Wednesday, 12 November 2014
Fisheries Sector: Statements
I was delighted to accept the invitation to participate in a debate on fisheries in the Seanad. We are seeing a new era in the seafood sector, and it is not without its challenges.
The introduction of a new Common Fisheries Policy took place on 1 January last. I had the good fortune to be the Presidency of the Fisheries Council during the negotiations and I secured the agreement of both the European Parliament and the Council on an ambitious and forward looking new policy for the period to the end of 2022.
The economic value of fishing to Ireland continues to grow. Landings into Ireland increased from 246,000 tonnes in 2010 to 280,000 tonnes in 2013, an increase of 14%. However, over the same period the value of landings increased by 48%, from €208 million to €308 million. The increasing trend of greater foreign landings into Ireland is a positive development for processing and support activities in our coastal communities. In total, 78,000 tonnes of fish were landed from foreign vessels into our ports in 2013. This development allows Ireland to benefit from the economic dividend that flows from such landings by way of increased economic activity in some of our most isolated coastal communities.
Irish seafood exports amounted to €496 million in 2013. This is a 7% decline on the 2012 export level. However, this followed very strong growth of almost 65% in the value of exports in the 2009 to 2012 period. Seafood exports to non-EU international markets such as Korea, China and Hong Kong continued to grow strongly in 2013, reaching €175 million, which represents a value increase of approximately 7%. Last week, I opened the largest ever Irish pavilion at the China Seafood & Fisheries Expo which is a showcase for the €20 billion Chinese market. Our seafood exports to China have risen by more than 300% since 2011, to reach €18 million last year, and sales are up 56% in the first six months of this year. We are well on our way to establishing a foothold in this huge market. This strong future potential of the seafood industry is identified and acknowledged in the Government’s Food Harvest 2020 national food production plan and in the marine strategy, Harvesting our Ocean Wealth 2020, and is being delivered through Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, and Bord Bia’s strategies.
The over-arching goal of the new Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, is to end over-fishing and to make fishing sustainable – environmentally, economically and socially - thus resulting in a competitive and viable seafood sector for all. I will outline some of the key features of the new CFP.
In respect of regionalisation, the new CFP will, over time, see an end to micro-management from Brussels and will bring the decision-making process closer to the fishing grounds, in particular to national administrations, fishermen and other interest groups.
The big new policy initiative relates to discards and the landing obligation. A key element of the new CFP is the introduction of a phased ban on discards from boats. The ban on discards in pelagic fisheries will come into effect on 1 January 2015 and is already set down in a regional discards plan for our fisheries. At national level, a discards implementation working group, involving the fishing industry and chaired by Dr. Noel Cawley, has been established to facilitate the phasing in of the landing obligation, which will have its challenges. A landing obligation for mixed whitefish will be phased in from 1 January 2016. Current discard rates run at between 40% and 80%, depending on species and fishery. We must face up to the challenge over the next 12 months but I am confident that, with all stakeholders working together, we can deliver the necessary change in fishing practices. It is in everybody's interest in terms of building stocks for the future.
As regards sustainable fisheries and maximum sustainable yield, MSY, the other key element of the new CFP is the setting of fishing levels on the basis of the MSY principle. Its application will be phased in, applying by 2015 where possible and by 2020, at the latest, for all stocks. This will result in more fish being left in the sea to mature and reproduce, leading to increased abundance of fish and, over time, to higher quotas for everybody.
The EU Commission published its proposal for fishing opportunities for 2015 on 28 October. In line with the new CFP, setting total allowable catches, TACs, in accordance with MSY is a challenge in the short term and will have to be implemented in a manner that takes into account the economic impacts on fishermen. Some of the Commission proposals for 2015 are very severe for certain stocks.
Some of the Commission proposals for 2015 are very severe for certain stocks. It has proposed a 64% quota cut for Celtic Sea cod for 2015 and a 41% cut for haddock. It has yet to make its proposal for the Celtic Sea whiting and prawn quotas for 2015. I met the French fisheries Minister on Monday in Brussels and we agreed that we will work closely in the coming weeks in advance of the council meeting on issues of mutual interest, particularly Celtic Sea stocks. On 2 December I intend to lay before the Oireachtas a sustainability impact assessment on the quota proposals and present it to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. At council, I will vigorously oppose any cuts which are not fully justified and supported by science and I look forward to a productive discussion to inform our negotiations at the December fisheries council.
I know there are concerns in the House with regard to aquaculture licensing. Irish aquaculture is at a crossroads, with many challenges to overcome to realise its full potential. The global projections for the expansion of aquaculture are very strong. Realising the industry’s full potential is difficult and has proved elusive over many years. The need to eliminate the licensing backlog is one of the key challenges currently facing the industry. The licensing backlog arises primarily from a 2007 European Court of Justice judgment against Ireland for breaches of EU birds and habitats directives. As most aquaculture activity takes place in areas designated as special areas of conservation or special protection areas for birds, it is necessary to gather scientific data over a number of years and then set conservation objectives for the bays. After that, an "appropriate assessment" of the effects of aquaculture activity on these areas is required before any new licences can be issued or any existing licences can be renewed. This process is very resource-intensive and represents a major investment by the State to ensure the continued sustainable development of the aquaculture industry.
My Department, together with the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, has been engaged in a major programme to gather the necessary baseline data appropriate to the conservation objectives of aquaculture sites located within designated "Natura" areas. In 2012, 115 licence determinations were achieved in "non-Natura" areas and in 2013, 137 licence determinations were made primarily in "Natura" sites. Progress is being made as, until 2012, there had been no licensing decisions relating to aquaculture for a number of years. It is likely that licence determinations in 2014 will be significantly less than the previous year, due primarily to the delay in the provision of final appropriate assessments in respect of which there is broad consensus between the Marine Institute and the NPWS on the scientific inputs. This delay reflects the ongoing complexity inherent in the overall process. However, 2015 will see a significant and sustained increase in licence determinations, and in the order of 120 determinations are projected for the first quarter of 2015 alone. It is expected to achieve licence determinations in respect of Donegal Bay, Dungarvan Harbour, Clew Bay, Valentia and Portmagee Channel, Lough Swilly and Galway Bay in the first half of 2015.
