Seanad Éireann - Volume 154 - 01 April, 1998

Fishing Industry: Motion.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: I move:

That Seanad Éireann recognises the vital role of the fishing industry in sustaining Ireland's coastal communities and supports the continuing efforts by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Dr. Michael Woods, T.D., to safeguard the livelihoods of Irish fishermen and develop the industry to its potential.

[1406] The tabling of this motion gives us an opportunity to reflect on what has happened in the fishing industry in the past few months and on its future. As this motion concerns the fishing industry and as I did not get an opportunity to do so previously, I wish to express my deep regret at the tragic death of the former Minister for the Marine, the late Deputy Coveney. He was a nice man who berthed his yacht in our harbour on several occasions. When I visited his office when he was Minister I always felt I was speaking to a friend and he always treated me well.

The motion speaks for itself. People living on the north-west, west and south coasts depend mainly on the fishing industry for their livelihood. It sustains our coastal towns and provides good employment. I wish to mention some of the measures introduced in the past few months which will boost the industry. Members on both sides of the House have made representations on numerous occasions to implement a scheme for the renewal of our fleet. It was recognised here and in the EU that our fleet was dilapidated. The Minister made a major breakthrough by introducing a scheme, included in the Finance Bill, which I described to fishermen in Dingle as a type of urban renewal scheme for fishing boats. Before one starts fishing, one must have a good boat. Our fleet was not kept as technologically up to date as those of other countries. The Minister will explain this package in more detail and the way in which it will operate.

An £11 million investment in the fishing fleet was announced by the Minister last October, including £3 million in EU and State aid. Different announcements have been made in the past few months. On a matter which was a bone of contention for many years, the Minister obtained an extra 5,000 gross tonnes to regulate small boats and those which did not have an up to date licence. This regularised the licensing and registering of about 1,000 fishing vessels, which was an important step. The extra 5,000 tonnes will not come out of our overall tonnage. The Minister and his officials made a special argument for the granting of extra tonnage; this is a major step forward.

As regards the Minister walking out in Brussels, it is a pity someone did not do the same 30 years ago to show that we meant business. We have a small fleet and there is a massive amount of fish in our seas, particularly off the west coast. Some of the commentators at the time said that the walkout was a sham, that the Minister did so to show the fishermen he was with them but there was nothing behind it. However, the Minister gained 12,000 extra tonnes of mackerel because of that walkout and since then he has been taken more seriously.

The Minister has made many other statements and announcements. When I was chairman of the Dingle Harbour Commissioners I received many letters and deputations at the start of the herring season asking me to do something about herring. [1407] I made representations to the Minister which were acted upon quickly and a special task force was set up, which is still in operation, to come to grips with the problems of herring fishing. I wrote to Emma Bonino but did not expect to get a reply. However, she sent me a reply that was curt and to the point stating that agreements made internationally could not be broken and she had no intention of breaking this agreement.

Three weeks after I received her reply there was a headline in a newspaper — “Woods Resists Tuna Ban”. The Minister succeeded in straightening out most of the problem. A total of 23,000 tonnes of herring were dumped into the EEC which put the kibosh on the herring industry at that time. Our total quota was approximately 25,000 tonnes and to allow Norway into the EEC without any duty on these fish was crazy. Norway has 741,000 metric tonnes of herring in its waters; 73,660 tonnes in the North Sea; 3,000 tonnes in area 6b and 11,180 tonnes in the Baltic Sea giving a total quota of 828,840 metric tonnes. To allow such a country to dump the equivalent of our quota in the EU market was crazy.

On 24 March, the tuna ban came up for discussion. Tuna may account for a small part of our fishing industry but we changed our fishing methods to conform with the EU and then the EU introduced rules and regulations that prevent us from partaking in that type of fishing. Tuna fishing has come on over the past number of years, especially in Dingle, Castletownbere and Dunmore East. The Minister obtained agreement not to ban tuna fishing this year and over the next couple of years the issue will be examined in a different light. The reason for the ban is that we are one of the few countries that drift net for tuna whereas other countries, such as France, long line for it and have no problem accepting a ban on drift net fishing.

I want the Minister to continue as he is and not to be afraid of walking out of any meeting. I am delighted he is doing that. I hope the debate will be constructive because we are all in this together. A few years ago there were big arguments about who got £5 billion or £6 billion from the EU for Ireland and when the Taoiseach came home we were delighted he had received such a sum for investment in Ireland. Every year Ireland gives £2 billion of fish to other countries in Europe and in the words of our fishermen “we are sharing our wealth with Europe. Europe is not sharing its natural resources with us”. I hope the Minister keeps up the good work. He is doing a great job.

Mr. O'Donovan: The Minister is very much on top of his brief and knows the fishing industry well, from Donegal to my constituency in Cork South-West. I compliment him on promulgating and promoting a major development in Union Hall a number of years ago. He visited places that were forgotten, such as Roaring Water Bay and Schull and his visits were much appreciated.

[1408] I concur with the praise given to the Minister by Senator Fitzgerald and his views on the tuna fish ban. Tuna fishing is worth £4 million to the south-west region and I thank the Minister for making it a big issue in Europe recently because in the absence of scientific evidence the EU proposed a ban on drift net tuna fishing. This would cripple fishermen in the south west while the Spanish would still be able to fish for the same tuna using trolling and long line methods. In the Baltic Sea, there is no restriction on this type of fishing for Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Consequently, the Minister should stand firm and redouble his efforts in this regard because this is so valuable for these fishermen who take up tuna fishing when the white fish season is virtually over, particularly in May and June.

I refer to the harassment of Irish trawlers in our waters and I laud the Minister for his efforts to deal with this ongoing problem. A trawler owner from Castletownbere rang me today to say he was forced off fishing grounds 70 or 80 miles south-west of Mizen Head at 3 a.m. by a couple of UK registered Spanish vessels. These flagships of convenience bullied him off the fishing grounds. These incidents, only some of which are logged, occur on a weekly basis. A well known local fisherman, Danny Boy O'Driscoll, lost his life in such an incident off the Castletownbere coast just over a year ago. Admittedly, that accident was caused by someone who, with total neglect and a total disregard for the waters, put a big trawler on automatic pilot which cut through the fishing vessel. It was lucky other lives were not lost on that occasion. This is what our fishermen face.

The cornerstone of the EU Common Fisheries Policy is free access to fishing grounds for member states. The blackguardism and intimidation attempts by these large foreign vessels which have occurred over the past ten or 12 years must not be allowed to continue. I urge the Minister to stand firm on this very serious issue, otherwise lives will be lost.

The big problem seems to be caused by UK registered but Spanish owned flagships of convenience. Genuine French and Spanish trawlers do not have a problem with their Irish counterparts. I am not sure if we can undo the damage that has been done but these ships have created big problems. I understand the French and Italians are supporting our position on tuna fishing. I urge the British EU Presidency to row in behind the Irish position.

