Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Mary Coughlan): I am delighted to set out the Government’s strategy for the seafood sector. Generating total annual revenues of more than €702 million and providing employment for approximately 11,000 people, the seafood industry is an important indigenous industry. It makes a significant contribution to the national economy in output, employment and exports, and to the economic and social viability of the coastal regions in which it is located.
Although the industry recorded progress as a result of investment made under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, it is in a transitional phase, facing a range of developmental challenges mainly related to declining fish stocks and a consequent structural imbalance at catching and processing levels. Profitability in the sector is weak and investment in research and development and value-added development in the processing sector has been historically low. As a result, the industry is not well positioned to take full advantage of prevailing market opportunities.
Against this background, the then Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and the then Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy John Browne, invited Dr. Noel Cawley, along with Mr. Joey Murrin and Mr. Ruán O’Bric, to form a seafood strategy review group in June 2006. Its aim was to investigate the industry and make recommendations on how its future might be secured. Dr. Cawley was appointed as chairman of the group and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, provided the secretariat.
Between July and October 2006, the group consulted widely with fishermen, fish farmers, fish processors, marketers and other stakeholders in the seafood industry. Four public consultative meetings were held at venues in Wexford, Kenmare, Killybegs and Galway. The group considered more than 80 written submissions from interested parties and convened 19 ordinary meetings, including discussions with representative organisations and groups from the fishing, fish-farming and seafood processing sector, to determine its findings and recommendations. Discussions with industry stakeholders were dominated by concerns over declining fish stocks and falling quotas for most fish species, the perceived lack of even-handed conservation and enforcement for the fishing activities of all fleets in Irish and EU waters, and the impact these factors were having on the viability of Irish fishing vessels and fish processing plants.
In its determination the group formed the view that all stakeholders and the EU and Irish Government must face up to the inescapable fact that the scientific evidence, largely borne out by industry experience, is that 75% of the stocks in the waters around Ireland are harvested beyond their safe biological limits, even though these waters are potentially among the most productive in the EU. From discussions with industry and the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the group found broad agreement on the need to scale up fleet decommissioning in the whitefish sector. It concluded that vessels over 18 m long should be identified for decommissioning and that radical change in quota management arrangements should also take place.
The group identified critical developmental challenges facing the industry which need to be addressed. These include the need to ensure a competitive market-focused strategy is adopted throughout the industry; to develop value-generating strategies to ensure that the maximum possible return is achieved for each tonne of fish landed and produced; to address the issues of overcapacity, fragmentation, weak profitability, lack of innovation and poor performance levels within the processing sector; to enhance management, technical, marketing and commercial capability across all industry sectors; to achieve greater balance between the catching capacity and resource availability, requiring further managed industry restructuring and right-sizing; to define and establish stakeholder-supported, commercially aware quota management policies and procedures; to establish a policy position, supported by an appropriate regulatory framework, to encourage market-led investment in, and expansion of, the aquaculture sector; and to ensure that industry practices are environmentally sustainable in the long term and are cognisant of the role of and need for conservation.
Despite these challenges, the industry has a positive future based on the growing demand for seafood. Across all major markets, seafood enjoys an extremely positive image associated with a healthy lifestyle. Consumers are increasingly aware of the enormous nutritional and health benefits to be obtained from eating seafood products and are developing a greater understanding of the range of fish on offer. In addition, enormous untapped opportunities exist to develop new seafood product offerings and to explore the benefits yet undiscovered for marine-based functional food products. In addition to our existing trade, further developing the perception of the natural goodness of fish, providing convenient pre-prepared offerings and supplying eco-friendly, organic and environmentally responsible products all represent significant market opportunities.
A key challenge for the Irish seafood industry is to exploit these favourable market conditions to generate the maximum value for each tonne of product landed. The group concluded that decisive and radical action is called for at national and EU level to safeguard the seafood industry, the fish stocks and the future viability of coastal communities. This, it stated, would entail adopting environmentally-friendly conservation measures and an equally compliant approach by Irish and EU vessels.