An application by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, for an aquaculture licence for the cultivation of fin fish near Inis Oírr in Galway Bay was received by my Department in 2012. The application and its accompanying environmental impact statement are being considered under the relevant legislation. BIM is also examining the feasibility of sites off the coast of Mayo but no licence application has been received by my Department in this regard. As the Galway Bay application is under active consideration as part of the statutory process, it would not be appropriate to comment further on that application.
My Department owns, maintains and directly manages six fishery harbour centres. This network of harbours is strategically located around our coast to provide state-of-the art facilities and infrastructure for the increasingly mobile and large-scale Irish and EU fishing industry. A total of 237,000 tonnes of fish was landed into the six fishery harbour centres in 2013, representing 85% of all fish landings into Ireland. The value of fish landed into the fishery harbour centres increased from €137 million in 2010 to €227 million in 2013. The fishery harbour centres underpin the Government strategy to further develop a modern offshore fishing fleet and a modern onshore processing industry. From 2011 to 2013, €17.2 million has been invested in developing and maintaining the fishery harbour centres. In March this year, I allocated €11.63 million towards safety, maintenance and new development works in 2014 at the six fishery harbour centres in addition to infrastructural improvement works at north harbour at Cape Clear in west Cork.
Ireland needs to attract a greater proportion of the 1.2 billion tonnes of fish caught in waters around Ireland to be landed and processed here. The development of our fishery harbour centres is a critical part of achieving that objective. The 65% increase in the value of landings into the fishery harbour centres between 2010 and 2013 is a strong indication that the historic and ongoing investment in the six fishery harbour centres is producing dividends. Foreign landings into the six fishery harbour centres in 2013 were up by 25% from 1,040 tonnes in 2010 to 1,305 tonnes in 2013. Continued development and investment in harbour facilities around our coast remains a high priority for me, subject to the availability of Exchequer funds.
There is a wide consensus regarding the enormous potential of the seafood sector to grow sustainably in the years ahead. There are also many challenges that need to be addressed. Much investment will need to happen in the years ahead to equip our processing industry to increasingly add value to commodity products. Investment will be needed in our aquaculture sector to grow output after recent years of stalled production and in our fishing fleet and landing sites to adjust to the discards ban under the new Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. We will need to invest in the science that underpins our industry and meet increasing demands to ensure environmental sustainability. We need to invest in improving our oversight and monitoring of the industry, as we will see the consequences for any failure in these areas.
Earlier this year, I announced that I had secured for our industry €148 million from the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. In budget 2015, I announced national co-funding that will bring the total fund available for the new seafood development programme for the period 2014 to 2020 to €241 million. This is a doubling of the investment funds available compared with the previous CFP period. My Department has been working since 2013 on developing the new programme and I would expect to see new support measures being launched from 2015 onwards.
In May I announced a €1 million package of measures for the inshore fishing sector, which has been neglected for far too long. Uptake in the lobster v-notch scheme is improving after I increased in May the grant rate from 55% to 75%. I now expect to see a doubling in the numbers of lobsters v-notched in 2013. I also announced the establishment of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, based on a network of regional forums to foster industry-led regional and national development of proposals for the sector. The first regional forums have been held and the first National Inshore Fisheries Forum will be held in early December. I hope I have managed to convey a broad perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing our fisheries industries and the progress made to date. I look forward to hearing your views and questions.
I welcome the Minister and I am glad the Leader arranged for a debate on the fishing industry. It is important that at least once or twice per year we have a debate on this valuable industry in the House. It is high time that at senior political and government level we examine the appallingly bad deal we got with the fish quotas from 1973.
Successive governments seem to have given up on the notion of ever revisiting or trying to renegotiate or get a better deal on quotas for Irish fishermen. It is a millstone around our necks historically, and we are a very compliant nation. Our fishermen are probably the most policed and compliant fishermen in the whole of the EU. A Cabinet committee led by the Taoiseach should at least embark on an investigation of the possibility of getting a better deal for our quotas. To give one simple example, in our Irish waters our fishermen have 8% of the monkfish quota, whereas the French have 50%. I could give several other examples. This is the message I am getting from fishermen in the west of Ireland, in west Cork, Donegal and other areas.
This nation took a hit when we saved Europe in the banking crisis, yet we seem to be giving up the fight for our fishermen and for rights to the fish in Irish waters, not internationally. Irish fishermen, particularly in the polyvalent and whitefish fleets, want to fish ecologically. They are very anxious to work with the Marine Institute, which they are doing, and to manage their fishing methods and fishing effort, as opposed to the set-up that is currently in place. A vessel can catch all kinds of whitefish in the same trawl and the same area, so sometimes when they pull up their trawl they might have 40% megrim, 35% cod, 15% whiting, etc. If they are over quota, that is where the difficulty comes up.
I had the good fortune to meet a Spanish fisherman who was landing fish in Castletownbere this summer while on a seven-day trip. As an example of how this works the wrong way, in my view, he had to dump 27 tonnes of whitefish, approximately €70,000 worth. There were no quotas for certain species. The message I am getting from the Irish fishing industry is that there should be fewer fishing days and less effort, which might consequently overcome the difficulty we are having. I do not know how the new discard proposals will deal with that trawlerman who landed the fish in Ireland, and vessels landing and processing fish here are very welcome. It is an awful waste when €70,000 worth of fish is dumped.
Would the Minister consider adopting an approach whereby there would be fewer days at sea and less fishing effort as a compromise? The Marine Institute is listening closely to the fishermen, but at Government level and possibly at the Minister's end, there seems to be no wish to go down that route.
In the pelagic section, the mackerel quota system seems currently to be in a mess. Brussels and Europe capitulated to the problem that the Faroe Islands put forward. Not alone did the Faroese get a huge mackerel quota, they are now entitled to come and fish in European waters. That was an overreaction by Europe, and Irish fishermen in the pelagic section fear that it will have a knock-on effect on the quotas we can expect to get.
