Dáil Éireann - Volume 338 - 03 November, 1982

Adjournment Debate: Celtic Sea Fishing.

Mr. E. Collins: I am grateful to you and to the Minister for allowing me to raise the question of the opening of the Celtic Sea herring fishing this year. Originally, the Celtic Sea was closed in 1977 to preserve stocks. I can readily admit that there is a need to control fishing of all species to ensure that stock levels will permit commercial fishing. I have no quarrel with the Minister; I listened attentively to his speech this afternoon when he discussed fishery policy. I have no quibble in principle with him. I fully accept the need for proper management of the fishing stock and control of exploitation by fishermen of fish stock.

My understanding of the present position is that the Fishery Research Centre has stated that stocks of herring have improved to such an extent in the Celtic Sea as to allow fishing at least on a limited basis for herring this year. Primarily, I am concerned with my own constituency, with Dunmore East and along the Waterford Coast. A number of trawlers there have not been able to fish for herring for the past five years and they have suffered considerable commercial loss as a result. I know that the Minister introduced a small quota of 1,000 tonnes for drift net fishermen and that was welcome but there is a need to allow even limited fishing on a quota basis, say 3,000 tonnes, for trawler men who own trawlers between 50 feet and 90 feet in length. There are not many of them but these men have been deprived of a livelihood because of the ban in the past five years. Over this period Irish fishermen have been discriminated against in the Celtic Sea. Large foreign trawlers, particularly Dutch trawlers, have got away with herring catches and landed them in their home ports. Obviously the surveillance on the European coastline in other countries is not sufficiently strict to ensure the [827] implementation of a proper conservation policy. It is ironic that these foreign trawlers have gained at the expense of Irish trawlers and it is most unfortunate. We have not made enough noise in Brussels; we have not taken the necessary steps to ensure that these foreign trawlers and factory ships do not gain by the exploitation of our native species, especially herring, at the expense of Irish fishermen.

It is unfortunate that we have not been able to implement the 50-mile exclusive limit. The present Government have failed to ensure that there is such a limit. Indeed they had the support of The Workers' Party for that policy—but that is their problem not mine. There is need to be far more active in regard to fishery policy. I ask the Minister tonight to allow the reopening of the Celtic Sea fishing. I know there is an expert committee in Brussels and that the Council of Ministers and the Commission are all deeply involved but I am satisfied that the Celtic Sea and Irish fishermen in particular are being discriminated against because there is scientific evidence available at home to prove that stocks of herring are sufficient for at least a limited opening of the Celtic Sea.

A Dunmore fisherman gave me to understand the other evening that in a recent survey herring of up to seven or eight years of age—apparently herring die at about eight years of age; I am not an expert on that—are there and have been caught, proving that there are substantial stocks present. I also understand that trawlermen have seen large shoals of herring on their radar in a number of positions along the coastline and the men are satisfied that herrings are there in sufficient quantity to allow a limited opening. In these circumstances I ask the Minister to consider the financial position of the trawler owners from Dunmore East to Ardmore and to allow our own fishermen to fish for our own fish in our own waters. I cannot accept that after a five-year ban stocks have not replenished themselves and that stocks are still insufficient to warrant what is effectively a complete ban on herring fishing. I do not [828] know the outcome of today's Brussels meeting of the expert committee. I hope the Minister will be strong enough to ensure that there will be an opening this year and I ask him for that assurance in his reply.

Minister for Fisheries and Forestry (Mr. Daly): I compliment Deputy Collins on the constructive way in which he dealt with this issue. I acknowledge his genuine and sincere desire to see the right things done in this regard. This is in contrast to some other views expressed recently, which would create the impression that this was just a simple matter of declaring this fishery open. I know that Deputy Collins recognises the implications, the complications in the Celtic Sea context and he can appreciate fully my position in that regard, and acknowledge that in fact the proper steps have been taken, are being taken and will be taken to ensure that any limited opening which the improvement in stocks justify will be arranged. There is a limited opening already. There was evidence that stocks had been improving and a limited opening of 1,000 tonnes for smaller boats was negotiated by my colleague, Deputy Power. However, this led to further fishing there. If the ban on fishing in the Celtic Sea had been fully enforced in 1977 it would probably be fully open now. The reality is that although there was a ban, limited fishing took place, and it is not just this year that trawlers have been apprehended and fishermen charged with illegal fishing. This has been the case for a number of years.