The cost of inaction now would be incalculable in years to come, when the country would be faced with further and possibly irreversible stock depletion and dismantling of the same coastal communities which, directly or indirectly, have come to depend on the industry for their livelihood. To address this situation, the group set out its vision for a sustainable, profitable and self-reliant industry that will maximise its long-term contribution to coastal communities based on fish stocks restored to sustainable levels in a healthy and diverse marine environment. An essential element in the achievement of this vision would be a further sharp reduction in fishing capacity and effort, more effective management and conservation of fisheries and a substantial role for aquaculture in meeting the increasing demand for seafood in the marketplace.
The group concluded that achieving these objectives would require a significant increased financial commitment by the State between 2007 and 2013 while at the same time the industry would undergo a painful adjustment process which together would secure the long-term future for all concerned. In its report to the Minister, the group made 49 recommendations incorporated under ten core themes and concluded that value generation in the seafood sector could result in increased sales to €911 million by 2015 if the recommendations were adopted.
The seafood strategy review group produced a vision for the Irish seafood industry that by 2013 all sectors of this industry will have evolved such that the industry can be described as a competitive, profitable, market focused industry capable of sustainable economic growth and recognised as making the maximum economic contribution to coastal rural communities and to Ireland as a whole. This vision calls for an innovative and co-ordinated approach to the marketing of seafood which would capitalise on its healthy and nutritious image and maximise value at every point in the supply chain.
The group envisages the emergence of a commercially focused self-reliant industry with market forces driving success, centred on delivering strategic development priorities. These include the positioning of Irish seafood in the international and domestic marketplace as a premium quality offering, with positive environmental attributes, supported by superior customer service, effective key account management practices and enhanced branding and promotional activity, thereby justifying premium prices, and culminating in the development of a robust seafood island proposition.
We should build a track record and reputation for being ahead of the competition by delivering market-led innovation, including new product and packaging development, enhanced processing techniques, quality schemes, product labelling, etc., with a view to increasing the percentage of sales and exports in the higher value seafood and convenience food categories. This will require significant and concerted investment in basic and applied research and development and in fast-tracking the time to market of new products.
The group recommends a restructured and more integrated and efficient industry, with a processing sector comprising fewer but larger-scaled and more profitable operations, and a national fleet that has been right-sized in line with the sustainable exploitation of the available fisheries resource base. The vision calls for addressing certain critical factors along each stage of the industry value chain, that undermine industry competitiveness and the ability to command a premium price in the marketplace. It also requires significant uplift in technical and business management skills and competencies, through investment in bespoke training and development programmes.
We need a catching sector operating under a new fisheries management regime, comprising both a quota management system and a fleet management and licensing system that is equitable and transparent, incorporates effective control and delivers biologically sustainable stocks while ensuring economic viability and stability for vessel owners. Significant development and expansion of the aquaculture sector is needed within clearly defined Government policies, output targets and an efficient licensing regime, and supported by an aquaculture development programme. The group recommends the holistic and balanced development and exploitation of in-shore fisheries for the benefit of the seafood, leisure and tourism sectors alike, based on an integrated in-shore fisheries management strategy. Key stakeholders should adopt an environmentally conscious, responsible and compliant approach to all activities within the industry and so operate in a mutually respectful manner.
These development priorities will be delivered under the aegis of BIM through certain measures in the seafood development sub-programme, seafood marketing, processing, human resources and training development, aquaculture and sea fisheries. The national seafood strategy and the National Development Plan 2007-2013 reflect the group’s findings.
There is a reference in Chapter 8, under the marine and coastal communities programme, to the recommendations of the Cawley report and to the fact that €216 million is earmarked for the seafood development sub-programme. A further €118 million may be made available over the life of the plan, depending on the willingness of the sector to undertake and co-operate with, in a verified manner, changes in the industry. After the Taoiseach launched the report in January 2007 a seafood strategy implementation group, SSIG, was established comprising 20 representatives from all sectors of the seafood industry and State organisations, chaired by Dr. Noel Cawley. The SSIG’s remit is to advance the delivery of the recommendations set out in the report of the seafood industry strategy review group, Steering a New Course. The implementation schedule covers the ten core themes incorporating the 49 recommendations contained in the report.