Normally, 80% or 85% of the mackerel quota is allocated in the springtime and there is a 15% or 20% reserve to be given out in the autumn. I am hearing that the Irish fishing boats, which are not the biggest in Europe, would prefer to have the option of fishing the mackerel in the spring when the weather is benign, rather than chasing the mackerel shoals up off the coast of Scotland late in the year, when the weather is not the best and our fishing vessels put themselves at risk.
There seems to be an emerging trend whereby a lot of Celtic Sea herring is now being landed in Northern Ireland. Is there a better price available, or why is that trend emerging? Irish fish caught in the Celtic Sea are being landed outside this jurisdiction. I am of the view that any fish caught in Irish waters, whether it is landed in Scotland, Norway or wherever, will give us better value if it can be landed here, and if some of it is processed here. As I said, we are a very compliant nation. Is it the case that some of these vessels are being very strictly policed in the Republic of Ireland and so are landing where conditions are more benign?
Perhaps the Minister could outline whether the proposed sea fisheries Bill, which I believe has been introduced, will be dealt with during the life of this Government? There was a commitment given on that during the 2007 election. It was recognised that the 2006 Bill was very draconian and severe, and it was promised that some amendments to ameliorate the severity of that Bill would be tabled during the life of this Government.
Regarding problems in the inshore fishing sector, I have recently met a number of people in the west Cork area who are involved in fishing scallop. They feel that the goalposts keep being moved regarding the scientific checking and testing of the scallop industry. Inshore fisherman are unfortunately not very well organised. Their catch varies depending on the time of year; they are sometimes fishing for lobster and in the winter they fish for scallop and shrimp. I have never yet heard of any of these fishermen - some of them with young families trying to survive - availing of the fish assist scheme. I know that is under the Department of Social Protection, but I asked a senior official in that Department, and I have never yet come across a fisherman who has availed of this backup if the weather is bad or he is tied up for some time.
The Minister referred to the amount of money spent on the fishery harbours, and that is welcome. There are a lot of positives in his statement and I am not here to be totally critical, although I have certain questions to raise. It would be remiss of me not to remember my west Cork colleague, the former Minister for Agriculture and Food, Joe Walsh, who was buried yesterday in his native Ahiohill. In his time as a Deputy, a Minister and a Senator of this House, he did so much to promote the fishing industry in West Cork. He was a political catalyst for the €40 million spent in the development of Castletownbere Harbour, which took a few years to come to pass and is now done. He was also influential in bringing about the €65 million transformation of the whitefish fleet back in the late 1990s. Sometimes in politics we all hear the negative side, but Joe Walsh never forgot the fishing communities.
There are many challenges facing the fishing industry. It is frightening to hear from the Minister that he recently had a meeting with the French Minister dealing with huge cuts in the quotas - coming up on 40% or 50% - that are being proposed for certain fish. I am sure that when the Minister is going out before Christmas to do the annual negotiation of stocks and quotas, we will all support him in wearing the green jersey and getting the best deal possible for the fishermen. That is extremely important. It is also important that the four remaining fish processing factories in the country - two of which, the Castletownbere fishermen's co-op and the one in Baltimore, are in west Cork - be sustained to create onshore jobs. There is no doubt that the extra fish landings that are coming in, sometimes by foreign vessels, are creating jobs in these factories. Castletownbere and the Beara Peninsula are nearly 90% dependent on the fishing industry. Take fishing away from Castletownbere and the whole community is dead.
I wish the Minister well in his dealings with Europe. It seems to be a constant battle and I hope that when the negotiations are taking place, just as Christmas dawns, the results will be positive for him and for the country.
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for giving his time to discuss this most important matter of fisheries. Ireland's fisheries are a vital part of our economy. As an island nation, Ireland has always recognised the importance of fishing, both economically and socially. In the past and still today, fisheries have provided necessary employment for those living along the coastline. The natural, clean water around Ireland's coastline has proved particularly bountiful for seafood for thousands of years.
It is important to protect this in the future.
The seafood industry contributes approximately €700 million annually to our national income and employs 11,000 people, mainly in coastal counties from Donegal around the country to Louth. There are four main activities under the auspices of the Irish seafood industry - fishing, fish farming, processing and marketing. The top fishing ports in Ireland are Killybegs, Castletownbere, Dingle, Dunmore East and Kilmore Quay, but fishing vessels also land at various small ports around the coast. Aquaculture activity includes growing finfish, such as salmon and trout, and shellfish farming, including the cultivation of mussels, oysters and scallops. With regard to processing, seafood companies produce high value products from salmon, whitefish, shellfish and pelagic fish species, such as herring, mackerel and horse mackerel, all of which yield substantial export earnings for the sector. As regards marketing, Irish seafood is sold at home, to the value of €340 million, and in international markets in Europe, Africa and the Far East, where exports are valued at €375 million.
In light of this, it is important that we strive to do all we can to protect the coastal environment, fish stocks and jobs in the industry for the sake of future generations. Modern fishing vessels and fishing methods can pose risks to the fisheries sector. Commercial trawlers can now travel long distances across the ocean and some are fitted with hydraulically powered winches with the ability to scoop up several tonnes of fish in a single net. During much of the 20th century, continuous fishing and marine pollution pushed some fish stocks to the brink of extinction, making it necessary to regulate the fishing industry.
Today, the interests of Irish fishermen, fishing communities and consumers of fish products are supported through the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. The Common Fisheries Policy is negotiated and agreed between all 28 member states, and initiatives that promote sustainable fishing are encouraged and part funded by the European fisheries fund. Following three years of considerable review and consultation with industry representatives, and negotiations between the European Commission, member states and MEPs, the Common Fisheries Policy was substantially reformed in 2014 and is now financially supported through a new European maritime and fisheries fund.
The main aim of the Common Fisheries Policy is to protect the seafood industry and the marine environment for future generations. The Common Fisheries Policy sets out the rules for managing European fishing fleets and for conserving fish stocks. It is designed to manage a common resource, the sea, and it gives all European fishing fleets equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds and allows fishermen to compete fairly. While fish stocks may be renewable, they are limited. Some fish stocks are being over-fished. As a result, EU countries have taken action to ensure the European fishing industry is sustainable and does not threaten the fish population size and productivity in the long term.
