Seanad Éireann - Volume 17 - 13 December, 1933

Sea Fisheries Protection (No. 2) Bill, 1933—Committee.

Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 agreed to.


Question proposed: “That Section 7 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Crosbie: I would point out that this measure, while increasing the material penalties on poachers, does not seem to make adequate provision for the capture of these poachers. We all know that along our coast these trawlers come in almost within a stone's throw of the land and, as far as I can see, this measure makes no [2042] adequate provision at all for the prevention of this. The Minister talked of a second “Muirchu.” I cannot see that that would help very much. The “Muirchu” may be very valuable from the point of view of protection, although I do not think any of us are aware of what she has done. Beyond the material she provides for jokes in the comic papers I do not see that her services really have been remunerative in comparison with the price we pay for her. As I say, she may be very valuable, but I am unaware of the work she has done. However, should the suggestion I have to make be put into force, I quite believe that the “Muirchu” would be of very great benefit. My suggestion is, shortly, that motor boats, costing anything from £1,200 to £1,500, should be placed in service—perhaps ten or a dozen of them—all around the shores of the Free State, and that in that way every foot of the coast of Ireland would be patrolled daily. That would make adequate provision to prevent any poachers from coming within the prescribed limits.

I notice that, in his reply on the last day, the Minister talked of the herring and the mackerel fishing. They are two very important items of our fishing produce, but I would point out to the Minister that there are also other very valuable fishing industries which, in my own time, have been threatened practically with extinction. Pollock is still to be found on our coast but not at all in the proportions in which it used to be found. Sole, whiting and plaice are disappearing rapidly. Haddock and hake are practically unknown now on the south-west coast of Ireland. Gurnet were not to be found at all around our waters this year and the same can be said of bream and cod. What I would point out is that there has been no special reason why these kinds of fish should be steadily diminishing beyond the fact that these poaching trawlers undoubtedly are now bolder than ever and are coming in and fishing our waters. The Minister talked about the value of our fisheries being so small. Well, I can remember a time when that was not so. I admit that it was due principally to herring and [2043] mackerel, but I remember a time when a grant of £5,000 was given and within a very short period of that time Cape Clear, which had no boats or gear of any kind when that Vote was made, had gear and boats to the value of £60,000. I am still convinced —and of course in saying this I am really only reiterating what every man engaged in the industry believes— that if we could keep our coast clear from poachers we would have a return of all that fish that was most valuable as food for the people.

It is a very remarkable fact that year by year our fresh-water fishing has deteriorated in a most alarming way. In fact, in a very short time, if things go on as they are going at present, the occupation of fishermen in the south-west coast of Ireland will be gravely affected. You cannot make a fisherman in one or two years. It is a very highly skilled trade, and it is a very serious outlook to find that in West Cork the fishermen there are engaged at the moment in breaking stones for the roads. I believe, although if I were asked to give proof of it I could not do so, that the effect of having our sea fishing destroyed is reacting upon our fresh-water fishing. The salmon, as we all know, feeds in the fresh water and, as far as I have heard, for the six months he is in fresh water he feeds on a very thin diet indeed. I believe that the disappearance of the salmon is not due to poaching, which a number of people put it down to, because I maintain that to-day poaching is no more prevalent than it was during the time I remember. I think that it is highly probable that one of the causes of the disappearance of the salmon from our rivers is the fact that around the coast the food they existed on during the winter is no longer there, and the obvious cause of that is the interference with our coastal waters.

I would press on the Minister, accordingly, that he should go very closely into this question of having the coast patrolled. I would make the suggestion also, if the Minister thinks that is too large an order—and I maintain it is a small order considering the interests involved—that he should patrol even the coast from Wexford to [2044] Berehaven, which would involve a comparatively small sum. In a year or two he would very soon find out whether keeping the trawlers away from that coast had any effect upon the fish produce of our waters or not. It is a matter that I press very strongly on the attention of the Minister, and rather than go in for a second vessel, as he seems to think would be necessary, I would urge him very strongly to put on, say, four boats costing £1,500 at the outside, all of which can be built within the Free State and which could be run at a cost per boat of certainly not more than £700 a year. I think that would be a very valuable experiment indeed.