Since its inaugural meeting in June, the SSIG has held meetings in July, September and November. Progress to date on the recommendations has included the preparation of a fleet decommissioning scheme, developments in the aquaculture sector and ongoing work on development of a step-up programme for the seafood processing sector.
In the aquaculture sector, the problems encountered in Ireland are common to other EU producing countries. In the EU, the Directorate-General for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs has indicated that it is setting out a new strategy for the encouragement of sustainable aquaculture in the community and to address some of the difficulties the sector is encountering.
The main recommendation from the review group for the aquaculture sector is the need to develop a comprehensive and sustained fact-based communications programme, run by State agencies with industry support, to engender greater acceptance of aquaculture as a sustainable and legitimate activity by other stakeholders in the coastal zone. The decommissioning scheme, which is in final preparations, will withdraw capacity permanently from the whitefish sector of the Irish fishing fleet.
During the consultations with industry the need for continued restructuring of the demersal fleet emerged as the most pressing challenge facing the catching sector. Recent economic analysis carried out for this sector indicates that whitefish stocks generally and available quota in particular would have to be 45% greater to yield a viable return for the vessels now in the demersal sector.
The situation facing the whitefish sector means there can be no expectation of increased catches in the short term. On the contrary, reducing fleet capacity, developing long-term management plans and introducing effective technical measures supplemented with strong control and enforcement will drive thinking on fisheries management for many years to come. On this basis and taking into account the current capacity of the polyvalent and beam trawl segments of the fleet, it is appropriate that, in total, 14,318 gross tonnes should be decommissioned, of which 3,178 gross tonnes has been scrapped to date. The 2007 decommissioning scheme sets itself the target of removing a further 11,140 gross tonnes from the whitefish fleet. This represents the full programme of decommissioning recommended by the seafood industry strategy review group and provided for in the national development plan.
The process of decommissioning is complementary to the whitefish fleet renewal programme delivered over the past eight years. The latter has seen the safety and operational standards of a large section of the whitefish fleet vastly improved while decommissioning has removed some large, old, and less safe vessels that are every bit as demanding of resources as their modern counterparts. The completion of this twin-track approach involving renewal and restructuring is vital to the future success of the catching sector and it will deliver ultimately a smaller fleet that is modern, efficient and safe.
The first stage in addressing the issues of low profitability and scale in the processing sector takes the form of a step-up programme. This programme, which is being developed, is specifically aimed at Irish companies engaged in both primary and secondary seafood processing and has four key objectives. It will encourage and incentivise restructuring within the processing sector, prioritise and accelerate support for developing seafood businesses where there is good potential for the creation of sustainable long-term value, increase the value generated within the sector in accordance with the overall national strategy target of €911 million in sales value by 2015, and improve profitability and competitiveness levels across the sector through the pursuit of efficiencies in operational processes and fast-tracking technology transfer.
I am committed to the implementation of the national seafood strategy and I look forward to working closely with industry on its delivery. The seafood industry must address a range of structural and supply related challenges but when these are successfully addressed we can capture the clear and growing opportunities within the sector. We now have the plan which I firmly believe will ensure that the future of coastal communities dependent on fishing and aquaculture is secured for this and future generations. I look forward to hearing the views of the Members of this House on the implementation of this project.
Senator Liam Twomey: I thank the Minister for her detailed presentation on the Cawley report and what it will do for the fishing industry. Historically, Irish people ate fish only on a Friday and there is a certain amount of guilt relating to what we have done to the fishing industry in this country in the past 30 years, especially since we joined the European Union. There have been many problems in our fishing industry. One would have thought a clear policy would have been formulated many years ago on an industry confined to the sea, harbours, fishing boats, fishermen and so on. Given how things are structured, one would have thought a report such as this on the fishing industry would have been possible many years ago. Conflicts in the fishing industry and mutual antagonism between the Government and fishermen have led to many of the difficulties that have brought us to this point.