I constantly point out to fishermen that conservation is in their own interest. It is important that any extension of the opening of the Celtic Sea which may be negotiated will be fully observed. The Council of Ministers will make the final decision but perhaps we can obtain an extension of the limited opening which we have already and a quota to cover that. The ICES Council has this matter on its agenda. It met yesterday and is also meeting today in Copenhagen. It is a scientific body which makes recommendations to the EEC Commission, who in turn draw [829] up proposals and put them before the Council of Ministers.

It has been said on many occasions that while there was a ban on herring fishing for Irish fishermen, foreign trawlers could fish indiscriminately without being apprehended. This is not so. There is no evidence to suggest that foreign trawlers have been fishing illegally in the Celtic Sea. When boardings were carried out by the Naval Service there was no evidence that they had herrings on board. I think the Deputy referred to Dutch factory ships, but factory ships do not fish. Perhaps the one in question was purchasing fish from trawler fishermen in the Celtic Sea area. There is no evidence — we have naval support for this from surveillance carried out — to substantiate any claim that any foreign boat was fishing for herring in the Celtic Sea. That is the position.

The Deputy raised the question of the 50 mile limit. This is not relevant in this case because the bulk of herring fishing is inshore. The season starts at the end of September and ceases around the end of March. The best time for herring fishing is when they come inshore. This is why it is so important that inshore fishermen get their quota. The bulk of fishing for herring is carried out within the three mile band. There is a certain amount between the six and twelve mile band but very little in the 50 mile area. So the 50 mile limit is not that important in this regard.

Much research has been carried out to ascertain fish stocks in the area. Diligent and constant efforts are made by the scientific and biological staff of the fisheries division to ascertain the position. Larval surveys are carried out and samples taken from catches. It is difficult to obtain this information when there is only limited fishing. However, my staff obtained information which was submitted to the ICES Council which met in July. On the basis of the scientific evidence at the time the ICES Council, which recommends to the commission whether a fishery should be opened or closed, were not satisfied that a further extension of the limited opening could be justified. There was evidence of an intermingling of stock between western stock [830] herring and Celtic Sea herring. Brussels allow a quota of 6,000 tonnes of western stock. There is a suggestion that there may be a connection between the western stock herring outside the Celtic Sea area and the Celtic Sea herring. On that basis the ICES Council are discussing further evidence which would justify a whole quota for the area. I expected to have a report from them this evening. In advance of receiving a decision from them I raised the question of getting a proposal based on the recommendations which will come from the ICES Council with the Commission. The Commissioner in Brussels said he would act speedily and on the scientific information available to him would formulate a proposal to go before the next Council of Ministers' meeting. They will make the final decision on 8 November. At the last meeting of the Council of Ministers they passed a resolution, which I had placed on the agenda, to the effect that when the Commissioner brought forward his proposal, based on the scientific evidence available, to the Council on 8 November, that would be accepted by the Council.

That covers the situation. This is an emotive issue and has led to some controversy. It is an issue in which I have taken a personal interest since I was appointed Minister and I have made every effort possible through the Council, the Commission and through discussions with my scientific staff to have this issue settled satisfactorily. I am satisfied that a substantial case has been established for the extension of the limited opening and this will be decided finally on the basis of scientific advice from ICES, and on that basis alone. I put to the commissioner and the Council other economic and social considerations which were justified.

I take the point made by Deputy E. Collins that some trawler skippers may be in financial difficulties and this consideration should be, and was, taken into account by my colleagues in the Council of Ministers when I raised this issue there recently and at other meetings in June, July and August. I am satisfied that every effort has been made by us and I am hopeful there will be a positive outcome [831] to this controversy and that we will get a further extension. A final word of warning: if we succeed in getting the limited extension, it will be fully enforced and managed properly, and I will ensure that that is done.