I also welcome the proposals in the Finance Bill for tax incentives for investment in our aging fishing fleet, and not before time. However, I urge that this be promoted in the fishing ports, whether they are in Donegal, the west, Dunmore East or Castletownbere, so that a great deal of money can be pumped in over the next three or four years. Senator Fitzgerald was quite accurate in his comparison of this type of investment in the fishing fleet to the urban renewal schemes for towns which lack development.

[1409] I am puzzled by the anomaly in relation to special tax allowances for seafaring people. A full-time seafaring person, whether a commercial or passenger vessel, receives a special tax concession. However, this tax incentive does not apply to full-time fishermen who often have to spend 70 or 80 hours at sea, particularly those in the south-west who spend ten hours getting to the fishing grounds. I am sure the unions have lobbied very hard for seafaring people whose trips across the Irish Sea usually take about three or four hours. I urge the Minister to have a closer look at this matter.

The final point I wish to raise probably comes under the brief of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern. There still seems to be confusion about the worth of social welfare benefits to genuine fishermen. Many fishermen do not have pension funds and something should be done in this regard. If a fisherman is unemployed for ten or 12 weeks due to bad weather he should have easy access to social welfare benefits. Ordinary crewmen who do not own a vessel should have something more to look forward to at the end of their days than, as the song says, ending up in Fiddlers' Green when they die. I urge the Minister to sort out the social welfare anomalies for fishermen.

I requested this debate on several occasions on the Order of Business. I compliment the Minister on what he has achieved to date. He is familiar with and on top of his brief. I urge him to redouble his efforts because for many decades the fishing industry played second fiddle to agriculture. We lost out at times when we could have got better quotas. It does not make sense that Ireland has almost 25 per cent of European waters but only 5 per cent of the quotas. I am sure the Minister will do everything possible to support the industry. I could talk for another 30 minutes on many other aspects of this motion but my time is restricted.

Mr. Caffrey: I would be the first to admit there are many hard working Ministers in the Government, although I do not know if the present Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources fits into that category. The public perception in my part of the north-west is that he is not doing enough to promote and develop the marine industry and to exploit the great wealth and job creating potential of all marine based industries, including marine tourism and leisure and marine food processing. The fishing industry has virtually ceased to exist in my region. I will not dwell for too long on fishing because there are many other sectors of the marine industry. However, I compliment the Minister on playing hard ball with the Europeans and on what I hope he will achieve in relation to fish quotas, etc.

Ireland, which is on the edge on the Europe, has over 900,000 square kilometres of seabed as defined in the marine designated area. This has nothing to do with the 200 mile EU fishing zone and amounts to ten times our land mass. The [1410] international law of the sea allows us to lay legal claim to that area. In short, 90 per cent of Ireland's current territory lies under water.

The importance of this resource is illustrated by the fact that over 90 per cent of our trade exports and imports are carried by sea. Some four million people travel into and out of Ireland annually on international ferries; 51 per cent of Ireland's population live on the coast and 86 per cent live within 50 kilometres of the sea. Ireland has the highest seabed area per capita in the EU, 14 times the EU average, and a very extensive coastline of 7,100 kilometres. Although the marine food sector, fishing, aquaculture and sea food processing are under-developed, they are worth approximately £200 million per annum, that is, 0.5 per cent of our GDP, and provide over 15,000 jobs, or 1.4 per cent of the workforce, and up to 25 per cent of the workforce in some coastal areas.

The attraction of Ireland's long coastline, with its outstanding natural beauty, is a major source of tourism revenue. Ireland's 900,000 square kilometres of seabed provides technological opportunities in internationally traded areas such as operational oceanography, oil and gas exploration. Ireland also has one of the highest wave energy climates in the world. The market for marine technologies in which Ireland is building some expertise is estimated to be worth $5 billion annually, increasing at a rate of 5 per cent per annum. Clearly the sea is a critical resource for Ireland and one offering huge potential returns for strategic planning and investment.

A major step forward in regenerating the marine industry was taken by the late Deputy Coveney, when he was Minister for the Marine in March l995. He commissioned the consultative process which led to the publication by the Marine Institute of a document entitled Towards Marine Policy for Ireland in September 1996. This document is a blueprint for the development of the entire marine based industries in Ireland, and yet nothing has been done about it by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources or his Department. It is as if the document never existed.

This comprehensive consultative process, begun by the Marine Institute, was to enable us to look at the potential of marine based industries in Ireland. Every organisation which had any connection whatsoever with the marine industry gave a submission, 146 organisations in all contributed. The end result is a document that charts the way forward for the entire marine based industries, and yet the Minister has done nothing about it.

The document on marine policy states that there are seven major ports, all on the east coast, and they handle 89 per cent of all traffic to Irish ports. Dublin and Cork account for half of the total; Dun Laoghaire and Rosslare are principally ferry ports and have relatively small volumes of trade and the Shannon Estuary port, Limerick and Foynes handle trade only and between them account for 28 per cent of all port traffic in the [1411] Republic, which is partly due to the large imports of coal and oil for the generation of electricity at Moneypoint.

There is no deep sea port along the west coast.

Everything produced on the west and north west has to be transported to either Foynes, Dublin or Larne. The only regional port on the west coast is Galway and this is a landlocked port incapable of any further development. Community based development organisations in the north west have waged an ongoing campaign over the past few years to establish a deep sea port in Killala bay, just seven miles outside Ballina. So far there has been very little response from the Government. The extent of the Department's commitment to this project has been a mere £5,000 grant for an initial survey, which established beyond all doubt that this is a natural choice for a deep sea port because there is deep sheltered water within 30 metres of the shoreline. An investment of about £20,000 million would be needed to fund the entire project. If it were to go ahead it would provide economic regeneration for the north west. We already have anchor industries in place to make the project viable and we know there is potential for further investment.

Is it the Government's policy to continue to haul all our export products across the country to be exported from Dublin and further clog the city with articulated trucks? A major investment in a deep sea port in the north west is also prerequisite to the future development of our fishing industry along the west coast.

Only recently we have recognised the possibilities for wealth and job creation which exist within our coastal and vast shore areas. There is huge scope for development when we realise that Ireland's sea bed area is ten times the size of its landmass. The sea bed resources include sand, gravel, algae and heavy mineral deposits with the possibility of valuable metallic deposits offshore. The total value of these resources could exceed the value of our onshore resources by a factor of ten to one, and yet this Minister has done nothing about it.

In relation to renewable energies the Marine Institute, in its report, stated: “Ocean energy can be harnessed in the form of tidal energy and ocean thermal energy from the ocean currents”. The Irish wave energy resource is very large, with current estimates indicating that technically extractable resource of the renewable wave energy is about double the present total national electricity consumption. This represents in numerical terms 50 gig watts along the west coast alone, which is 13 per cent of the ESB's production in 1994.

