Dáil Éireann - Volume 626 - 07 November, 2006
Adjournment Debate. - Salmon Management Programmes.
Dr. Cowley Dr. Cowley
Dr. Cowley: The predicament of drift net fishermen is another blow to people living in coastal communities. These are a finite number of fishermen eking out a living. They are mostly to be found along the west coast, and particularly in County Mayo. They have been treated in an unfair manner. This is something that has been in the pipeline for some time and perhaps it should have been introduced three or four years ago.  These fishermen are being badly penalised because it did not happen at that time. The amount they are now getting in compensation — a once off payment that will have to do them for the rest of their lives — is dependent on their catch, and this has been reduced by 75% in the last five years.
We all know about how scarce salmon stocks are. However, this group of fishermen has been badly treated and deserves better. It is not just about the fishermen themselves, but also their families, particularly their sons who expected to continue the fishing tradition. They now have no future. What about the crews who are dependent on the licence holder? The licence holder is getting a pittance in compensation and is expected to pay his crew from that.
I do not believe that what has been proposed has been fully thought out. Farmers, for example, were more equitably treated because they were more organised. The drift net fishermen were badly organised; they trusted Government and felt it would do the right thing by them but they have been badly let down. It is not too late for the Minister of State to announce further measures to help these fishermen, their families and their crews.
This programme may not work out as well as Government thinks. There was a big loss of salmon at sea. Salmon will also return to the river of origin, and this may not necessarily be an Irish river. Drift net fishermen also catch salmon from Scotland, England and elsewhere. The Government has not given enough thought to what will happen if the increased numbers of salmon return to Irish rivers. I do not believe the Government has increased the number of fisheries board staff. I understand the number of such staff has been reduced as part of a plan to privatise and eliminate the body in the long run. That would also be a retrograde step.
What does the future hold for these men who will not be adequately compensated? Hopefully they will not engage in any form of illegality. Drift net fishermen have always respected and kept the law and, consequently, their catches were lower. By only fishing when they were permitted to do so, their catches were reduced and they are now paying for that.
In the north east of England, fishermen were given £70,000 sterling a number of years ago in a buy out in the interests of salmon conservation, and £110,000 sterling is now reported to have been offered to those remaining. Approximately €2,000 has been offered to our 850 drift net fishermen for a similar buy-out, with €23 euro per salmon caught in the last five years even though a quota reduction of 75% was already operating. No provision has been made for the drift net crews, nor has any other option been considered for them. Considering the devastating effect on those men and their families in rural areas for the rest of their lives, this does not seem equitable. They have no option for satisfaction in the event  of resurgence in salmon stock. Is the Minister of State considering any other options to help drift net fishermen, their crews and families?
Mr. Browne Mr. Browne
Mr. Browne: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am not in a position to comment on the specifics of the scheme introduced by the UK in 2003, nor am I privy to the arguments or methods used in their deliberations. As far as I am aware, a much smaller number of licences were involved and it may be the case that average catches per licence were significant. It must also be borne in mind that the UK licensing regime is different from that in operation in Ireland.
In March of this year the Government made a commitment to aligning management of the wild salmon fishery with the scientific advice for 2007. The Government’s primary motivation in committing to align with the scientific advice is that of conservation of the wild salmon species. The salmon has long been regarded as one of Ireland’s most prized fish, instilled in our traditional mythology as the bradán feasa, the salmon of knowledge, and valued as a cultural, recreational and economic resource.
Expert scientific advice shows that one third to one half of the salmon numbers returning to rivers in the 1970s and 1980s are currently returning to Irish rivers. In this regard, it is vital to afford every protection to the remaining stocks and to clearly prioritise conservation over catch. The current imperative must be to maintain stocks above conservation limits, or at the very least halt the decline. The scientific advice is unequivocal that the ending of indiscriminate mixed stock fishing at sea and the restriction of angling in certain rivers are essential parts of a national strategy to arrest the decline in wild salmon stocks. If we do not take action now the relentless deterioration in stocks will continue, leading to the inevitable demise of wild salmon.
International best practice for the management of North Atlantic salmon requires the adoption of the precautionary approach and the cessation of indiscriminate mixed stock fisheries. These are the recommendations of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation and the International Council for the Exploitation of the Sea. EU obligations require Ireland to comply with the habitats directive, which also prescribes the precautionary approach and requires an end to indiscriminate mixed stock fishing. The EU Commission has issued a reasoned opinion against Ireland for non-compliance with the habitats directive in our management of the fishery to date. Ireland could face substantial fines if the European Court of Justice upholds the Commission’s complaint. If we do not end mixed stock fishing in 2007, the EU Commission will unquestionably proceed in its action against Ireland. We can on the other hand expect a bonus to our repu tation from neighbouring countries if we proceed on the proposed course.
In future, the harvest of salmon by any means will be restricted to those stocks of rivers that are meeting their conservation limits. This means there will be no more indiscriminate capture of fish. The scientific advice is that this can be best achieved by restricting fishing to bays, estuaries and rivers. Commercial fishing and recreational angling can continue only on the scientifically identified exploitable surplus. We have no option, therefore, but to move to single stock management.
The Government recognised that compliance with scientific advice from 2007 onwards could mean hardship for commercial fishermen and vulnerable coastal communities and appointed an independent group to examine all the implications of aligning with scientific advice for commercial salmon fishing. The Government approved the implementation of the scheme recommended by this group. The group informed the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources that it regarded the scheme as generous. There are 877 holders of drift net licences and the degree of hardship varies greatly among this group given that, in 2005, 445 licence holders caught fewer than 50 fish and only three licence holders caught more than 1,000. Drift net fishing has also been a seasonal activity concentrated in only two months of the year.
The Government has approved the establishment of a €25 million fund to address this hardship and the amount to be paid to individuals will be determined by reference to their average verifiable catch for each licence holder for the past five years — 2001 to 2005 — and in all cases a payment equal to six times the current licence fee in respect of each licence surrendered will be made. In addition the Government is establishing a community support scheme to a value of €5 million to support the development of additional economic opportunities in communities affected by the closure of the drift-net fishery. The focus of this measure will primarily be on those communities where drift net fishing has been a well-established activity and where its withdrawal demonstrably impacts on their economic and social fabric.
Dáil Éireann 626 Adjournment Debate. Salmon Management Programmes.