The CFP was first introduced in the 1970s and went through successive updates, the most recent of which took effect on 1 January 2014. The CFP aims to ensure that fishing and aquaculture are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable and that they provide a source of healthy food for EU citizens. Its aim is to foster a dynamic fishing industry and to ensure a fair standard of living for fishing communities. The current policy stipulates that between 2015 and 2020 catch limits should be set that are sustainable and maintain fish stocks in the long term. It is submitted that the impact of fishing on the fragile marine environment is not fully understood. As a result, the CFP has taken a cautious approach which recognises the impact of human activity on all elements of the ecosystem. It endeavours to make fishing fleets more selective in what they catch and to eliminate the practice of discarding unwanted fish. The reform also changes the way in which the CFP is managed, thereby giving EU countries greater control at national and regional level.
This new policy puts fishermen at the core of developing conservation measures for fisheries in which they are involved and also makes specific references to taking account of the needs of our fishermen. Under the new regional approach, Ireland works with fellow member states, the UK, France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, on developing appropriate measures for fisheries in the north-western waters. This group works closely with the North Western Waters Regional Advisory Council and the Pelagic Advisory Council. A discards plan for pelagic stocks in north-western waters is being finalised, as the landing obligation applies to these stocks from 1 January 2015. Work on a plan for whitefish stocks has commenced to provide for the landing obligation which commences on 1 January 2016. This work is being carried out in consultation with the advisory council.
The European Commission published its annual consultation paper in June 2014 on fishing opportunities for 2015 under the Common Fisheries Policy, setting out its views on the state of the stocks and the principles to be used when setting the fishing opportunities for 2015. The terms, conditions and quotas for 2015 will be determined at the December Fisheries Council. There are key issues for Ireland as we approach this Council. One is how the Commission will take account of the new data indicating significant recruitment of cod and haddock in the Celtic Sea. We wish to have clear commitments from the Commission that this data will be taken into account in the December negotiations, to avoid a situation where vessels will have to discard in the spring in the absence of sensible quotas reflecting the reality of the stocks. The second is use of the precautionary approach when no scientific advice is available for the stock. If strictly implemented, this could result in unnecessary cuts in TACs and quotas. Third is the phasing in of the maximum rate of the fishing mortality objective. Our view is that this must be achieved on a progressive and incremental basis as laid down in the CFP. There are concerns that the Commission might seek to accelerate this process unnecessarily.
I welcome the meeting that was held earlier this month between the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the French Fisheries Minister, Alain Vidalies, in Brussels. The meeting was organised to prepare for negotiations on the 2015 fish quotas ahead of the Fisheries Council. This was the first meeting between the Minister and Mr. Vidalies. France and Ireland have important shared fisheries in the Celtic Sea. The Irish and French fishing industries have a strong working relationship and it is important that we ensure this relationship is fully reflected at political level.
In conclusion, Irish fisheries are a very important element of the Irish economy and society. It is important that we do our best to ensure their continued growth and prosperity. I congratulate the Minister on his work in China over the last couple of weeks. Finally, I agree with Senator O'Donovan that we must also look after the small-scale fishermen who go out fishing.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. There are many issues I wish to raise, but on the point Senator Comiskey made about looking after the smaller fishermen I agree with Senator O'Donovan that we should consider trying to renegotiate the quotas at EU level. However, the Minister has control over an element of the domestic quota, but 87% of the quota is controlled by 23 boats in the north west of the country. That could and should be addressed. Some people in the industry say that even a small re-balancing of that quota could create a couple of hundred jobs in the processing sector in the west and south west. It could rejuvenate the fishing and processing industry throughout the country, and it would support smaller fishermen and the coastal communities in a better way. It is time that the Minister tackled the golden circle in the fishing industry and secured the future for a new generation of fishermen and women. Perhaps the Minister would explain the rationale in his Department for the distribution of domestic quota and why he has not addressed this historical imbalance.
Will the Minister comment on the implications of the deal that has been done with Iceland and the Faroe Islands in respect of the mackerel quotas? The quota has increased here as well, but the market has been flooded by cheap product which is having an impact on the profitability of the Irish fleet.
There was a very good Oireachtas joint committee report on fisheries and sustainable rural coastal and island communities. It made 29 recommendations with regard to rural coastal and island communities and their socio-economic profile, existing policy and licensing regimes, and developing strategies for rural and island communities. What steps has the Minister taken to date to implement these recommendations?
What is the Minister doing to tackle the scourge of the factory ships that are hoovering up fish off our west coast?
I was talking to somebody involved in the industry who yesterday was looking at the AIS and monitoring boats off the coast of counties Clare, Mayo and Galway. There were a number of boats there, predominantly Dutch. Holland has a smaller quota than ours, but its boats seem to be fishing in the area all year round. Will the Minister tell us what policing is being engaged in of these boats? Irish boat owners believe they are being hammered by regulations, while it appears a blind eye is being turned to these factory ships. How does the Minister intend to address this issue? I am also told anecdotally that a Spanish vendor who buys fish in Spain has bought fish from some of these operators, including, for example, hake, for which they do not have a quota. There appear to be huge issues around the way some of these ships are operating.
People involved in the industry, including smaller and pelagic fishermen, are very concerned about the upcoming negotiations in Brussels on the distribution of quotas. They are particularly worried about the potential closing of the prawns fishery in the Aran grounds and calling on the Minister not to sacrifice this quota in the upcoming negotiations. They are also calling on him to keep these areas open and carry out more detailed research in the next 12 months into abundance densities. This could be done in conjunction with local fishermen and would, they believe, give a more accurate picture of stock levels.
Will the Minister clarify the position on the development of a deep water pier at Rosaveel? I understand there is also work to be done there on a slip which has been promised but not begun yet.