I ask the Minister to look seriously at the total development of the marine industry.

Mr. Chambers: I welcome the Minister and the tone of contributions here this evening. In my experience of dealing with the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources I found it to be [1412] very underfunded and underdeveloped. It has enormous potential. The current Minister will know, through being the Minister for the Marine previously, that it has a great capacity in relation to the national economy of the State. The growth of the fishing industry is an indication of its potential. Even though the marine industry has grown substantially, it did not get the same priority as other Departments — for example, agriculture. It is accepted nationwide that the importance of the fishing industry was bartered in the overall agricultural development within the EC. It survived and is still a growing industry. There are 300,000 tonnes of fish being caught by Irish fishermen at the moment and, therefore, it plays a huge part in the economies of coastal communities. Within that context of an under-developed natural resource, it is important that this Department and the Government provide protection for current fish stocks to enable us develop it in the future. I respect the Minister for his stand against other EU partners in this regard. It is important that the Government puts the necessary emphasis on the protection of our stocks for future development so that they will not be over-exploited by flagship boats visiting our waters. Many Irish fishermen feel these ships are poaching our industry and taking away our natural resource.

The report of the Marine Institute — it was mentioned by Senator Caffrey and others — outlines the overall importance of the potential of the fishing industry. I have a great interest in the fishing industry. It is an area in which I believe there is enormous potential. There has been huge job creation in aquaculture in Brittany in the area of shellfish development. The potential for job creation in the fishing industry is enormous. There is also huge development in areas of long-term sustainable development which will help to retain families in rural areas, provide job opportunities and the economic livelihoods of families along the coast.

There is a serious need — I support what the previous speaker had to say in this regard and I will be very parochial — for targeted investment programmes for the future. In fairness some counties have operated dismally. Mayo has a huge coastline with great fishing resources but job creation is at a deplorable level. They are not playing the part as stated in the resolution of retaining economic families and supporting them. Targeted investment must take place in counties like Mayo and I have asked the county manager, through the county enterprise board, to set out a detailed plan of work for county Mayo in co-operation with the Department of the Marine so that we can tackle the problem of job creation.

I welcome the decision by the Minister and Government in relation to special capital allowances with grants. That has great potential which has not been fully realised. We can do a lot to improve the stock and quality of our fleets through capital supports, grants and tax allowances. There should be a great take-up of the [1413] scheme which should be sold strongly along the western seaboard. We should not overdo things. There is potential for great development; it will not be enormous but will help build an important base for our fishing industry.

I welcome the Minister's work in this area. I think it is time to take an innovative approach to fishing. There is great potential in the idea of salmon ranching. We have great quality fish along the western seaboard. We should protect the wild species of salmon and trout. The Minister has a great opportunity to improve this area through the Marine Institute and salmon research. The development of salmon research provides tremendous potential for our streams and rivers in, for instance, the Clew Bay basin. We have marvellous facilities and natural resources of wild salmon and fish in our streams and rivers that could be developed for tourism. This could be done at community level without enormous cost. Through tourism we could develop our resource and provide long-term sustainable improvement for local economies.

In relation to aquaculture, there is a request with the Department of the Marine on the need for helmsman's licence training facilities for people involved in fish farming. There is a need for the Department and BIM to work swiftly with the industry in providing facilities for helmsman's licences for people who wish to qualify for the required insurance and the proper development of their job skills. I welcome the Minister's recent stand with his European partners. If any Department can play a meaningful part in the development of rural Ireland I believe it is the Department of the Marine. I will give the Minister my full support in relation to the long term sustainable development of the fishing industry in a very careful financed way.

Mr. O'Toole: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the fishing industry. I compliment Senator Fitzgerald on his continued efforts in highlighting this matter in the Seanad.

I believe — and I know this view has been indicated by the Minister — that the fishing industry has great potential for growth. It is also — and I do not point the finger at any particular Government, we all share the blame — the cinderella indigenous industry which could have given and done more. It has always been low down on our priorities.

The Minister might best be able to take on board the following points in that what I am suggesting is not his responsibility. We talk about infrastructure in accommodating foreign industry and indigenous industry. We talk about infrastructure in terms of the internal movement of communications for the growth of industry. A person travelling from Killybegs or Dingle to the markets of Paris drives many bad roads from west Cork to north Donegal and it is quite difficult to reach their destination on time. Their task is a [1414] difficult one and is something which should be looked at.

The lack of research and development in marine industry is an area in which I know the Minister has an interest. When I was first elected to this House 11 years ago I made a speech in which I said that for every ten people working at sea there was less than one job on land. That has improved substantially but the Minister would be the first to admit it has a long way to go. We need to push forward with the processing industry. Perhaps “processing” is the wrong terminology to use in relation to the development of the industry through research and development. Much of it is, as was outlined by Senator Chambers, the development of various industries based on salmon or other species. We are not doing enough in this area. We have an old fashioned approach to processing because we spent ten or 15 years trying to convince people to give added value to the fish landed and not simply export them. That has led to a simplistic approach being taken. We have not thought much beyond “Donegal Catch” — how much “Donegal Catch” is actually Irish I am not quite sure. We have not convinced people that money invested in the development of the marine industry is money invested in the future of industry as a whole. There are so many other areas that can grow from fishing even in terms of selling expertise.

Wave and wind technology was mentioned earlier. Is it not extraordinary that Ireland is located in the best area in Europe to harness the wind and yet technology is far more developed in Scandinavia than here? This should worry us. The same problem arises in the fishing industry. The most frightening statistic is that Ireland has more than a quarter of the fishing area of Europe but lands only less than a tenth of the total catch. This is wrong.

It is difficult to discuss foreign trawlers operating without licences without appearing to sound racist. However, those of us with many connections on the west coast and who know people who fish and work in the industry are aware of the facts. Trawlers, particularly Spanish vessels, are breaking the rules in a way which clearly shows that they are getting support in some places. Technically, fish cannot be landed without it being recorded. However, there are repeated examples of hidden compartments and unrecorded fish stocks on trawlers that are boarded. Some boats fishing the area for a number of years are not even registered.

Somebody is landing the fish and others are buying and selling it in the European Union. People are operating freely in this fashion in certain countries and we should demand action. If individuals can be sent to Iraq to investigate what Saddam Hussein has hidden, people should watch the return of Spanish trawlers in whatever ports they use. I am not happy about this matter which has been raised in other places. Will the Minister indicate how technology, and particularly satellite technology, is being used to trace boats and fleets and their landings and to identify where factory [1415] ships are based, where they do their business and the movement of fish?

In Ireland not enough has been done in terms of developing the deep sea fish stocks in more distant parts of the Atlantic. These include fish about which we did not learn in school and which are now being discovered. More work must be done on researching and developing how these stocks can be harvested in conjunction with the protection of traditional species.