Miss Browne: I should like to support Senator Crosbie's suggestion, if it is practicable, and I do not see why it should not be. His suggestion that an experiment should be made on the coast from Wexford to Cork should include the important fishing town of Arklow. Perhaps that is what Senator Crosbie meant. Really this Sea Fisheries (Protection) Bill is a kind of pious aspiration on the part of the Minister because, as it stands, there is nothing in it to make any great improvement in the position. I heartily approve of the increased fines that it proposes to impose, because one of the causes why trawlers have not kept away has been the very small fines that were inflicted in the past. A fine of £100 means absolutely nothing to a fast-sailing trawler, because that amount is made in one catch. I approve of that part of the Bill. It reminds me of an old-fashioned cookery book in which there was a recipe for making hare soup, the first paragraph being, “First catch your hare.” The Bill is something like that. However, it is a terrible national reproach that our sea fisheries only amount to the very small sum mentioned by the Minister when we were discussing the Bill last week. As we have the longest coast line in Europe the state of the fisheries here has been a great reproach. The Act dealing with sea fisheries passed by the previous Government did a great deal, but unless we have some means of catching trawlers Bills are of no use. I am [2045] afraid there is a good deal in this Bill that is meant as a bait to catch the votes of fishermen.

I should like the Minister to explain the remarks he made about oysters, as since people read the report of his speech they are afraid to eat oysters, as if they were affected with some terrible disease. As I did not quite understand what the Minister meant, I would like him to be more explicit. I suppose he is aware that a very fine oyster bed existed in Wexford Harbour until it was completely carried away by French trawlers.

Cathaoirleach: It would be better to confine your remarks to the section, Senator.

Miss Browne: I only mentioned that as I should like to support Senator Crosbie's proposal to provide boats if they were capable of catching fast trawlers. At any rate, if the boats were available the trawlers might be kept away.

Minister for Agriculture (Dr. Ryan): I would not like any impression to get out that there was anything whatever wrong with oysters. Fearing that that impression might get out from the speech made here, all I said was that the oysters were not multiplying as they did, and that we did not know the reason why. There is nothing wrong with oysters as food. It is rather farfetched to suggest that this is a vote-catching Bill. After all I suppose against any Bill that a Government brings in an accusation of the same kind could be made. I do not know to what part of this Bill that accusation could apply. The example Senator Miss Browne gave about first catching your hare is a good one, but if people are not allowed to catch the hare the law has first to be changed. That is the position we are in. We have to change the law before we can even catch votes. The next thing is to provide adequate coastal patrol boats. There is no necessity to put that in the Bill, even if we intended to get 20 boats like the “Muirchu.” Seeing that there is no such provision in it, it does not indicate what our policy might be. At the last meeting of the Seanad I did [2046] point out, taking the value of our sea fisheries, that it was hard to justify so much expenditure. The present value of our sea fisheries is £700,000. Of course, the potential value is much more, as we are importing three times that amount. If we could develop the sea fisheries for our own market that would represent 300 per cent. Consequently, if there were any good prospect of developing our sea fisheries to that extent, it would be worth while increasing the patrol services very materially. That question is under consideration. In the Bill we have extreme penalties and provisions whereby we can bring up boats after the offence if they are identified by anyone who can be taken as a reliable witness to prove that such boat was within the limit on such a date, and at any time after that the “Muirchu” or any other boat can arrest and have a case tried for that particular offence.

That is one of the provisions in this Bill. It is thought with an extreme penalty, and with such a provision, we should get a little experience of what we can do with the “Muirchu.” Then, if necessary, we may have to get more boats. The question arises whether we can increase our efficiency in that respect without purchasing large boats like the “Muirchu,” or, as Senator Crosbie thinks, do a great deal with small motor boats. That question has been examined but, as far as our knowledge in the Fishery Department goes, up to the present we think these motor boats would not be useful, because they would not be fit to face rough seas on many days that trawlers would be out. In fact, we must have just as seaworthy vessels and as fast as trawlers. The “Muirchu” fulfils that condition. Small motor boats do not. If we had only small boats the trawlers could do as they liked on wild days. It may be possible to get motor boats to do something in that connection. If we do it would be more economical than using boats like the “Muirchu.” A boat like the “Muirchu” would cost about £40,000 and would take about £8,000 a year to run. Senator Crosbie suggested that motor boats could be got for £1,500 and run at a cost of £700 yearly. If [2047] they were effective they would be more attractive from that point of view, than the “Muirchu.”

Mr. Johnson: Does the Minister know what a seaplane would cost?

Dr. Ryan: That question has been examined. I believe it has been tried in other countries unsuccessfully, because seaplanes were not able to make an arrest. We are in a different position. If a seaplane went out and identified a boat we would then have sufficient powers in the Bill. The question of using a seaplane could be further examined. However, the first thing was to get these powers of arrest, even after an offence had occurred, and also power to inflict heavy penalties. Having got these powers, we can consider the question of patrol boats.

Section 7 and the remaining sections agreed to.

Bill ordered to be reported.

Report Stage ordered for Thursday, 14th December.