Wednesday, 7 May 1997
Seanad Éireann Debate
An Cathaoirleach: This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 85, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage.
On the question, “That the Bill be received for Final Consideration”, the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil and this is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For the convenience of Senators, I have arranged for the printing and circulation to them of those amendments.
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. Gilmore): Since the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1996, was before the Seanad on 12 December 1996, it has been passed, as amended, by the Dáil. I propose to deal with  those Dáil amendments on a section by section basis. However, before doing so, I want to briefly refer to the broad framework of the Bill and to a number of issues specifically raised by Senators last December.
In proposing amendments to the Bill in the Dáil, I was happy to address a number of issues raised previously by Senators in this House. Senator Burke will note the removal of the provision for perpetual licences in section 15. In addition, his concern that authorised officers from the fisheries boards might be hampered in the performance of their duties by the trespass provisions in section 20 has been explicitly addressed by way of amendment to that section. Both Senator Burke and Senator Fitzgerald raised the question of the notification of licensing decisions. Regulations to be made under section 10 will require the licensing authority to give notice of its decision. Following amendment of section 12, the applicant for a licence will not have any role in the matter.
I have also included a specific reference in section 10 (3) (f) to consultation with statutory bodies, which include fisheries boards, local authorities and harbour commissioners. A significant amendment to the Bill since it was before the Seanad relates to the provisions for nominations to the appeals boards of representatives of various interests, including aquaculture and wild fisheries, as specified in section 23. This has been put in place to give the board the broadest possible representation in terms of all relevant interests and to ensure that its composition is fair, balanced and commands respect and confidence.
Mr. Fitzgerald: I agree with the amendments made by the Dáil. This Bill got a speedy passage through the House last December. It was welcomed by the people who work in the hatcheries in the west. These amendments improve the Bill, which speeds up the licensing process. I am happy with the final draft.
Mr. Dardis: This Bill has been significantly improved by these amendments and I congratulate the Minister and his colleagues for that. Perhaps it might have been delayed longer in this House than it was, but it has been improved in the other House. I have a few minor quibbles about things which should be included in the Bill. However, I am happy with the Minister's assurance that fresh water will be protected and that fish farming will not be allowed in our premier salmon waters in the west.
 I welcome the provision in the licensing procedures in section 7 for the reporting of the incidence of disease and the presence of parasites, but this matter has been allowed to drift. There has been a lack of scientific clarity about whether there is a specific connection between fin-fish farming at sea and the demise of the sea-trout. I have a vested interest in this matter because I have fished for sea-trout from Waterville, County Kerry, to Doolough, County Mayo. I know most of the sea-trout fisheries in between and what has happened to them is nothing short of a national disaster. There are measures in the Bill to provide for environmental interests to be represented on the board and the protection of the environment is also a matter of consideration under section 7. I welcome those provisions, but it should be clearly stated whether there is an empirical link between fin-fish farming and what has been allowed happen to the sea-trout, which is nothing short of an environmental crime — I use those words advisedly.
There has been some recovery. Last year I caught sea-trout in Costelloe, County Galway, and they were fresh and in good condition. Fallowing has a place in all of this. It has been reported to me that there are problems in County Galway but I do not have first hand knowledge of that.
My primary purpose in appealing to the Minister is that this has gone on for far too long. The sea-trout population must be encouraged and helped to recover because these fisheries are of international importance. When I began fishing in the west 25 years ago people travelled from all over the world. They flew into Shannon Airport and hired a car for a month and a ghillie for every day of that month and spent significant sums of money. Those people will go to the Falkland Islands, Russia, Canada or wherever the sport is. If we provide the sport, they will come here. Everything must be done to restore that position.
I would have preferred if the licences were for a shorter period than 20 years and I know that matter was debated in the Dáil. However, I accept that the Bill has been improved significantly and is much better than when it left this House. It includes protections which I regard as extremely important. The environmental aspect has been improved and the Bill will have the effect of affording the type of protection which is essential. I accept fully the economic importance of fin-fish farming but tourism, which is derived from trout and sea-trout fisheries, is important also, particularly in the west in areas where there are few alternatives. We could get into a broader argument about the need to protect our waters and the environmental degradation which has taken place, but that is for another day.