The growth area is the luxury end of the market, which, in the main, involves shellfish. It has been stated by previous speakers and it will be said again that Ireland has not done enough with regard to farming shellfish. I am aware that many discussions have taken place on the rights and wrong of fish farming. However, there is nothing wrong with fish farming. If it is causing a problem, efforts should be made to solve it. It should not be conceded to either side of the debate that fish farming is good or bad. It is similar to alcohol; it is not good or bad, rather the use to which people put it. Fish farming should be developed in an environmentally friendly way that is helpful to the creation of employment and ensures added value within the industry.

The fishing industry is, in the main, located in remote parts of Ireland. There is an important base in the Minister's constituency and I am aware people fish on the east coast. However, this issue involves developing an industry and employment in places where there are no other jobs. The creation of employment in places such as Killala, Rossaveel, Achill, west Kerry and west Cork would make a real contribution to these communities. I ask the Government to recognise that the development of the marine industry and the creation of jobs in such places is worth much more to them than to other large urban areas. It would be an investment in communities and infrastructure and involve the protection of their culture. It would be a commitment to rural Ireland. Those of us from small towns such as Dingle, Rossaveal, Killybegs and Killala and others would welcome that type of movement.

I support Senator Chambers's point about the certification of helmsmen. I grew up in a town where many people did not receive enough training before modern technology was installed on their boats. They were not able to use it properly, but better technology is now available and fishermen need and want training. Everybody would benefit from it.

Mr. Finneran: I can already see the track of the Minister's hand in negotiations and statements about the fishing industry. This is nothing more than I would expect because I remember his responses when he was in the Department of Social Welfare and also the Department of Agriculture during the launch of the first Leader programme. It was a new concept but he took it on board immediately.

[1416] It may appear strange that a Member from an inland county, such as Roscommon, wishes to contribute to a debate on the fishing industry. However, it is often forgotten that there is a large industry based on the inland fishery waterways. The Central Fisheries Board and the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, which controls the area from where I come, are doing a fine job. However, the greatest threat to the fishing industry on the inland waterways is pollution which comes from many sources and, in some cases, is unintentional.

Roscommon County Council recently started to monitor Lough Ree. It is investing £700,000 in this project in co-operation with others. The council has taken this action because it has been established that there is massive pollution in the River Shannon and Lough Ree. It is not necessary for me to explain to the House that the inland waterways are one of the country's greatest assets. The potential for jobs and development in this area should not be underestimated. With proper care and attention, much of the pollution can be removed. The provision of new sewerage systems by local authorities will help. However, artificial manures which are washed in from small drains and rivers are causing an imbalance. The farming community unintentionally causes this problem during floods. A major educational programme is required to resolve this matter.

There are great opportunities in the River Shannon and River Suck catchment areas for developments which would provide hundreds or even thousands of jobs. For example, the Irish Wheelchair Association has made an application with regard to Donamon. The opportunities there for the development of potential tourist attractions should not be underestimated. This area, which includes Donamon Castle, is the only one which provides accommodation for disabled people who wish to take fishing holidays. I understand that research has been carried out on this matter and that the development of fish stands on the River Shannon at Donamon, access roads and parking facilities would encourage tourist involvement, particularly by the UK Disabled Anglers Association. I understand the potential in that regard is enormous. When the application comes before the Minister he should examine it closely.

Places on the Shannon, such as Portrun and Ballyleague, have great potential. Recent discussions with the fisheries board on an application from Portrun should be developed. Hopefully, the Minister can respond positively in that case also. The same points can be made for many other river networks with which I am not familiar. However, I am familiar with the Shannon, particularly the River Suck area. Hopefully, such areas can be developed to provide opportunities.

The fishing industry is losing out to a degree from the lack of onshore processing. I understand that 80 per cent of the catch on the south coast is frozen and exported to Spain. It would be worth [1417] investigating the potential for creating job opportunities in onshore processing. Perhaps the creation of a tax break would be an incentive in this regard.

Fishermen feel that they have got a bad deal from the EU, not with what the Minister is doing now but through what was agreed originally when we joined the Community. I understand the next review is not due until 2002. In the interim the Government, the fishing industry and all other interested parties should come together to arrive at a comprehensive position promoting the national interest for the negotiations to review the Common Fisheries Policy in 2002. If anyone can manage to achieve that it is the Minister, Deputy Woods.

I know the Minister will take a great interest in the fishing industry. I look forward to working with him and the fisheries authorities to enhance the opportunities for the development of tourism in the catchment area of the Shannon and the Suck with a view to increasing employment and halting rural decline. That may be achieved by tapping into the resource of our inland waterways which are second to none in Europe.

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): I am grateful for the opportunity to review developments in the fishing industry and to set out to the Seanad my policy objectives for the sector and my strategic approach to delivering on those objectives. Before doing so I will address some of the points raised by Senators.

I would also like to pay tribute to Hugh Coveney. He is a great loss to the Oireachtas as he was an honourable, decent, obliging, effective and friendly public representative. All Members of the Houses got on well with him. I conveyed my concern and upset at his tragic loss to his wife and family.

Senator Fitzgerald spoke about fishing in the south, west, north and east in his tour of the country. However, there is nowhere more important for the Senator than Dingle. He mentioned the achievement of over 5,000 tonnes for the small boats. We had an earlier promise of 3,000 tonnes and I got that enlarged to 5,400 tonnes, which was important. We are working as a priority to get the licences out as quickly as possible. Over the past couple of weeks about 250 licences have been issued and we hope to complete the issuing of the licences within about two months. This is a major improvement because it will leave many small fishermen in a more secure position for the future, apart from which each tonne is worth money.

Senator Fitzgerald also talked about herring. He is right when he says there is a major problem with regard to the level of supplies which are allowed into the EU without hindrance. At last week's Fisheries Council meeting we managed to have the proposal reduced from 23,000 tonnes to 12,500 tonnes for this year, which is a major improvement.

[1418] The tuna ban is an important issue. We have succeeded in having the decision put off until next June, but there is an overwhelming majority in favour of the ban. We are concerned to have a transitional period and to ensure that our tuna fishermen can continue to fish. There is a cost in providing for that in terms of training and reequipping. The Commission and the Presidency are taking up the line we have put forward. The only country which really supported us is France. Italy is in a similar situation but it has already converted about 500 out of its 650 vessels. France and Italy also differ from us in that they need the approval of the Community to use the funds they have to convert their vessels and compensate their fishermen. However, we need the money as well as the approval.

Senator O'Donovan referred to the development of Union Hall, Portmagee and other areas. I am glad he did because I took an interest in those areas when I was Minister for the Marine in the past. I believed that worthwhile jobs could be created there and I had a long battle over it. It is satisfying to see the developments which have taken place because those who promised development delivered, they delivered jobs in areas where there are few other opportunities. Economists and others should recognise the importance of such jobs in these areas.