Iascaire Intíre Éireann is a group that represents small-scale inshore fishermen who have asked to meet the Minister on a number of occasions but have not yet been successful in doing so. I understand a number of meetings were cancelled. Will the Minister tell the House why the meetings were cancelled and also why they have not been rescheduled? It is because he has an issue with the organisation? Is there a reason he does not want to meet its representatives?
The issue of social protection supports has been raised. The joint sub-committee's report makes specific recommendations in this regard as existing social welfare law considers fishermen to be self-employed. Owing to the low take-up of the voluntary class "P" PRSI contribution, the sub-committee has recommended that a re-examination of access to jobseeker's benefit, illness benefit and other social welfare benefits for such fishermen be undertaken. Fishermen whose boats are tied up for periods of time due to bad weather or other issues do not receive sufficient support from the Department of Social Protection to help them through these difficult patches. What is the Minister doing to address these issues? Why have we not seen measures in successive budgets to address them?
The Cathaoirleach might give me a little latitude given that not many Members are seeking to contribute.
The scourge of spurdogs is another matter that needs to be addressed. It particularly affects smaller fishermen. Will the Minister outline what his Department is doing in this regard? lascaire Intíre Éireann is also very critical of the fishery management plans that have been put in place.
On compensation for storm damage, the lobster pot replacement scheme did not really deliver for fishermen who had lost gear, their vessels damaged and suffered a loss of income due to storms. A scheme introduced in the North seemed to be more comprehensive and practical. Perhaps the Minister might look at it. Eibhlín O'Sullivan of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, ISWFPO, has reiterated a request for a compensation scheme for demersal fishermen using EMFF as other member states such as the United Kingdom have done. Is it envisaged that such an application will be made?
The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation is also concerned that the seafood sector is once again facing significant job losses as a result of the proposed quota cuts. Ahead of the annual Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels in December, the European Commission has issued its proposals for quotas for 2015. They include significant reductions for a number of key species, both whitefish and pelagic. It is estimated that in the region of €70 million could be lost to the seafood sector, with a further sum of €147 million. It is submitted that the majority of those not directly involved in the fishing industry do not realise that in the past few years a significant number of Irish fishermen have been forced to leave the industry and are now unemployed. The ISWFPO has serious concerns in that regard and has I understand written to the Minister. It also notes that recent international events in Nigeria and Russia have had a cataclysmic impact on the prices Irish fishermen are receiving for their pelagic products.
Another issue revolves around the landing obligations being brought in at the beginning of 2015. This will mean that all fish caught must be landed, which will cause particular problems for smaller vessels as they will have to return to shore more frequently and may find themselves exceeding quotas and being penalised as a result. It is also unclear what is to be done with excess fish landed and fish not part of quota. There is great uncertainty and we hope the Minister can clarify matters.
Will the Minister outline the status of the Galway Bay fish farm project in the light of very serious concerns highlighted by the local community about the size, environmental impact and safety of the proposed fish farm, the serious questions raised internationally about the scientific evidence brought forward by BIM and the concerns aired by Inland Fisheries Ireland? Will the Minister now rule out this particular development in one of our greatest tourist assets? Surely, the ferocity of the winter storms should be reason enough to pull back from a project which has raised so many concerns.
I apologise to the Cathaoirleach for continuing, but we have been waiting to have this debate for a long time. The development of aquaculture in Ireland is a shambles because of the major backlog that has been highlighted. We have also seen very questionable practices engaged in by some operators in relation to planning regulations.
While the Minister says some headway has been made on licence applications, will he tell us how many are still outstanding? I might take the liberty of writing to him on a number of other points we would like to have addressed.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has raised the issue of safety at sea with the Minister in the House on a number of occasions. He has argued for the introduction of life vests with tracking devices in order that where an accident occurs at sea, a fisherman who is alive or who, unfortunately, has not survived can be recovered. In the latter case, it is important that relatives have the knowledge that the body will be recovered. It is an important matter and, I understand from the Senator's previous contributions, that it would not be an expensive measure to implement. I ask the Minister to address the matter for the sake of fishing families all over the country. My experience in the Wexford region-----
Of course. Safety at sea is important, particularly in small communities such as the one in the south of Wexford with which I am familiar where a number of serious accidents have occurred at sea, resulting in significant loss of life. The quality of the fleet, particularly smaller vessels, is important.
On the Minister's contribution, he started by hailing the dawn of a new era for the seafood industry. I come to this debate more from the perspective of a consumer than as someone who is an expert on fisheries. Listening to what the Minister had to say, I was somewhat disturbed by a number of things. He referred to the fact that the economic value of fishing to Ireland was continuing to grow, increasing from 246,000 tonnes in 2010 to 280,000 tonnes in 2013. I was prepared to be impressed until I discovered that the total tonnage caught in Irish waters amounted to 1.2 billion tonnes. We are not at the races in terms of the volume of fish actually caught in Irish waters according to the Minister's own statement. He has said Ireland must attract a greater proportion of the 1.2 billion tonnes of fish caught in Irish waters and have them landed and processed here. He said landings in Ireland had increased from 246,000 tonnes to 280,000 tonnes while noting that the six harbours managed by his Department handled 85% of all stocks landed in Ireland.
Most of the fish caught by Irish boats are landed in Ireland. We are trying to ensure non-Irish fishing boats fishing in Irish waters land more fish in Ireland and have had some success in that regard.
My understanding from what the Minister said is that he is trying to attract a greater proportion of the 1.2 billion tonnes of fish caught in Irish waters. I take it, therefore, that 1.2 billion tonnes of fish are, in fact, caught in Irish waters. The Minister says that of the stocks caught by the Irish fleet, 85% are landed at the six fishery harbours controlled by his Department. That amounts to a total of 237,000 tonnes of fish.
I am coming at this matter from the following perspective. The accusation has been made during the years that aquaculture and fisheries have been neglected in favour of agriculture.
There is no doubt when one looks at some of the household names, such as Kerry Group, Glanbia, Greencore and so forth, we are talking about a different style and extent of the two industries.