I find it interesting that the Minister’s speech and a report should refer to mutual respect between groups in the fishing industry. One would expect that all parties involved, including the Government, the Department, processors and fishermen, would have mutual respect for each other without a need to write such comments in an official report. This indicates that things have gone wrong in the industry because people have not worked together. It is interesting that only now, as fish stocks decline, are we examining what we are doing in the industry. Policy decisions in recent years have seemed haphazard in areas such as the commissioning of fleets, the decommissioning of fleets, paying out and not paying out grants.
I would like the Minister to expand on her comments on research and development because this area is very weak in the fishing and seafood industries in Ireland and profitability is a problem. We must be clear on what needs to be done in terms of research and development and there are two approaches. Research and development can be carried out while the fish are still in the sea or as part of processing and marketing. In Kilmore Quay, County Wexford, lobsters were tagged for many years and people worked together, throwing those considered too young back into the water, and this helped to develop a sustainable lobster fishing industry. There was a small research institution there and fishermen worked together to subsidise it. This is a model of what can be done throughout the country.
There is an idea that there is great antagonism in coastal communities to fish farming and lobster pots in the bay area and this has created problems. Many of these problems stem from a lack of communication and direction in the industry for many years. When we discuss policy it should be clear what is happening in this regard. Ministers, especially the Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries, must be clear on policy and must not take a hands-off approach that allows people to feel they can do as they wish. An able Minister, a former Minister of State with responsibility for fisheries, with plenty of experience of the fishing industry ran into all manner of problems when he sought to deal with issues affecting fisheries.
It is important we do not try to diminish the scale of the problem in this debate. We must be clear on what we want. Many processing plants have closed. Two people in the House at the moment fully understand the issue at Castletownbere and I grew up in west Cork and go on holidays there. Every night articulated trucks leave Castletownbere to head for ferries in Rosslare Harbour, near where I live. The fish are not processed but are simply put on ice before going straight to France. When the fish come off the boats in Castletownbere little is done except to add some extra ice. This occurs every night.
When we discuss added value we must be clear what we will do because we have some good niche markets in this country in value added to fish. Some people smoke salmon and do extraordinary things with fish but these markets and producers are small and cannot develop their areas on the grand scale we are discussing for 2015. The Minister must provide some direction if she is serious about adding value in the fishing industry. As she observed, there is neither the wherewithal nor the resources within the industry itself to do so. It seems like a very valuable and profitable industry in view of the figures we have seen, but we know there are not huge profits to be made. Neither is there the will and inclination within the industry to provide the level of investment required for research and development. The industry requires direction from the Government. It needs to see that the Government has faith in the sector. We must rid ourselves of the Friday mentality, so to speak, we have in regard to the fishing industry, the part of our mindset that says fishing is not so important. We are losing out significantly because of this.
We have no idea how much fish has been taken from the Irish Sea in the past 30 years. We are certain, however, that there are insufficient stocks to continue fishing as we have done heretofore. Every boat in the world seems to have fished in the Irish Sea. What will be done to protect stocks? What plan has the Government to secure funding from the EU or to provide it from its own resources to put in place a coastguard service that would include a fishery protection role to prevent the illegal removal of fish from the Irish Box? Many people play by the rules and are frustrated to see others becoming wealthy from not doing so. This is wholesale throughout the industry. The Irish Sea is one of the most productive environments in Europe for fish and we must protect it. There should be EU funding to provide fast, easily manoeuvrable boats to patrol the waters and protect what are now considered the fish stocks of Europe.
Aquaculture is being undertaken in numerous locations in the State, generally in bays and estuaries. One of the greatest challenges faced by this industry is our failure to deliver adequate sewage treatment infrastructure. Ireland is fortunate to have a clean image. People who come to this country from places such as France or the United States, where people are fussy about their food, know they are getting the best fish when they eat it in Dingle, Kinsale or Kilmore Quay. The Minister must liaise with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure sewage treatment plants in important waterways are adequate. It is not farming effluent that is destroying our rivers and seas but, in many cases, our inability to deal with human effluent which is simply being run into rivers and seas. This is damaging to aquaculture throughout the State.