Senator O'Donovan referred particularly to the harassment of fishermen off the south-west coast. I will return to that matter later. He mentioned an incident which occurred this morning 70 to 80 miles out and I would like to have any information the Senator might have on it.

With regard to promulgating the new incentives scheme, we will do so once we have the total package. We must get EU approval — I do not see a problem with that — and we hope to have it in the next few weeks. We also want to develop a grant aid package to go with it. We are working on that and we want to try to do the two at the one time.

If I was getting too much praise, Senator Caffrey brought me down to earth quickly by saying I was not doing enough to help the marine sector. I work most nights until 2 a.m., I get up about 7.30 a.m. and I work on this job all those hours so I do not know how much more I can do — I will have to split myself into two or get some other assistance. I have done the best I can while I have been here and I have only been back in this job for a short time. He said that this was the view in the north-west and I am sorry that is the case.

He pointed out that 90 per cent of our territory is under water and I have made this point strongly also. I have had meetings with the Marine Institute — I had one at lunch time today — about technology opportunities. We have moved this a long way and I have established a special relationship with Harland and Wolff in Northern Ireland based on those technologies.

The Senator was right to talk about the major step in March 1995 towards a marine policy. He [1419] pinpointed my failings and he is probably right in that I have failed to broadcast sufficiently what we are doing and how much we have done in a short time. One difficulty is that if one tries to get things done one does not always do as much PR as one should. I have clearly failed in that because the message has not reached Senator Caffrey and I will have to ensure that it does in future. We have a thick volume of press statements, each only a page or two, all of which record achievements by the Department. However, we have to get across to people what is happening.

I set up the Marine Institute. That was a far seeing move because it is having, and will have, a big influence. Today I discussed with the institute the further steps which should be taken. I spent much of my life working on research so I know a lot about it and am reasonably well qualified in the field. I agree with the Senator that it is an important area for the future as well as the present. If this country does not recognise that and back the people doing research we will miss out on much of our potential. While we may be doing well, without it we will only achieve a small part of what we could achieve.

The institute's document Towards a Marine Policy comprises the published proceedings of five seminars and consultations held around the country in 1995, as the Senator said. It is not a policy document but a consultation document. I am moving forward all the issues identified in the seminars. One of them was renewal of the whitefish fleet. We have started an historic package for the purpose; this is long overdue. Money does not fall off a tree, however, it takes a lot of hard work to get it. The Government is reducing the tax burden on the individual and in doing so it is cutting out incentives. We got through the package against that background and it was not easy because the broad thrust of policy is to get rid of as many of these schemes as possible. Nonetheless the Government recognised that this was a special area and for the next three years it will provide this incentive. That was one of the major issues raised in the report.

I launched the new national research vessel towards the end of last year. It was an important development and will have a huge influence into the future. I hope to reorganise the inland fisheries services soon. We have also been working on other matters, such as fish processing and a seaweed strategy, and have made certain developments and improvements for them all.

Senator Chambers mentioned the need for targeted investment in fishing and I agree with him. He specifically mentioned the need for helmsman's training in aquaculture and pointed to its benefits. I support that idea. There has been much growth in aquaculture since the mid-1980s. Mayo is an important area in that regard. We would be glad to bring the Department, BIM and the county council together to review the potential for development in the Mayo area and we will [1420] also examine the training for aquaculture boat handling.

On training generally, I announced some days ago that BIM is to locate a new training centre in Castletownbere, which is vital for the south-west region. It will not take from the Greencastle centre but it will bring the new training facilities closer to fishing ports and regionalise them.

Senator O'Toole said there was a lack of research and development and that it is important to push ahead with it, and I fully agree with him. He also said controls were essential. One proposal I have pursued with the EU, which is coming into operation in July, is the use of satellite surveillance. We are only able to do it now because we obtained Community agreement, which means getting all the other nations to agree. That will be a major help. Another proposal we made was for a weighbridge in the sea, which would enable us to check boats in the fishing zone and weigh what they have coming in and going out. We cannot do that at the moment, although we can check for other things. The Community has agreed to that, which is another leap forward. It will also start in July.

Senator Finneran pointed to the difficulties with pollution, especially in inland fisheries. We are giving this a good deal of attention. I note his remarks on Donamon. We are doing a lot of things about pollution because it is crucial and we are now getting much assistance from the local authorities, the farming organisations and many farmers, though not all of them. There are some problems with farmers and the farming organisations are helping with those.

My priority is to ensure a sustainable future for the Irish fishing industry which will underpin its vitally important socio-economic contribution to the wellbeing of our coastal communities. My strategic objective is to enhance the safety and competitiveness of the fleet and the quality of landings, to maximise supply through full and effective take up of available quotas and to develop non-quota fishing opportunities.

A critical commercial imperative for the industry at this point in its development is to ensure that supply is matched to demand in terms of price, quality, availability and regularity. In addition, therefore, to improving supply — that is, fishing opportunities — we need to tackle the demand side, in other words, product quality and the markets. This will require new partnerships and co-operation between the various players including the catching sector and the processing and export sector. In the context of the strategies needed to deliver on the safety, quality and competitiveness needs of the industry, I will outline current developments in the sector.

Recent years have seen exponential growth in consumer demand for seafood within the European Union and worldwide. Very significant changes are taking place in traditional seafood markets around the world. Patterns of consumption are changing fast with a huge potential market for a wide variety of high value seafood as [1421] well as for the fresh product. Competition is intense and the liberalisation of world trade is adding to the market challenge for the Irish industry. There are significant opportunities therefore but significant challenges also. I will return to some of these later.

The Irish fishing industry has developed remarkably in many respects since the foundation of the State, despite the acknowledged historic constraints. Annual landings of sea fish in the 1930s were less than 10,000 tonnes. By 1960, landings had more than trebled and the next 30 years saw output doubling in each decade. By 1990, annual landings stood at over 200,000 tonnes of fish per annum.

In 1997 total fish landings topped over 300,000 tonnes worth over £140 million. We have already reached our 1999 target on landings. Since joining the European Community and with the establishment of the Common Fisheries Policy, the fishing industry has, despite the acknowledged constraints, made substantial economic progress. We still contend, however, that our allocated share of the fish stocks under the Common Fisheries Policy falls far short of a fair and equitable level. I will outline later my approach to the review of the Common Fisheries Policy which will take place in 2002. Various Senators mentioned the size of our waters in relation to those of the European Union. However, the EU has been expanding and consequently our waters constitute 16 per cent of the EU total, while our quotas amounts to between 5 and 6 per cent of the EU total. The same relationship holds but because the EU waters have expanded through the addition of new member states, our percentage has fallen.