I find it amazing that fish is expensive for the consumer to buy. Yesterday evening I went into my local SuperValu to get something for the dinner. I was able to buy a chicken for €5, a piece of bacon for €4 and a small tray of mince for €4 but I could not have bought enough fish to feed myself for €4 let alone enough fish to feed my family. I cannot understand that situation. The fishermen that I know do not benefit from that kind of pricing policy. Therefore, I am at a loss to understand why fish is so expensive in comparison with other products that I can buy in my local supermarket and yet we talk about the amount of support we give the fishing industry.
Do we need a symbol like the Bord Bia symbol of quality? Fish products could carry a symbol, particularly frozen products, informing consumers whether products have been sustainably sourced, fished, come from Irish waters and caught by Irish fishermen.
I wish to mention the amount of money we spend on fishing. Earlier the Minister said that in budget 2015 he announced a new seafood development programme for the period 2014 to 2020 that would cost €241 million. That is six years. I hate to say this but more money is spent on the yachting industry in this country than on the seafood development programme. Consumers want a better offering of fish. The quality of fish is excellent but the price being charged is high when compared with other foods. I hope the Minister's negotiations with the beef industry went well today.
I hope the negotiations go well. From what I have heard through the media, my sympathies lie firmly with the beef farmers. I do not believe that fisher folk in this country benefit from the high prices and neither do consumers. I would like to hear more from the Minister as to why that is so.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire.
I shall start where Senator Hayden has left off and mention a theme which has emerged in agriculture and fisheries which I hope the Minister defends stridently. He is beginning to favour the big guy completely over the small guy. In agriculture that means the meat processor is being favoured over the beef farmer and, in fisheries, the big companies are being favoured over the inshore fishermen or the angler. I shall not draw generalisations but I have my concerns about the matter.
Today, I shall focus on the Galway Bay fishfarm project. As he will know, we had an Adjournment debate on the matter in this House. I put my cards on the table by saying that I am quite happy for the Galway Bay fishfarm project to proceed if it has a sound scientific basis, the project is sound environmentally and it does not displace other equally valuable industry be it the inshore fisherman or the angler. Does the Minister have a difficulty with any of my comments? I would like to hear his answer.
I have two specific questions on the Galway Bay fishfarm project. I shall not ask him to comment on the licence because I heard him say he will make a decision on it in early 2015. The environmental impact statement for the proposed Galway Bay salmon farm does not mention an amoebic gill disease or where fresh water would be sourced from to treat 15,000 tonnes of farm salmon should they become infected with this disease. That is the scale of the project being considered for Galway Bay. Can the Minister tell me where a salmon farm operator would legally acquire the huge amount of fresh water required to treat this huge amount of fish?
In light of the fact that amoebic gill disease has been endemic in most of the salmon farms along the west coast over the past number of years, and has caused high mortality rates in farmed salmon, what effect might the disease have on other marine species in the bays and estuaries where salmon farms are located? I refer to the fish that inshore fishermen rely on for their livelihood such as cod, whiting, mackerel, herring, turbot, salmon, wild salmon and seatrout among others. What research studies has the Marine Institute carried out to determine the effect this disease may be having on these wild marine species? I am a huge advocate of the Marine Institute. It is located beside me in Oranmore. I know that it carries out extremely positive and good research. Has it researched the effects of this disease? If so, then I ask the Minister to respond on that issue.
Earlier I said that I want the fishfarm to proceed if it has a sound scientific basis, is environmentally sound and does not displace other industry in this area. Has the Department assessed the impact the project will have on angling and tourism? Does the impact matter to the Department? I look forward to hearing answers from the Minister.
I apologise for being late but I was present to hear the Minister's speech. He stated that the economic value of fishing to Ireland continues to grow and instanced that fish landings have increased from 246,000 tonnes in 2010 to 280,000 tonnes in 2013, an increase of 14% for which I am thankful. I also noticed he specifically stated "that the value of landings increased by 48%, from €208 million to €308 million" which is more good news. He also said, "In total, 78,000 tonnes of fish were landed from foreign vessels into our ports in 2013." Is there a possibility that a portion of that 78,000 tonnes could be taken in by our own fishermen? Is a quota stipulated for them? Could other fishermen with more vessels capture part of the 78,000 tonnes?
The Minister continued, "Seafood exports to non-EU international markets such as Korea, China and Hong Kong continued to grow strongly in 2013, reaching €175 million, which represents a value increase of approximately 7%." That leaves us in no doubt that the world is a small place, is getting smaller and there is greater access to the Far East. I believe there is a major market for our fish in the Far East and that we can increase our exports to the region. He further stated, "We are well on our way to establishing a foothold in this huge market." I agree wholeheartedly with him that the region can provide us with great opportunities to supply fish and seafood and that we should avail of those opportunities.
I come from Carlingford and Carlingford Lough is renowned for its oysters all over the world. As the Minister stated:
Irish aquaculture is at a crosswords at present, with many challenges to overcome in order to realise its full potential. The need to eliminate the licensing backlog is one of the key challenges currently facing the industry.Are there other challenges that hold back the seafood industry from reaching its full potential?
The Minister continued, "The licensing backlog arises primarily from a 2007 European Court of Justice judgment against Ireland for breaches of EU birds and habitats directives." Perhaps the Minister will comment on that issue.
I acknowledge and welcome the progress that is being made in this regard, with a significant and sustained increase in licensing determinations expected next year. This is good news for fishermen, with in the order of 120 determinations projected in the first quarter alone.
Is there an opportunity for apprentices to be employed in the shellfishing sector? There are many seafaring families living along our coast whose young people would be interested in getting that type of start. There is great potential for jobs in this sector, including in the area where I live. An uncle of mine, the Lord be good to him, was a famous fisherman at a time when Carlingford Lough was renowned for its herring and mackerel fishing. In the days when it was a distribution centre, I remember one could often not see the harbour for all the fishing boats. They were 20 abreast and full of fish. That business has gone to Clogherhead, Skerries and elsewhere, but opportunities are there in lots of places and we should capitalise on them.
I thank Senators for their contributions. I will try to answer as many questions as I can, but Members should submit any I do not get to in writing and I will try to get to them in due course.