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. Gilmore): I thank Senator Fitzgerald and Senator Dardis for their remarks. Although the Bill passed through this House in one day, it was made clear by a number of Senators during the course of the debate that there were issues which they wished to have examined and I undertook to do so before the Bill was considered in the Dáil. The amendments which were made to the Bill in the Dáil reflect and respond to the issues which were raised in this House when the Bill was introduced.
In response to the matters which Senator Dardis, in particular, raised, I do not accept that there has been any neglect in the way the trout issue has been addressed. Sea-trout stocks dropped dramatically in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As Senator Dardis stated, there is a lack of scientific clarity as to the cause and effect of that collapse. None of us is in a position to instruct scientists on what they should find. The fact of the matter is that, after almost a decade of examining this problem at considerable expense to the many agencies of the State, scientists differ on the cause of the decline of the sea-trout.
Having said that, there has been a considerable effort to assist the recovery of sea-trout stocks. The blueprint for that is the Whitaker report which examined the matter some years ago. The Department of the Marine is operating on the precautionary principle. In other words, we are taking whatever measures are necessary to prevent a further decline in sea-trout stocks and to attempt the rehabilitation of those stocks. There is also considerable investment in the rehabilitation of sea-trout stocks through the tourism angling measure and I am encouraged that there has been some recovery in some systems, although there is no room for complacency in regard to the state of sea-trout stocks.
Mr. Fitzgerald: I thank the Minister for his usual courtesy and efficiency. I want to record, as Senator Dardis stated, that this House did not just rubber stamp this Bill. I would not like the House to get a name for rubber stamping Bills because that is not in our pedigree. As the Minister knows, even though the Harbours Bill, 1995, passed through the Dáil and the select committee, this House found room for improvement. On that occasion, we outlined the faults we found in the Bill but we did not go too hard on it because we were under the impression that it was an essential and urgent Bill.
 Nobody knows what is the problem with sea-trout. Mr. Pat Brosnan of Dingle, County Kerry, who is dead about 20 years, told me no herring was caught in Dingle in two separate periods spanning about 30 years. Nobody could understand why this occurred or where the herring had gone. I suppose these matters are a mystery to be solved by scientists.
Mr. Dardis: I am sure we could not accuse Senator Fitzgerald of introducing a red herring. It was important that we did not detain the Bill. The Minister and his officials are to be congratulated on the way in which it was dealt with in the other House. At this stage most people are happy with the Bill. I know the angling interest regard it as being reasonably satisfactory. I wish the Bill well and hope it will lead to the type of regulation and environmental quality we all wish to see.
Mr. Belton: I congratulate the Minister of State and thank him for the manner in which he dealt with the Bill. He took on board the comments and concerns of Members and a fine job has been done as a result. I am sad to hear that the herring are not coming to Dingle.
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. Gilmore): I thank Members for their contributions and their kind remarks about the Bill. I assure Senator Fitzgerald that it was not rubber stamped by the House. When I introduced the Bill in December last, Members made clear their concerns about particular aspects of the Bill. During the course of that debate I undertook to address those issues prior to the Dáil debate on the Bill. That was the understanding of Members in agreeing to the Second Stage debate.
The Bill is important legislation. The numbers of people consuming fish and the amounts of fish being consumed are on the increase. The problem is that the quantity of wild fish available globally is in decline. The only way the increasing demand for fish can be met and the pressure taken off wild stocks of fish is by farming the resource. At present, 25 per cent of all fish produced in Ireland is produced by fish farms. That proportion will increase and we must ensure that we develop an environmentally sustainable way to farm fish. The Bill will provide a basis for doing that because it sets down a new licensing mechanism, an appeals system and strict standards and criteria which must be met by the operators of fish farms.
The Bill lays the basis for the development of an important industry and the production of an important, safe and wholesome source of food. It also provides for the protection of the marine environment. I thank Members, the Cathaoirleach and the staff of the House for their co-operation in dealing with the Bill.
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