The single most serious threat to the future of the fishing industry worldwide and here at home is the depletion of stocks through over-fishing. As a coastal State with a comparatively small fleet and a high level of fishing activity in our waters by other fleets, Ireland has particular concerns in this regard. Conservation of the resource requires responsible management and constant vigilance in protecting and monitoring stock levels. I can assure the Seanad that I will continue to be at the forefront in Europe in seeking demonstrable commitment by all member states to conservation and responsible management. I am also pressing for a level playing field in enforcement of the rules.

As I have said, Ireland has a small share of EU quotas and restrictions on total allowable catches will continue where the scientific advice and other considerations demand. Nevertheless, there is room for continuing development of fishing opportunities by the Irish fleet. Irish fishermen fished for blue whiting in Irish waters for the first time last year, landing around 30,000 tonnes. I am confident that this fishery will continue to expand for us and the development of processing techniques for the species will enhance its value to the industry over time.

[1422] I have mandated BIM to work very closely with Irish fish processing and exporting companies in order to maximise product and marketing opportunities for Irish fish on the domestic and export markets. I am pleased to say that good progress is being made to develop existing and new markets for Irish seafood worldwide. Fish exports have increased by over 60 per cent since 1990 hitting a record high in 1996 when their value reached £252 million. Of this, we exported £45 million worth of white fish and shellfish to Spain. I led a BIM industry trade mission to China last November which was an important new initiative, opening a number of doors and showcasing the Irish industry. I believe the mission and the ongoing follow up will produce tangible commercial opportunities for our seafood producers in the Chinese market which is the largest in the world. We have already had an exchange of technical information on aquaculture.

I am committed to delivering the necessary support for the fishing industry through targeted investment plans under the current operational programme for fisheries. I am ensuring that the ongoing investment is specifically designed to deliver on our modernisation and development objectives for the industry and for the communities which depend upon it. The programme is also delivering on much needed investment in fishery harbour infrastructure, processing and research.

Funding for Ireland under the PESCA community initiative is also supporting fishing communities to diversify and to support alternative activities. Over £11 million worth of investment will be realised under this initiative. To date over 100 projects have been approved and I will be announcing a new round of PESCA projects shortly. I am pleased to say that Ireland has been uniquely successful in Europe in our efficient and effective use of PESCA funding and is held up as an example to other member states.

As Senators are aware, the negotiations on EU Structural Funding for all sectors, including fisheries, post-1999 will begin in earnest with the EU Commission in the coming months. I will be working to maximise the allocation for fisheries in the new round, reflecting the development needs and potential for the sector. I am convinced that there is significant untapped potential in terms of employment and economic growth for the industry as a whole and for our coastal communities in particular. Senators especially emphasised this aspect in their contributions.

The whitefish fleet generates most of the employment in the fishing sector and accounts for 65 per cent of the value of fish landings. However, the age profile of the whitefish fleet is high, averaging 25 years, and is in need of further modernisation. The fleet is seriously under-capitalised and there has been no significant reinvestment for over ten years. My first priority in office was to deliver on measures for the renewal of the whitefish fleet in line with the Government's commitment in the Action Programme for the Millennium.

[1423] It was quite clear to me that the industry has to be made attractive to providers of capital if the necessary investment is to take place. The industry is a high risk sector and I concluded that it would be impossible to facilitate low cost money for the sector without special fiscal incentives which will encourage the banks, and other financial institutions as well as private investors, to support this vitally important sector.

Senators will be aware that, in the context of this year's Finance Act, I secured a package of special tax based reliefs to encourage capital into the whitefish fleet. I have also announced my plans for a complementary capital grant aid scheme for new whitefish boats. My proposals, which are consistent with EU State aid parameters, will be negotiated with the Commission in the coming weeks. I am confident that the proposed tax reliefs and capital grant programme create a new climate of opportunity and will catalyse the much needed degree of change in the whole fish sector.

My investment support strategy will help significant investment in the renewal of the whitefish fleet in the medium term. The reinvestment in the fleet will enable full and efficient quota take-up and will enable Irish fishermen to develop new non-quota fishing opportunities. Safety and competitiveness will be improved and existing employment maintained with the potential for additional jobs at sea and in processing and supply services.

The continued development of the fish processing industry is critical for jobs, growth, value added and exports in the fishing industry overall. A total investment of £22 million has been supported under the operational programme since 1994 in over 100 fish processing projects, securing existing jobs and creating over 200 new jobs. In February, I announced a further round of grant aid for fish processing projects which will deliver an investment of over £3 million and create nearly 100 jobs. Jobs will be created from development projects in the pipeline through obtaining additional EU funding. I am pursuing this critically needed funding to support these projects in order to achieve further development capacity expansion and product development in fish processing. We currently have more projects than there are resources in terms of grant aid under the programme. I am pursuing this issue as a matter of priority.

I have already referred to the challenges facing the Irish industry in the global market for herring. The competitive environment is tough and conditions can be difficult. The herring sector is a case in point. The EU and global markets are currently characterised by over-supply, low prices and changing consumer trends. I am glad of this opportunity to brief the Seanad on the action being taken to address the crisis for the Irish herring industry. Since the difficulties emerged last autumn, I have focused my initiatives on tackling the medium to long-term organisational, market [1424] and management issues which are at the heart of the short-term crisis.

The main underlying global factor is over-supply and changing trends on the key Japanese herring roe and European herring flap markets, which are the key outlets for Irish herring exports. Over-supply in 1997, especially from Canada and Norway, has led to a serious downturn in the market and low prices for traditional suppliers. Norway, especially, is offloading an unprecedented level of supplies into EU and eastern European markets. The Japanese herring roe market, where Irish herring producers have developed a valuable niche in recent years, is suffering from supply and prices problems, exacerbated by the downturn in the Japanese economy and signs of long-term decline in the traditional consumer market.

The outlook is for little foreseeable change on the world market in the short to medium term. I decided, therefore, that we should look at the factors within our control and see what could be done to position the industry to maintain a strong market presence and become more competitive in this very tough international environment. A hard collective look at all aspects of the sector was needed. Having consulted with the industry I established at its request a fully representative task force last December to comprehensively address the issues. I asked the task force to assess all the options for better management and marketing of Irish herring, taking account of global factors and trends and all relevant domestic factors and to look at all aspects of the supply, processing and marketing chain. I also asked for concrete recommendations on practical actions to deliver change. I asked the task force to report by the end of March. This was demanding but essential deadline, given the critical situation for the industry. I am glad to advise it met my deadline and submitted their report to me yesterday.

The task force represented key players in the herring fishing industry, including fishermen, processors, and exporters as well as BIM, the Marine Institute and the Department. It worked intensively over the last three months and I am especially grateful to the industry representatives for its committed approach to the job in hand. I am also grateful to the members of my Department who worked hard with it, including Sarah White, who chaired the task force.