In terms of foreign landings, as I explained, Irish waters have significant fish stocks and the Irish fleet catches a certain percentage and volume - in the region of 17% to 20% - of those stocks. The remainder is caught by foreign fleets, including Dutch, Spanish, French, British, Portuguese and so on. That happens because Irish waters are seen in a European context and from a fishing perspective as European waters. As a member state of the EU, we have a responsibility in terms of sovereign territory, enforcement and so on. International fleets move between various different waters at European level and there have always been large Spanish, French and Dutch fishing fleets working in what are now Irish waters. In fact, Irish marine territory has expanded significantly since we joined the EU. There might be a debate to be had on another day about the historical context but people need to be realistic about what is possible. My job is to represent the industry on the basis of the facts and what is possible to do rather than pretending we can suddenly and fundamentally change the way in which quotas are allocated at an EU level. That is not going to happen any time soon.
Reference was made to the 78,000 tonnes of foreign landings. This is the portion of the 1.2 billion tonnes that we are encouraging to be landed into Irish ports for processing, grading and adding value in packaging and marketing in Irish processing facilities in places like Castletownbere, Rossaveal, Killybegs, Greencastle and so on. While we will continue to welcome foreign trawlers into Irish ports to increase economic activity there, my preference, of course, is to ensure Irish boats catch as much fish as they can sustainably and within the rules. After that, however, it makes sense for Ireland to position itself as a major fish processor internationally because we are surrounded by very fertile fishing grounds. It makes sense to encourage Spanish, Dutch and French boats to land close to where the fish are being caught, thereby generating income for Irish people.
I take the point that was made regarding Carlingford Lough. There are challenges in terms of making sure we have a credible and legally sound licensing system that includes the benefit of a full environmental assessment of the area concerned and of the impact of increased aquaculture activity in that area. We are trying, where possible, to move through all of the different harbours and bays that need to be assessed so that we can have that type of sound aquaculture licensing system. This applies to Carlingford Lough as to lots of other areas.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames had several questions. First, I am not sure where the idea comes from that I am favouring the big guy. My style is to tell people the story as I see it rather than what they want to hear. When I wear my agriculture hat I am primarily about supporting farming and agriculture in this country, while as Minister with responsibility for the marine I have a primary focus on the fishing industry. We have worked very hard through both a Common Agricultural Policy process and a Common Fisheries Policy process to ensure those primary production sectors are well supported. I work night and day to that end. I am about to attend a meeting of the beef forum which will seek to resolve a range of issues for farmers and ensure we move away from protest and towards a focus on selling high-quality and fairly-priced produce into the marketplace. The bottom line is that we export almost 90% of everything we produce in food and drink and, as such, we must find a market outside of Ireland. Reputation, standards and cost competitiveness are important if we are to have a sound and growing industry. Within that, we must ensure there is fairness for primary producers.
Of course the farmer is important. With all due respect, I do not need to be told about the importance of farmers. I have worked with them for the past three and a half years and have a very good relationship with them.
This Government has prioritised agriculture in its budgets in a way we have not seen for many years. In each Budget Statement he has delivered, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has referred directly to agriculture and farming at the very outset. The evidence of our commitment is there to see in the growth of the sector. Problems remain and we will continue to deal with them as they arise. Arising from our discussions in the beef forum later this afternoon, I am hopeful we will be able to deal with the problems farmers are facing in the beef sector.
I will not comment on any single application for which I have a statutory responsibility in terms of licensing determination. All I will say is that I will not grant any license that is not legally and environmentally sound and does not have all of the necessary science and data attached to it. The Galway Bay project is no different from any other in that regard. Anybody who claims I have somehow allowed projects through without significant scrutiny understands neither the process nor my record. In fact, I have not granted a single salmon-farming project licence in the three and a half years I am in office. I want to see a sustainable aquaculture industry in Ireland which encompasses both finfish farming and shellfish farming. We have a phenomenal resource around our coastline but it needs to be looked after from an environmental perspective, which requires a strict licensing and monitoring regime. That is being done and will continue to be done under my stewardship.
Senator Aideen Hayden spoke about marine safety, an issue that is close to my heart. We have done a great deal of work in this area in recent years, including on the personal location device initiative to which she referred. This was a joint initiative launched between my Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport at Union Hall under my stewardship and that of the then Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar. A major part of it involves the promotion of the use of life-jackets, with a significant grant aid package for personal locational devices linked into that. Ultimately, there must be self-regulation for fishermen. We are not going to have inspectors on board fishing boats every day. Fishermen, like farmers, live lives where they must self-regulate to a significant extent.
They are out at sea day and night and most of the time nobody is watching them. The attitude to safety must change in the fisheries industry and life jackets must be worn. We are pushing hard on that and we are approaching the conclusion of a new set of fishing safety recommendations that is being led by Mr. John Leech. Mr. Leech chaired the effort and will report to me in the next fortnight.
I hope I have answered the questions on tonnage and landing issues as we would like to see increases in these areas. On fish labelling, BIM and Bord Bia have been pushing a new "responsible Irish fish" label. On supermarket shelves the "responsible Irish fish" assurance label can be seen, as one sees such labels on beef. We would like to see this labelling spread through the industry as it says that the fish in question was caught responsibly, processed appropriately and is not an endangered species.
I was asked questions about rebalancing the pelagic sector around quota allocation and there has been much of this in the past five to ten years. The pelagic sector has received an increased share that is now at 13% and last year more than 13,000 tonnes of pelagic mackerel were caught by the polyvalent sector. Significant investment has been made in bigger boats as the cost of entering the sector is sizable and this cannot be changed overnight. People have invested heavily on the back of business plans and have expectations in terms of access to fish so this cannot be reversed overnight. This issue will be reconsidered but I can address only one matter at a time. When quota allocations are reassessed all stakeholders are involved in the process and there will be an active debate if this happens in the future as everyone wants a higher quota.
The European Commission and most countries pushed for the effective privatisation of quota during negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy to allow the big players buy up quota from everyone else over time but we successfully resisted this. We were on our own in this resistance because the Irish quota is a national asset that is allocated to the industry as we see fit, in the best interests of the industry and coastal communities. That is how things will stay under this Government.