I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, who has entered the Chamber, will give Members a clear idea of what he would like to see happening in the fishing industry. He has visited Brussels on numerous occasions and is deeply involved in the industry. I seek clear and incisive explanations from him of what the Department intends to do. I hope he will speak about the need to protect the livelihoods and interests of fishermen in coastal communities but also about how to develop the fishing industry. We must take on board the importance of conservation, processing, adding value and undertaking research and development. Such an approach could have a massive impact on the fishing industry but it has been absent in the past ten years. I hope the Government can offer Members a clear policy with a little more fish on the bone.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: As one of the Senators who sought this debate, I am pleased the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coughlan, has come to the House to facilitate it. I take this opportunity to wish her well. I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, who is familiar with this portfolio. It was a good decision to place fisheries under the remit of the same Department as agriculture. It rests easier there than in its former Department because there are many common denominators between agriculture and fisheries, especially in respect of the food sector, with aquaculture, fish processing and so on. It is a positive development.
The full title of the Cawley report is Strategy for a Restructured, Sustainable and Profitable Irish Seafood Industry 2007-2013. It contains both good and bad news. It is to be welcomed that a process of dialogue and consultation was undertaken with representatives of the fishing industry from Castletownbere to Donegal and from Galway to Dublin. Some of the findings are inevitable and the industry is largely in agreement with them. It is generally accepted, for example, that decommissioning must take place. It is good news that some will have a chance of surviving economically in the fishing industry.
The bad news is that job losses are inevitable. For example, 40% of whitefish trawlers out of Castletownbere will be unable to continue. In the past 15 to 20 years, the amount of vessels fishing out of places such as Casteltownbere, Schull, Union Hall and Kinsale has declined. I refer specifically to the south coast because the southern part of the State is primarily given over to whitefish while the northern part, out of Killybegs, is engaged primarily in pelagic fishing.
Fishermen regularly ask me what is the net value to them of the decommissioning process. In other words, what will skippers and trawler owners obtain and what are the implications not only for them but also for their crews? The Cawley report includes a proposal to set up a register. It would be wrong, morally and otherwise, if vessels were to be decommissioned and the crewmen neglected. Protection must be built into the process. In Castletownbere, for instance, some 40 or 50 family men could be left high and dry.
The previous speaker referred to lorry loads of fish leaving Castletownbere. Some 85% of all whitefish landed in Castletownbere not only goes through France but ends up in Spain. At this critical juncture for the future of the fishing industry, the industry and the Government must examine how we can improve onshore processing. I understand that with larger and improved vessels, up to 80% of our pelagic fish is being landed in Scotland, Norway or further afield because the vessels may obtain a more ready market and better price in those locations. It is a shame that up to 80% of both pelagic fish and whitefish is going abroad.
We cannot in future isolate the whitefish or polyvalent fish sector and the pelagic sector from the aquaculture sector and from mussel and salmon farming. We must consider new markets, such as that for abalones, for example, and develop the onshore processing industry. The Minister was in west Cork recently and saw the success attained by onshore processing companies such as Shellfish de la Mer, which employes 150 people thanks to support from the previous two Governments. In conjunction with the initiative shown by the company’s management, the support it received from Bord Iascaigh Mhara in marketing and identifying foreign markets has helped it win international awards. Another success story is Castletownbere fishermen’s co-operative and other co-operatives in the south that are engaged in onshore processing. This is wonderful because jobs are being created. I would like to see this supported and continued because it is great to see that Shellfish de la Mer has grown from two or three people 12 or 15 years ago to 150 onshore now. That is a good development.
Not far away and much closer to me in Gearhies are Bantry Bay Seafoods and Fastnet Mussels, which employ people in processing jobs and which have built up international markets throughout Europe and in the UK. It is wonderful to see, with support from the Department, industry and fishermen, these companies looking to the affluent parts of society in India and China. There are 80 million or 90 million people in India who are now affluent enough to buy properties abroad and who may look at buying Irish shellfish or food products.