The task force made an interim recommendation to me in January on the need for EU action to reduce preferential market access by non member states and on the priority need for enhanced scientific herring assessment programmes. I took immediate action on both fronts. At the EU Fisheries Council I secured a reduction of the autonomous tariff quota for 1998 allowing preferential access for herring from outside the EU. In the face of considerable opposition from other member states the quota for this year was reduced to 12,500 tonnes from 23,000 tonnes, which operated last year. I will continue to work to have this quota dismantled entirely for [1425] 1999, given the EU oversupply situation. We consider it is unnecessary and inappropriate in the present circumstances.

I intend to publish the task force report within a couple of weeks. I will examine it in detail now with a view to responding to and taking forward its recommendations. The report gives a comprehensive analysis of the situation and has come up with strategies directed at creating a new partnership approach, supporting improved operational efficiency and ensuring better co-operation in management and marketing.

The development of the Irish aquaculture industry has been on a steady growth curve from small beginnings in the 1980s. The industry is now worth £60 million per annum, accounts for 30 per cent of the volume of Irish fish production, is a major supplier of raw material to the processing side and gives valuable employment in our rural and island communities. Downstrearn jobs are supported in supplies, services and fish processing. Many of the skills needed to develop aquaculture are to be found in our coastal communities. Traditional farming and fishing skills are being successfully harnessed to the new technologies for the production of quality Irish farmed sea food.

The three major aquaculture species are salmon, oysters and mussels but I am keen to see continued expansion into new species, including turbot, halibut, charr and abalone. This will position the industry very well in terms of diversification and expansion. The Chinese are research leaders on abalone. Following our visit to China we arranged a technical exchange which has been very helpful. Continued sustainable and well regulated development of the aquaculture industry is a key objective.

I have already underlined the importance for Ireland and the Irish fishing industry of a level playing field in fisheries enforcement across Europe. The viability of the resource and the interests of the Irish fishing fleet depend on effective conservation and compliance by everyone with the rules. My Department's sea fisheries inspectorate works closely with the Naval Service and the Air Corps to ensure rigorous control of fishing activity and landings in our waters. The agencies will continue to co-operate and work together to ensure that the resources available for fisheries surveillance and control are utilised to best effect.

In discussions at last weeks EU Fisheries Council, I underlined once again to ministerial colleagues and the Commission the critical importance which Ireland attaches to fair play and co-operation in fisheries protection. I said that there must be demonstrable commitment and co-operation by all member states to uniformly enforcing the rules. I made the point that enforcement is not an end in itself but a means to the end, which is better compliance and understanding by fishermen everywhere. We need to build the confidence of fishermen that compliance [1426] with the rules will pay dividends in terms of protecting the stocks.

As Senators know, there are specific enforcement difficulties associated with the activities of flagships. As the coastal state most directly affected, Ireland is actively pushing for more co-operation from the other member states concerned in tackling the problem. I had bilateral discussions with the UK and Spanish Ministers at the Council when I pressed for improved co-operation and better information exchange so that the activities of flagships are verifiably controlled, both at sea and at ports of landing. This is a major priority for me, and I will continue to work on all fronts for the EU to deliver workable solutions to the flagship problem.

It is critically important also that fishermen should be able to go about their legitimate business without being subjected to harassment or intimidation. I am seriously concerned about incidents between Irish fishing vessels and vessels registered in the UK which occurred off the south west coast in recent weeks. We cannot tolerate bully-boy tactics which put the safety, and the livelihoods, of Irish fishermen at risk. Investigation of the alleged incidents is continuing.

I have discussed the incidents with my colleague, the Minister for Defence, who shares my concerns. We have agreed that our two Departments, the Naval Service and the Air Corps should liaise closely in reviewing the implications and lessons from recent events and in ensuring the most effective deployment of all our services in the task of preventing such incidents and responding to them if they occur again. We need as a priority a rapid response to incidents and an agreed code of practice. I have ideas in mind about how to do this.

My Department has in the meantime taken the matter up at high level with the relevant UK authorities to convey my deep concerns and to pass on available information about the vessels allegedly involved. I also raised the matter with my UK and Spanish colleagues and stressed the need, in everyone's interest, for concerted action to tackle these difficulties. At Council I urged both Ministers, and the EU Commission to facilitate and ensure co-operation at all levels to minimise and prevent such incidents.

I also took the opportunity to raise formally at last week's EU Fisheries Council the need to tackle the problems which arise between fishermen from various member states operating on the same fishing grounds with different gear types. This phenomenon is by no means confined to one or two fisheries but is quite widespread in Europe. Conflict avoidance measures, along the lines which we are pursuing bilaterally with a number of member states, are needed generally and I will continue to be at the forefront in pursuing these measures.

The fishing industry is critically dependent on berthages and onshore facilities for landings and services. Investment to date under the operational programme for fisheries has delivered [1427] much needed improvements in key strategic fishing ports as well as smaller harbours and their related facilities. However, I am convinced of the need for substantial additional investment at our key fishing ports for safety and economic reasons and I will bring proposals to Government shortly on the funding options. The capital investment programme for 1998 will see further improvements around the coast. Money has not been provided from any quarter, including the EU operational programme. That is an issue we must address and I assure Senators I will do so.

I want to conclude by returning to the forthcoming review of the Common Fisheries Policy, which regulates virtually every aspect of the operation of the fishing industry. This review is crucial from Ireland's point of view. While it is four and a half years away, it is essential that the strategic process of preparing the national position begins now. The Commission is beginning a round of consultations with the fishing sector and I have got Commission agreement to begin its round of consultations here with a series of face to face meetings with the Irish industry next September. Later this year I will establish a national common fisheries policy strategy group involving all the key players, including the industry. The group will consult, develop and advise on national objectives and strategies for the review. One of our difficulties is that the same people who work on the task force must also work on this group. I want Senators to realise that my Department does not have many staff. We have only a handful of key personnel. Our expansion to include natural resources gives us a broader base and further dynamic, which is helpful. I want to bring together and use to best effect all relevant expertise to inform the national negotiating position in Europe during the review.

I reaffirm to the Seanad that the Government is fully committed to the continued development of all components of the fishing industry and to assuring a sustainable future for our coastal communities. I will continue to work on all fronts to deliver on our objectives for the sector and I am sure I will have the full support of this House in delivering our wide-ranging and challenging agenda.

A commission of inquiry examined the Irish fishing industry in 1921. Its report, which makes fascinating reading, strongly emphasised “the interdependence of production and marketing”. The report also set out the following strategic objectives for the industry:

That the entire wealth of the rich seas about the Irish coast be exploited for human food;

That the fisherman has satisfactory materials for this purpose and is provided with fair remuneration for his labour;

That a cheap and speedy distribution is organised, first for the people of Ireland and second for the most remunerative foreign markets.

[1428] The commission was farseeing and visionary in its outlook. The Irish fishing industry has come a long way in the intervening years. However, it is striking that those strategic objectives are as relevant now, over 75 years later, as they were in 1921.