Regarding the deal involving Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway and the EU, mackerel stocks have been growing and moving north into Icelandic and Faroese waters. My views on the deal done by the European Commission are well known and I think I was the only Minister to vote against it. I did not do so because the mackerel quota available to the Irish industry this year has fallen because it has not, it has increased significantly. However, the overall share of mackerel stock in north-western waters to which Ireland has access has decreased in percentage terms and this is not a good precedent. Do not forget, this deal will last only a couple of years and will have to be redone. In effect, the industry in Ireland will have access to more mackerel than last year and I do not see this collapsing next year. After that we will have to renegotiate a new deal between Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway and the EU. My record on these negotiations speaks for itself.
On large Dutch factory freezer vessels, a public example of this arose in Killybegs some month ago. It was part of an enforcement inspection procedure but if such boats have a quota to catch, which they do, they cannot be expelled from Irish or European waters. There are many different types of fishing vessels in European fleets. Very large freezer vessels have access to very large quotas and such vessels would buy most of the Irish quota, if it were privatised, as was the Commission's original plan. We will not allow such privatisation and will enforce the rules with such vessels as best we can, as we do with all vessels in Irish waters. Those vessels will have to comply with new regulations under the Common Fisheries Policy, like all vessels, on discarding, ending the practice of grading fish, which has been a huge issue for large factory vessels, and so on.
On meeting community groups and so on, I am a fairly open Minister and I meet most groups that want to see me. However, I am also a busy Minister so we set up regional fisheries forums so groups could have a say collectively on deciding what different regions in Ireland prioritise within the inshore fishing fleet. Via the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, those groups engage directly with me and my Department to get the outcomes they seek. I cannot meet everyone but I will try to meet as many people as possible to get different perspectives.
Senator Michael Comiskey pointed to the big challenge this December. We need to start the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, which is challenging in itself, and we need to bring the industry with us. That is why this winter I will emphasise strongly that we take account of economic concerns in fishing communities, in addition to pure science. The new Common Fisheries Policy allows for this and it will be necessary to create the goodwill necessary for the other fundamental changes.
I know Senator O'Donovan's territory in west Cork very well and appreciate the fishing interests there. I also pay tribute to Mr. Joe Walsh, who I knew personally. I worked with him on a series of projects, particularly in the area of horse racing and the sports horse sector. I paid a short tribute to him earlier in the Dáil as I felt it was appropriate to do so while answering questions on agriculture. I think he was the longest serving Minister with that portfolio that Ireland ever had and his family can be proud of his contribution to public life.
On the implementation of the ban on discards, we are starting with the pelagic sector in January 2015. We will then examine the whitefish sector in 12 months and continue species by species. This is a graded process of introducing an obligation to land species by species and the aim is to complete it by 2020. This is a manageable timetable but it is challenging. We have money to spend to help the industry adapt to new realities and it is in the interests of the industry to do this because it will build stocks. The idea of catching and dumping dead juvenile fish, small fish and fish we do not have a quota to catch is not in anyone's interests. Such fish could be caught next year as a commercial catch to be landed and sold. This is the goal of the discards ban - we are switching from a quota for the amount of fish fishermen can land to a quota for the amount they can catch. There is a big difference because at the moment one can land a certain tonnage and if one catches more one dumps the surplus over the side. In future one will receive a quota for what one can actually catch and we must help the fishing industry to adapt by using new technology, fishing methods, mesh sizes, net designs and so on to target fish. This will apply even to mixed fisheries, in terms of how we catch fish, to ensure the fish we catch can be landed, marketed and sold. If we catch excess fish there is flexibility in the new Common Fisheries Policy to facilitate this - fishermen can carry a portion of a quota from one year into the next and can also have inter-species quota management. This is necessary because in some mixed fisheries it will be impossible, even with all of the technology available, to improve the targeting of fish. Fishermen will catch some fish for which they have no quota. The cod, haddock and whiting fishery in the Celtic Sea is a good example of this but it does not mean we should not try.
I want to ensure that we still have an industry in ten, 15 or 20 years time that is bigger than it is now, so that the small guys have something to catch. I hope that will be my record. The challenge of introducing a more sustainable and more science-based fishery is about the future of Irish fishing, to make sure that we do not overfish to the extent that we destroy stocks that will not come back in the future. In my view, that is the best way I can look after every stakeholder and interest in the seafood and fisheries industry. While we make those changes, we need to keep people in business, and that is what the European maritime and fisheries fund will primarily be used for while I am making decisions in this Department.
On the sea-fisheries Bill, which I have promised in this House before, I hope we will introduce and pass that between Christmas and next Easter, so in the first quarter of next year.
With respect, I know what gill disease is and I know the consequences of it and the complications around it, but I will not get into talking about the detail of any one licence application because that would be totally inappropriate.
I am afraid the Senator's questions were directly related to one particular application. Because that application is being considered-----
Because that application is being considered at the moment by those who will advise me on the science around that application, I am barred from discussing it. I have made that very clear many times.
Senator Brennan raised the issue of apprenticeship opportunities. We are looking for a new generation of fishermen and there are grant-aid supports for that. Part of that will be training programmes, just like those we have for young farmers, to ensure that people coming into fishing are properly trained up in the technologies they will be using. In short, there probably are opportunities around apprenticeships.
We have implemented nearly all the recommendations of the joint Oireachtas report. The main recommendation was that there would be a body that would represent inshore fishermen so that inshore fishermen would have a much-increased input into the development of policy that affects them and their industry and that is exactly what we are doing now. For the first time ever we have introduced regional inshore fisheries forums, at which people will sit down, make decisions on their own region, have an input into a national framework, and directly impact on policy regarding issues that affect them, whether that is V-notching for mackerel, supports for pots that have been lost in storms, gillnet fishing, line-fishing for mackerel, artisan fisheries, etc. There is a whole series of opportunities for them to make proposals, which I have said that I would be more than supportive of, if they make sense both from a policy and a finance perspective.