Tuesday, 8 May 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
52. Mr. Bell asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources whether Ireland is now the only European country that has not signed the North Atlantic Salmon Fund charter, at a time of severe crisis facing salmon stocks; the terms of the fund's compensation scheme as discussed with the fund's chairman; if the Minister proposes to introduce a compensation scheme for fishermen; when the fund will respond again following the Dublin meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11314/01]
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): I should clarify for the Deputy that the North Atlantic Salmon Fund is an Icelandic-based voluntary organisation, mainly financed by private donations from individuals and groups. It is not an intergovernmental organisation and the question of Ireland or any other member state signing up to its charter does not arise. As a lobby group, the NASF works to conserve and restore North Atlantic salmon stocks by focusing in particular on voluntary quota buy-outs with commercial salmon fishermen through a mix of public and private funding. The fund has periodically brokered annual compensation agreements with Greenland, Faroese and Icelandic salmon fishermen and is lobbying for the closure and buy-out of commercial salmon net fishing in Ireland with matching public funding.
I had discussions recently with Mr. Orri Vigfusson, founder and chairman of the NASF. Mr. Vigfusson is a regular visitor to Ireland and is campaigning intensively for a voluntary compensation scheme for the entire Irish commercial salmon sector. We had a good exchange of views during which I outlined our current salmon conservation strategies, including the significant restrictions in place since 1996 on the commercial salmon sector, the work of the national salmon commission and my support for pilot set aside schemes in individual catchments. Mr. Vigfusson reiterated his belief that the key to restoring salmon stocks lies in ending the commercial exploitation of salmon through voluntary buy-out. I invited Mr. Vigfusson to submit proposals on how, in practical terms, the NASF would envisage taking forward such a strategy in the Irish context.
I have stressed to Mr. Vigfusson and Irish salmon interests generally that fishing effort for salmon at sea and in the rivers needs to be further reduced in the short term and I am reviewing the need for additional measures, informed by the ongoing advice of the salmon commission. The issues inherent in a complete voluntary buy-out of the Irish commercial salmon sector are very complex. The international experience is also mixed. I have also cautioned previously against excessive expectations about large amounts of compensation and it is not the case that all active commercial salmon fishermen are willing to be bought out. Simplistic solutions will not work.
The NASF submitted outline proposals to me in recent weeks. I have asked my Department, the fishery boards, the Marine Institute and the salmon commission to examine and advise me on these proposals. On receipt of their collective advice, I intend to have further discussions with the NASF to explore in detail the practicalities, realism and cost benefit of its preferred strategy. I will also continue to look at other approaches.
Mr. Bell: I have raised this matter repeatedly and it now appears that we are moving in the right direction. Does the Minister agree with a report in The Irish Times on 3 April in which Mr.  Vigfusson stated that almost all the representative groups he had met had agreed to buy-out rather than set aside? Does he agree it appears a majority of fishermen are in favour of buy-out rather than set aside? Has he received any communications from the representative bodies to that effect because that opinion has been made known to me?
Mr. Fahey: The salmon commission is currently exploring the possibilities of buy-out and set aside schemes. I received proposals from and had discussions with individual groups of fishermen and various views are held by them regarding the desire for buy-out or set aside. Some fishermen would consider set aside to ensure the conservation of stocks, but they would also like the opportunity to continue commercial fishing when stocks improve. Other fishermen would favour a buy-out. All these matters must be carefully considered and much discussion must take place.
An important factor from the Government's point of view is the cost involved. Some fishermen have unrealistic views regarding the value of their licences in buy-out or set aside scenarios. As I said previously, there are no crocks of gold available for the buying out or setting aside of licences. There must be realistic discussions with fishermen before a conclusion can be reached in that regard.
Mr. Bell: Is the Minister considering a system where a licence would be bought out and that would be the end of the matter or is he considering a system where a licence would be bought out and the crew would be compensated? For example, if three people fish from the same boat, is it the case that the licence will be bought out and that will be the end of the matter or will the licence be bought out and the three people, who would be considered crew members under the regulations, compensated?
Mr. Fahey: The salmon commission was established to carry out detailed examinations of such matters and to try to reach agreement as far as possible with all the stakeholders in the industry. I have asked the commission to engage in this task and I am awaiting its views and advice.
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