Thursday, 8 February 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
15. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the members of the Salmon Commission; the funding made available in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3279/01]
Mr. Fahey: The first task for the commission was to provide advice to me on the implementation of salmon tagging. Allied to consulting the commission, I undertook a formal public consultation process. The commission recommended the introduction of the tagging scheme for all sectors, including recreational angling, on 1 January 2001.
The House will be aware that while there is support for the tagging scheme generally, the Federation of Irish Salmon and Sea Trout Anglers expressed concerns about the scheme. Their stated primary concern relates to the amount of information to be supplied in the logbook returns. They have also highlighted four other key concerns which are the potential for abusing recreational tags, the treatment of farmed salmon, the need for enhanced protection and the possibility of extensions to the commercial season.
I have made it clear to FISSTA that I want to see all players working constructively through the forum of the Salmon Commission on the major challenges facing the salmon resource, with conservation the first priority. As members of the commission, salmon anglers should play a full and vital part in its work to deliver on our wide ranging agenda. I have met FISSTA to discuss their concerns about the tagging scheme and I have written to them setting out my position on each of those concerns. In light of genuinely held con cerns of anglers and others, and as a means of building confidence in the tagging scheme, I have now decided that the amount of information required to be supplied in the logbook returns will be reduced forthwith. The focus will return to actual fish caught as opposed to fishing effort, obviously in the context of full compliance with tagging. I have informed FISSTA and the commission accordingly and I am pleased to have the opportunity to put my decision on the record today. I have also asked the commission to continue to review the logbook requirements for 2002 in light of experience this year and in consultation with all interests, including angling clubs.
Mr. Stanton: Will the Minister make his recent decisions available to members of the Opposition? What is the budget of the Salmon Commission and are there any plans to change it – that was the question?
Is he now saying that the logbook will be changed in such a way that the recommendations of the Salmon Commission will be totally undermined and watered down? Could he give more details of what will not be recorded in the logbook? For instance, is he asking fishermen to state what fish are not caught in order that we can identify rivers which do not contain fish?
Mr. Fahey: First, the commission has been given an allocation of £70,000 to cover its operational costs and I will forward the names of members of the commission – I neglected to state that in my reply.
Second, I have decided that where some fishermen have a conscientious objection to filling in all the information required in the logbook, it will be satisfactory for them to simply record their catch and the tagging of the salmon. Some anglers who are members of FISSTA objected to the level of intrusion in what they consider their personal details. Where such people have a conscientious objection, we will be satisfied this year to accept their record of the fish tagged.
We hope that other anglers would give us the additional information requested in the logbook. It is not intended to change the logbook for this year but rather to make that gesture to people who have a genuine and sincere concern. The commission will review the logbooks in consultation with the anglers and, indeed, FISSTA in order that the logbook will be more effective next year.
Mr. Stanton: Will the Minister make available to us that information and the details of what is and what is not required? Is he saying that if  somebody does not catch fish, it will not be recorded?
Mr. Fahey: Our main concern is to record the numbers of fish caught. If people who have a genuine concern do not want to fill in any other detail into the logbook, we are prepared, as a gesture of goodwill, not to force them to do that.
Mr. Connaughton: If ever I heard an about-turn on legislation enacted only two months ago, I am listening to one now from the Minister. I recall raising the type of consultation the Minister had with FISSTA and others several times on Committee Stage and Report Stage, and he indicated that as far as he was concerned it appeared that there was broad agreement with what he was going to do. It now appears that this is far from the case and that there is open opposition to it, up and down the country. Given that the consultation process must not have worked as well as he indicated to the House, where will all this finish?
Mr. Fahey: The main objection about the logbook was not raised by FISSTA at the time, when we had several meetings with them. In fact, the issues which were raised as objectionable were dealt with and confirmed by me to FISSTA in a letter, which I am happy to circulate to the Deputies. The logbook only became an issue for FISSTA shortly before the scheme was introduced. In an effort to be pragmatic and co-operative—
Mr. Fahey: Whether it can be won or not is a question, but I felt a fair point was being made by this organisation. There are other anglers who tell me that they are quite happy to fill in the logbook in full and I appreciate that they will continue to do that but as a practical measure to generate goodwill and get all anglers tagging, I have made this agreement to reduce that level of information to fishermen who have a conscientious objection. I feel confident that the scheme will go ahead, that the other four issues will be dealt with by the commission, and that we will reach agreement with everybody and proceed  with what is a most important scheme for the future of wild salmon.
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