in terms of the economic opportunities that were available to them they are minuscule in comparison with the larger established producer organisations. I accept that both have a legitimacy, make a living in a difficult environment and operate within pretty well-established circumstances, regulations, laws, directives, the Common Fisheries Policy and so on. There is absolutely a willingness on the part of the officialdom with which I have engaged in my Department, personally and with my predecessor to maximise the opportunity.
Deputy Pringle knows that the NIFF and the RIFFs represent - if the House will pardon the pun - a sea change in terms of the voice that sector now has. Following public consultation, which some in this Chamber strongly resisted, this has given rise to a significant increase in opportunities for the smaller fishermen, including island communities, on a par with other smaller fishermen in the inshore sector. They now have a multiple, financially and in terms of fishing opportunity, of what they previously had. In overall terms the figure is an increase of 62% in the opportunity they now have because of the decision taken to exclude the large boats from the inshore sector. That, by any stretch of the imagination, is really significant in both volume and value terms. If the House wants further evidence of commitment, I refer to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF, and the fisheries local action groups, FLAGs, which are the marine and coastal community equivalent of the LEADER groups. They are delivering significant financial opportunities and assistance to the inshore sector and to the island communities. There is also the scheme of assistance operated through BIM for smaller fishermen to invest in their own storage capacity, gear, etc. That is targeted at supporting the smaller sector. There have therefore been a range of initiatives, which I believe have stemmed from the fact that the inshore sector, through the NIFF, is now an equal partner.
I really do not want to get into the points made by Deputy Lawless about being sold out in 1973 except to say that our industry today is multiples of the size of the industry that existed in the 1970s before we joined the European Union. In fact, in the context of Brexit, there are serious challenges for the fishing industry but one of the benefits of being a member of the European Union is the access to other waters that we now have. In the pelagic sector, 60% of the opportunities we have are in UK territorial waters. One of the benefits of being a member of the EU is that the Common Fisheries Policy provides access to community waters. Almost 40% of our second most valuable stock comes from UK waters and while that is a serious challenge, it also reflects the fact that the EU gave us opportunities. Our industry, prior to joining the European Union, was largely an inshore industry.
Maybe that is an overstatement but it was substantially an inshore industry. It is now a very different industry. In both value and volume terms, it is much bigger than it was prior to joining the EU.
I have concerns about the Bill on a number of fronts. I do not intend to go into all of them here but one issue is of particular concern. As a nation we take a different view of the Common Fisheries Policy to that of many other countries. We have steadfastly resisted the idea of privatising our quota. We have steadfastly resisted that and I am somewhat surprised by some of the contributions that I heard this evening.
Deputies spoke about giving quotas to individuals. They should be careful what they wish for because many in the industry, as Deputy Pringle knows well, would love to see the quota privatised but that is something that every Irish Government, since we joined the EU, has steadfastly resisted. It would be a dangerous foot in the door.
If the provisions of this Bill were adhered to, it could lead to the privatisation of our quota opportunities.
I wish to take issue with Deputy Connolly's comments on the Government's review of islands policy and so on. An interdepartmental group and all of the relevant actors in various Departments will go to the island communities and listen to them, which is as it should be. That is the whole purpose of the review. There will be cross-departmental engagement with the island communities. It will not be, as Deputy Connolly suggested, a question of people talking to themselves. In fact, the consultation is being launched on Sherkin Island this weekend and the island communities will be listened to.
In terms of my own Department, the Common Agricultural Policy and support for island communities, there has been a very significant increase in financial support for island-based farmers. Significantly higher payments are available to them than to their colleagues on the mainland, which is as it should be given the additional costs involved. Our record is defensible in that regard. I appreciate the debate that this Bill has generated. It has brought into sharp focus the needs of the smaller man or woman in the fishing industry. In the debate that it has generated, it has delivered real and tangible results of which I am quite proud as Minister.