Seanad debates

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Commencement Matters

Inland Fisheries Ireland

10:30 am

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I welcome the Minister and wish him well in his brief. I raise the issue of the proposed closure of trout production operations in Ireland. There are two such facilities, one in Roscrea and one in Mullingar. There is no other licensed supplier of fresh brown trout, capable of supplying all the angling fish clubs throughout Ireland. Recent figures produced by the Economic and Social Research Institute estimated that trout angling is worth approximately €800 million to the Irish economy and that the recreational angling sector is responsible for anything up to 10,000 jobs. In my area, Cavan-Monaghan, it is a major aspect of tourism. Many bed and breakfasts are built on it and there is a vitally important cross-Border aspect.

Given the figures and the return to the economy, it is difficult to understand why such a decision would be made. If the decision goes ahead, jobs will be lost and the €800 million we get from the facility will be lost. I have never known an issue to raise the temperature among the angling community as much as this. It is as bitter and potentially divisive as the rod licence issue a number of years ago. There are more than 100,000 anglers, located in every county of Ireland, and they all speak with one voice on the issue.

A consultation process is under way and the closing date for submissions is 9 August. Given that it is alleged that the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland has already made the decision to close the facility, one could legitimately ask why we are having a consultation process.Perhaps the Minister might comment on that issue.

I plead with the Minister to ensure this decision does not proceed. I ask him to use his good offices to meet a deputation from the angling community. I assure him anglers are honest and upright in their efforts to ensure a solution is found to the problem and the facility will not be allowed to close. A meeting will be held in Mullingar tonight. If the Minister were to give a commitment to meet a deputation of anglers, an outcome could be found that would satisfy all parties.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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I am speaking on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, who, unfortunately, is unable to attend. I assure the Senator, however, that I will bring the issue he has raised to the attention of the Minister of State. I will also ask the Minister of State to contact him directly to arrange a meeting with him at the earliest possible opportunity.

Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, is the agency responsible for the protection, management and conservation of the inland fisheries and sea angling resources. It was formed on 1 July 2010 following the amalgamation of the Central Fisheries Board and seven regional fisheries boards into a single agency. The State has more than 74,000 km of rivers and streams and 128,000 ha of lakes, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of Inland Fisheries Ireland which is also responsible for sea angling out to a 12 mile limit.

Inland Fisheries Ireland has a long history of providing rainbow and brown trout to support the fish stocking requirements of angling stakeholders. Its main fish production unit is located at its fish farm near Roscrea, with a supporting facility which mainly supports the maintenance of brood stock located at Cullion in Mullingar. It also has a small operation at Lough Allua. The proposal for the rationalisation of its fish farm operations is a day-to-day operational matter for the board of IFI. However, IFI advises that, from a structural perspective, the fish farming operation is based on physical structures and facilities designed and built in the 1950s. Since that time, meeting the increasing demands of operational and regulatory requirements from facilities that are dated has become more complex and challenging.

I am advised by the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland that it is IFI's intention to exit fish farming operations in the coming years at current locations, while maintaining one aquaculture facility at Cong, County Mayo which will be used for research and conservation stocking. This site has been identified as having the most potential owing to the quantity and quality of its water supply, which is an important consideration in fish production. Ultimately, the IFI hatchery at Cong is expected to be upgraded to a facility capable of housing modern hatchery and research operations.

Inland Fisheries Ireland also announced that it was always intended that the phase-out plan would include consultation with the affected stakeholders, to whom the Senator referred. The former Minister of State wrote to the chairperson of Inland Fisheries Ireland noting that it was IFI's intention to consult those affected prior to any action being taken and that a report on the consultation would be made to the Department. The Minister or State, Deputy Seán Kyne, recently met the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland to reinforce the requirement that a full report be made to the Department. IFI has written to the affected stakeholders advising that the farms are operating as normal in 2016 and that a consultation process will take place to develop the cessation plan.

It is important to clarify that the decisions of the board were not prescriptive as regards a timeline or particular option as to how IFI would exit commercial production. Inland Fisheries Ireland has reported to the Department that existing facilities are dated and in need of significant capital investment. In addition, the regulatory climate in which IFI operates has become increasingly complex in terms of fish husbandry, with all of its associated disease, aquaculture and discharge requirements but also in terms of other environmental legislation under which Inland Fisheries Ireland operates such as the water framework and habitats directives.

Inland Fisheries Ireland has emphasised that the board decided to strategically exit from the production of rainbow and brown trout on a number of grounds. IFI fish farms have operated at a significant loss in the past five years and while the agency has made significant efforts to reduce costs and increase efficiency in aquaculture operations, it has not been able to bridge the gap between costs and revenue. The IFI board has been required, therefore, to focus its resources on core functions across all divisional areas.

Inland Fisheries Ireland commissioned an expert review of its production capabilities, operational processes, facility design and technologies, as well as operational costs, in an effort to identify challenges and constraints in production processes and to propose practicable solutions to enhance productivity and performance.This review identified some major challenges, including those relating to environmental risks, the physical fish farm infrastructure and the current system for farm management. The fish farm near Roscrea has an issue regarding the level of water supply available. The current fish farm operations are subsidised by wider IFI resources because the price of fish for sale does not reflect the real cost of production. On balance, and having given due consideration to these factors, the board decided to exit freshwater aquaculture operations and has instructed the executive of IFI to develop a plan to facilitate exiting this business while making efforts to ensure continuity of supply and trout for stocking for anglers.

All permanent IFI aquaculture staff at facilities at Roscrea, Cullion and Lough Allua will retain their employment within IFI and every effort will be made to ensure smooth redeployment to other areas of the organisation. The board has already confirmed that no jobs will be lost and that all staff have roles within the organisation. IFI has confirmed that it wishes to inconvenience stakeholders as little as possible and that it firmly believes it will be possible to implement the decision with minimal or no disruption to stakeholders.

Given these considerations, IFI has announced the commencement of a public consultation process with stakeholders and individuals affected by the decision to exit freshwater trout production, with a particular focus on the potential impact of the decision and possible measures that could mitigate this impact. As the Senator said, the submission period is open until 5 p.m. on 19 August, and submissions may be made online.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. I have a couple of issues to raise. I spoke about the benefit to the economy each year to the tune of €800 million and the fact that so many jobs depend on the sector. It seems strange - I am no expert in this matter - that a decision would be made by IFI to close a facility and that it would seek submissions after the event.

I understand the report mentioned by the Minister of State was produced by a Canadian firm. It made a number of recommendations, none of which included the closure of any facility. The decision seems strange in that regard. At a time when one can see the benefit to the economy and the jobs for which the sector is responsible, IFI should be given more funding rather than having its funding cut. What kind of figures are we talking about in this regard?

I plead with the Minister of State to postpone this decision as did his predecessor, the current Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora and overseas development aid, Deputy McHugh. I ask that a meeting be organised for the delegation from the angling community to address this issue and find a solution for all concerned.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is not a line Minister. He has committed to asking the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, to contact Senator Gallagher directly. Perhaps that could be done today, if possible, in order to make progress on this matter.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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I appreciate the Senator's concerns. I come from a part of the country where angling is very important. I will bring the issues the Senator raised to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne. I will ask the latter to contact the Senator directly today.

Sitting suspended at 11.20 a.m. and resumed at 11.35 a.m.