Thursday, 3 March 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Eamon Ryan: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter of enormous importance. We face the extinction of wild salmon on many of our most important rivers. The Minister has set himself against the possible buy-out of offshore indiscriminate drift nets, a policy that goes against all scientific advice that I have seen. While Ireland is unique in the north Atlantic in allowing such indiscriminate fisheries, the Minister puts out ridiculously inflated buy-out costs and said he stands against it. In response to a question from me on 8 February, he said the Government’s current strategy is to develop a sustainable commercial and recreational salmon fishery sector through aligning catches on the best available scientific advice. That forms the basis of my question because the best scientific advice was clearly set out in a report by the standing scientific committee to the National Salmon Commission, presented earlier this year, which shows the crisis as regards wild salmon in our rivers, not just on the rivers one might expect, the Liffey, Boyne, Suir and Nore, the east coast rivers, but also the Shannon, the Corrib and in Sligo where some of our previously healthiest rivers are in a state of crisis.
The scientific advice clearly indicates that there is no surplus, that we are below the conservation limits and should not allow any catch, if at all possible, in such rivers. The scientists, Dr. Paddy Gargan of the Central Fisheries Board, and Dr. Niall Ó Maoiléidigh of the Marine Institute, recommended a national commercial catch of 90,000 fish and another 27,000 to be caught by rod, to give a total of 122,300 fish. That, everyone believed, was the figure the National Salmon Commission would approve this year. For some reason, at the recent meeting of the National Salmon Commission, the Central Fisheries Board and the other boards proposed a higher figure of 137,000 for the commercial catch plus a rod catch of 30,000, to give a total of 167,000 fish. That is inexplicable. It is impossible to understand. I can only assume that political direction was given to the fisheries boards to get them to increase the recommended quotas, because there is no justification for not accepting not only the advice of our own scientists, but that of ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, that we should stick to a 75% probability of meeting conservation limits.
It seems that the National Salmon Commission, by a majority vote, was completely against such a proposal and is recommending this much higher quota, which I believe further increases the possibility of wild salmon extinction on rivers such as the Liffey, the Boyne, the Corrib, the Shannon etc. I believe this is one of the greatest scandals currently evolving in this country. I want to know how the Minister will decide on this issue when he sets the quota, which he has yet to do. He has a recommendation from the salmon commission, but he does not necessarily have to follow it. I urge him to follow the scientific advice and to stick with the recommended catch level of 122,000. If he fails to do that, it makes a mockery of Government policy and a nonsense of his statement in the House a month ago that policy is to align catches on the best available scientific advice. That advice is patently and perfectly clear. The Minister will ignore it at his peril because there will be uproar from anglers, conservationists and people who do not want wild salmon to become extinct, which current Government policy ensures will happen rapidly.
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Martin): I apologise to the house for the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Gallagher, on whose behalf I am taking this debate.
The Minister of State relies upon the advice of the National Salmon Commission and the national fisheries managers executive in determining the terms of the wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme which sets out annual district quotas for the commercial salmon catch. He does not receive advice on this matter from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea as suggested by the Deputy. The National Salmon Commission is an independent statutory body established under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1999 to assist and advise the Minister of State on the conservation, management, protection and development of the national salmon resource. In particular, it advises on the national wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme regulations. The commission includes representatives of the commercial fishing sector, the angling sector and other relevant stakeholders.
The National Salmon Commission is advised in its work by its standing scientific committee, which includes scientists from Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Central Fisheries Board, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Loughs Agency and the Marine Institute. The standing scientific committee advice is formulated each year in accordance with the latest guidelines on fish stock assessment from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
On 30 November 2004, the standing scientific committee presented its preliminary recommendations to the commission on the precautionary salmon catch advice for the 2005 fishing season. At that time, the scientific committee’s preliminary advice recommended that the total number of salmon to be exploited by all fishing methods in 2005 should not exceed 122,305 fish. This advice was updated to a figure of 124,571 fish when the final catch statistics report for the 2004 season became available from the Central Fisheries Board towards the end of January 2005. In the meantime, the preliminary scientific advice was considered by the national fisheries management executive from a fisheries management perspective. It submitted its advice and recommendations to the Minister of State on 14 February regarding salmon conservation measures and salmon quotas for 2005 and beyond.
The national fisheries management executive has recommended that the total catch of wild salmon in 2005 should not exceed 173,854. The national fisheries management executive advice also includes recommendations for a suite of conservation measures that should be introduced in the fishery. It believes that if these measures are introduced in 2005, a provision of 27,500 fish should be sufficient for exploitation by anglers this year. With this figure in mind, the national fisheries management executive recommends that the national commercial total allowable catch, TAC, for 2005 should not exceed 146,174 fish. The National Salmon Commission met on 22 February 2005 to consider the scientific and management advice available with a view to finalising its recommendations on the management of the wild salmon fishery in 2005.
The chairman, in his letter of 1 March 2005 and which the Minister of State only received today, advises that the commission was unable to reach a consensus on either the scientific or management quota proposals. However, he advises that the commission endorsed, by a majority decision, a compromise proposal that the national commercial catch of salmon for 2005 should not exceed 139,900 fish and that this recommendation is made on the basis that the commission would adopt the scientific committee’s advice by the 2007 season at the latest. The chairman also reports that no agreement could be secured at the commission on the reductions in annual bag limits for anglers that have been proposed by the national fisheries management executive. As a result, he recommends that this issue should remain on the agenda for future consideration by the National Salmon Commission.
Having only just seen the advice from the National Salmon Commission for the first time today, the Minister of State will need to take some time to consider all the advice and its implications in the widest context. The Minister of State will make a decision in this matter shortly and it is his intention to publish the draft wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme regulations for a 30-day consultation period later this month in accordance with the requirements of the Fisheries Acts. During this time, interested parties will have an opportunity to submit any objections they may have. Following the receipt and consideration of these, the Minister of State will then make a final decision on the scheme.
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