Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
376. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will explain a situation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8735/09]
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power): I understand that it is very difficult to accurately measure mortality rates in glass eels. Mortality rates of between 50% to 84% for glass eels in estuaries have been reported in a study conducted by Vollestad and Jonsson, which was quoted in the Erne Eel Enhancement Programme report referenced by the Deputy. It should be noted that the level of mortality may be both time and site specific. The calculation by the Deputy, in line with his interpretation of the data, would, however, result in a return of 15 tonne of juvenile eels as opposed to the 150 tonne quoted.
I have been advised by the Marine Institute that the elver catch at Cathaleens Falls in 2001 included in the agreed data set for the North Western International River Basin District Eel Management Plan amounted to 699 kg as opposed to the 1,536 Kg presented in the Erne report. Whilst it is accepted that there were increases in the eel catches at Cathaleen Falls from the mid 1990’s to 2000 these were at a low level in all but one of the years. Furthermore, since 2001, the numbers of elvers caught has declined significantly to as low as 33 kg in 2008.
Following the commencement of the Erne Eel Enhancement programme in 1997, an extensive programme of elver stocking was carried out throughout the catchment by the Northern Regional Fisheries Board (NRFB) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Northern Ireland. Since the completion of this programme in 2001 and with significantly reduced elver catch returns, almost all elvers captured at Cathaleen Falls have been stocked in Lower and Upper Lough Erne in accordance with a stocking protocol agreed between the NRFB and the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland.
377. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason it will be illegal to catch fish in southern lakes on the Erne system while eel fishermen in Northern Ireland will have a licence to fish. [8736/09]
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power): The draft Eel Management Plan for the transboundary North Western International River Basin District, submitted by both the Irish and UK authorities for evaluation by the EU Commission, provides for the cessation of the commercial fishery in that River Basin District (which covers the whole Erne catchment both North and South).
I understand that the draft eel management plan for Lough Neagh, which also has to be approved by the EU Commission, contains a proposal for the continuation of commercial fishing based on the long-term management of the fishery (including stocking), which has been shown to allow more silver eels escape than would be escaping if this management regime had not been in place.
In compliance with European Council Regulation No.1100/2007 establishing measures for the recovery of the stock of European eel, a draft national Eel Management Plan was submitted to the EU Commission for approval. Given the critical status of the eel stock, as demonstrated in the assessment contained in the draft Eel Management Plan, a number of management measures have been identified as necessary to reach the targets set in the Regulation, including closure of the commercial and recreational fishery from 2009.
378. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the silver eel migration on the Erne (details supplied); the position regarding the ESB River Shannon generation at Ardnacrusha; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8737/09]
379. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason, in view of the role of the ESB in relation to conservation of fisheries as they were given a charter by the people here to look after and maintain the fish stocks on the rivers they generate electricity on, they have not fulfilled all their statutory functions under their conservation brief. [8738/09]
I am satisfied that the ESB endeavours to comply with its statutory obligations for the conservation and management of the fish stocks on the fisheries owned by the Board. In the performance of its remit the ESB has complied, where possible, with scientific advice and participated in appropriate research on inland fisheries species, habitats and related matters.
The ESB continues to manage its fisheries in spite of some recent significant changes in the equilibrium of the native fish populations and the impact of environmental and other factors on land and at sea.
In particular the ESB has been actively involved in the formulation of the National Eel Management Plan, recognising that barriers to migration in river systems are one of the several factors causing the decline in the eel population. Silver eel escapement at hydro-power stations is seen as critical in the attainment of the recovery of the stock. One of the four management measures recommended in the draft Eel Management Plan recently submitted to the EU Commission is the mitigation of the impact of hydro-power, including the operation of a comprehensive silver eel “trap and transport” plan.
For a number of years ESB have reduced eel mortality on the Shannon by means of “trap and transport” operations at Killaloe, County Limerick, whereby eels are captured for release downstream of the Ardnacrusha dam. Under the draft Eel Management Plan, ESB have undertaken to address the impact of hydro-stations on eel stocks through similar “trap and transport” operations to be undertaken on the Erne and Lee systems from 2009.
I understand the balloon tag tests referred to by the Deputy were carried out on juvenile Atlantic salmon on the Erne system by the ESB. There has been no direct measurement of hydro-power mortality for eels in Ireland. Studies, published by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in 2003, have suggested an average mortality rate of 28.5% across all length classes per hydro-power installation. As part of the draft Eel Management Plan, research will be undertaken to quantify the level of mortality at each power turbine over the period 2009-2012.
I am advised that the ESB, in conjunction with the National University of Ireland, Galway, are currently undertaking telemetry studies of migrating silver eel and plan to test the use of hydro-acoustic technology for deflecting downstream migrating silver eel into the bypass channel on the River Shannon.
380. Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason, some years back, the Western Regional Fisheries Board refused to issue eel fishermen with licences and instead issued them to anglers who returned them un-fished; if this was to increase silver eel catches on the Galway weir which the Western Regional Fisheries Board operate and have received hundreds of thousands of euros from the sale of these silver eels to the Dutch dealers with no escapement of breeding stock; if this fishery will be closed or if they are planning another by-law to allow them to continue to fish it; and if he will quantify the mass of eels released from the Corrib fishery under the heading of conservation in the years 2000 to 2008. [8739/09]
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power): I am advised by the Western Regional Fisheries Board (WRFB) that the issue referred to by the Deputy relates to long line eel licences the number of which is capped at 18 in the Galway District of the Western Fisheries Region. The public licences are issued annually on a first come first served basis.
Given the critical status of the eel stock, as demonstrated in the assessment contained in the draft National Eel Management Plan, a number of management measures have been identified as necessary to reach the targets set in the EU Regulation, including closure of the commercial and recreational fishery from 2009. In the event that the fishery is closed this year, no eel fishing licences will be issued in any of the fishery regions.
As regards the mass of eels that have been permitted to bypass the eel weir on the Corrib Fishery in Galway, the WRFB has advised me that it is not possible to quantify the exact amount involved. However, the Board reduced the number of nets it operates from 14 to 12 in 2007 and 11 in 2008, with 3 nets in the main flow area deliberately not set or fished as a specific conservation measure. In addition, the Board only fished an average of 20 nights in each of the past 4 years, again reducing the exploitation of the eel stock. Furthermore, in an effort to quantify the escapement of eels past the weir in Galway in 2008, staff of the WRFB caught 227 eels, tagged each one and released them again into the river 4 kilometres upstream. Of these, only 11.6% were recovered in the eel nets below, which would appear to suggest that the eel weir in Galway is only exploiting a small proportion of the eels passing through it. Under the Eel Management Plan no fishery will be operated by the WRFB from 2009.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Seán Power): A person who sells eels domestically, including at retail outlets, or exports them for sale requires an eel dealer’s licence. I am advised that 9 applications for eel dealers’ licences were received to date in 2009, in response to which licences were issued by the relevant Regional Fisheries Board, in accordance with Part X of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959, as amended.
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