I only had time to give a brief overview of some of the work in my Department. Senators spoke about the marine sector generally, which I could talk about for some time as we are doing a lot of work in that area. Many plans have been devised by the Marine Institute which was set up for that purpose. I am working closely with the divisional staff and the chief executive of the Marine Institute to make progress in this area of tremendous potential. We must use all our energy to develop it.

Mr. Coghlan: I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his contribution. As my fellow Dingle Harbour Commissioner, Senator Tom Fitzgerald, said, we look forward to the Minister's visit to Dingle to help us set up projects there.

I join with Senator Tom Fitzgerald in paying tribute to Hugh Coveney. As Minister for Defence and the Marine, he visited Dingle. He was nature's kindest gentleman and was extremely knowledgeable about all marine matters. He loved the sea and got on well with everyone who earned their living from it. He understood fishermen and everyone involved in the fishing industry and they will miss him.

One of the great national tragedies relates to the resources of the seas around our coast. This has been a cinderella industry under successive Governments. The motion refers to sustaining Ireland's coastal communities. However, that is all we are doing as we are not trying to expand them. We must fight hard to safeguard the people's livelihoods. Despite our best efforts, we are a long way off realising their full potential.

I fail to understand why we have a quota of only 25,000 tonnes of herring while Norway enjoys a quota of 821,000 tonnes. That is far too restrictive. The Spaniards have become the bully boys of the seas. Sadly, we heard again today that a small boatman was forced off his patch by the activities of flags of convenience fishermen who were undoubtedly Spanish. We are also concerned about the ban on drift net fishing for tuna. We respect the reprieve the Minister has won but we are fearful for the future.

Our fishing fleet is in an appalling state. Our boats are not equipped to deal with the sea let alone reap the benefits of its resources. I welcome the tax incentives announced by the Minister and we await more details. Unlike other such incentives, particularly those relating to BSE which were too restrictive, I hope they are flexible and that they win wide acceptance.

I share Senator Fitzgerald's concern for the port of Dingle, which enjoys many natural advantages and whose potential has not been tapped. The port has the supposed status of a major fishery [1429] harbour centre but we hope that the Minister may bring this status to reality. Dingle needs an ice plant, an auction hall, to have the head of the pier completed and the channel dredged to allow for bigger boats. The formation of a fishermen's co-operative is a hopeful sign.

The Lakes of Killarney have suffered from pollution and consequent algae bloom. I would welcome whatever assistance the Minister can give to deal with the problem of pollution because our fishing lakes and rivers are not as they once were or as they should be. I welcomed the formation of the task force which has now reported. I look forward to the publication of the report and the adoption of its recommendations.

Enforcement of regulations is very important. Many of our people are not being allowed to fish in peace and that is a pre-requisite of a succesful industry.

Mr. Burke: May I be associated with the vote of sympathy to Pauline Coveney on the death of Deputy Hugh Coveney. He was a man who had a great knowledge of fishing and the sea.

I welcome the Minister to the House. He knows there is huge potential for the development of fishing tourism on our inland waterways and around our coast. I welcome the document, Achieving Sustainable Growth, which was launched by the Minister and produced by the Central Fisheries Board. This plan sets out the work of the Central Fisheries Board, in co-operation with the Department and other agencies over the next five years. If the necessary funding is provided this plan is to be warmly welcomed.

There is great potential on the west coast for on-shore processing. It is a pity that so much of our catch is exported without the added value of processing. Will the Minister examine the possibilities for the development of on-shore processing of fish caught by Irish fishermen?

The fishing industry has not been a priority over the last few years but I have no doubt that it will be so for the Minister. The economy could benefit enormously from a succesful fishing industry.

Regulations regarding safety at sea need to be updated. When will the Minister introduce a Bill to regulate safety at sea in this House?

Dredging is needed in a number of our lakes. I do not know if this is the responsibility of the Department, the Central Fisheries Board, the regional boards or the Office of Public Works. Castlebar UDC, in conjunction with Mayo County Council and Bord Fáilte, have launched a major holiday village on the shores of Lough Lannagh, near Castlebar. The lake needs to be dredged and the weeds on it need to be cut. Will the Minister see that the appropriate body performs this necessary work?

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: I wish to share time with Senator O'Donovan. I am very heartened by the debate and I promise Senators that, in co-operation with the leaders of other groups, to do a [1430] regular review of the fishing industry and hear statements on the industry every three or four months. It is a pity that among the great number of Oireachtas committees there is none for the fishing industry. I would like to see a committee, similar to Comhchoiste Gaeilge an Oireachtais, which, in an uncontentious way, would hear the views of participants in the industry. The recently established task force was one of the few bodies which consulted the fishing industry effectively.

I concur with Senator Coghlan's remarks about the harbour in Dingle. I am sure Senators would allow the Minister a couple of minutes to announce funding for a development plan. It is significant that Senators are running over time, such is the interest in this subject.

Mr. O'Donovan: I thank the Minister for his swiftness in setting up the task force, which is particularly important for the herring industry. I speak as a fisherman's son and I remember that in 1976 fishermen in Bantry were getting four times more per box than currently. That was because at that time the North Sea was closed to fishing and there was a huge demand for our fish in Holland. I have to say that the quality of salt fish which we exported often left a lot to be desired.

Some of the comments made by Senators have been very pessimistic. The most critical issue facing the fishing industry in Ireland and throughout Europe is the conservation of fish stocks over the next 20 years. There is huge potential, on-shore and off-shore, for the development of mariculture. The farming of clams, aballone, crayfish, scallops and lobster should be developed because the traditional methods of potting lobster has almost died out. A ton of farmed clams will fetch £7,500.

Other speakers referred to rural development. Apart from agriculture, which is probably in decline, and tourism, in the next 20 years the marine will become one of the areas in which there will be great potential for job creation. In that context, reference was also made to wind and wave energy.

I compliment the Minister for establishing the Marine Institute, which is of major significance. County Cork has a coastal management committee and I urge Senators living in coastal communities to encourage their local authorities to establish such committees because such fora can highlight important issues. Other Members, particularly the two Senators representing County Mayo, referred to strategic development in rural areas. There is a need for better infrastructure in certain areas on the west coast which are situated a great distance from markets.

I have an emotive attachment to the fishing industry and I have always lived near the sea. It galls me to see the juggernauts loaded with fish leaving Castletownbere for Spain on a road which is in a bad state of disrepair. We should encourage onshore processing in this country. The Minister's [1431] announcement about tax incentive schemes and grants is welcome.

Despite people's pessimism — I accept there are problems — there is hope for future. I welcome the Minister's statement about marine research into untapped species, etc. That is the correct route to take. As stated earlier, the Minister has a strong understanding of his brief and he has our full support. I accept that the Department is understaffed and under-financed but in the next decade it will have great potential for growth. There is also major potential for job creation in this area. I am optimistic about the future and I thank the Minister for his concern.

Question put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.