We are only playing catch-up with the likes of Chile, which I have studied with regard to salmon farming. That country exports much of its fish to markets identified in China and India as possibly being the best in the world. We should remember that approximately 12% of the Chilean salmon farmed in a chilled form is imported into the EU. Norway is particularly worried about that.
We have significant potential. Although we can look at the negative side of the matter, we should consider the future of the industry and how we can improve what we have. It is a sad fact that 75% of fish in Irish seas are under pressure, which is causing ongoing problems. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, and others for efforts in negotiating with Europe and trying to hold on to or improve Irish quotas. The issue will arise again in four weeks’ time. It is very important we look at the matter.
I am flying a kite from southern Ireland. With the decommissioning coming down the track, perhaps the Minister of State can identify the deadline for spring next year and when the NDP funding will come into effect. When will fishermen and the coastal communities see the benefit of this type of financial input by Government and stakeholders? We must know the coastal communities will also be protected.
In my father’s time there was a substantial hake fishing industry in Bantry Bay, with large British trawlers coming in. Overfishing led to the hake vanishing. As a young lad hauling lobster pots in Bantry Bay I remember often bringing up two or three fine crayfish in a lobster pot. They are gone because of overfishing and the use of monofilament nets. Crayfish are now as scarce as teeth in a duck.
I hope those in Europe realise the Irish Government and the fishing industry are in a progressive mode regarding conservation of stocks. Our European counterparts, particularly the French and Spanish, should be following the same vein. There is not much point in us decommissioning 33% or 40% of our whitefish fleet only to find out the French or Spanish will not in any way row in behind such action, or that they will still come marauding into Irish waters and take valuable fish.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I have only just started but I will finish. If it is true President Sarkozy has done a sweetheart deal with French fishermen regarding subsidising fuel, this Government should consider that closely as well. We cannot let the French fishing industry be subsidised in such fashion, particularly with the cost of fuel now. We are extremely lucky the dollar is weak, although the price of oil is going through the roof. We are fortunate the euro is maintaining a strong position against the dollar.
I have read the Cawley report but perhaps I missed this point. What has been done with regard to environmental and global warming, or has any analysis been undertaken? As a coastal person I am worried about the impact of global warming on fish species and stocks. Is it possible to monitor it? I have no doubt the waters around Ireland have warmed by 2° or 3° in the last decade or two. What is the effect and will it mean some of the stocks will move north to cooler waters, causing other problems? Perhaps the fish preferring warmer water in the Bay of Biscay and Spain will move towards Ireland. It is a serious consideration.
I look on this report with mixed views. On the one hand it is welcome because the industry is facing up to reality but on the other hand, it is somewhat sad because we are basically indicating the fishing industry will be pruned and curtailed. I hope it will be more profitable for those who remain in the industry.
For too long our fishing industry has been sidelined in order to benefit other sectors of the economy. Fishermen have paid a very high price for that and it is to their credit that we have a fishing industry at all. Dr. Noel Cawley stated, “The stark reality is that decisive and radical action is now called for at national and EU level to safeguard the seafood industry, the fish stocks and the future of coastal communities”. Nobody will disagree with that, least of all sectors of the industry.
This Government was formed in mid-June and it took until October to officially assign responsibility for the marine to various other Departments. That is not very helpful. The origins of the creation of a Department dealing with the marine go back to an incident off the south-west coast in the 1980s when the Kowloon Bridge was shipwrecked. Former Taoiseach, the late Charles Haughey, to his credit created a Department which took in all facets of the marine. That in itself was visionary and it was the right action to take. Unfortunately, in 2002 it was broken up and various functions of the marine are now spread across four or five Departments.
There was a piece in The Irish Times yesterday with input from Dr. Ronan Long of the NUI in Galway. He warned that we are jettisoning benefits gained from existing marine policies and structures because we are, as he puts it, going in the opposite direction to the EU in this regard. People who are involved in the marine to the point that they can produce an analysis touching on the political break-up of the Departments must be listened to. We have an opportunity to be a leader in many facets of the marine, not least in research and science. We must take full advantage of that opportunity.
There are a number of issues to raised about the report itself. This is one of the few areas where we all know what needs to be done and how it can be done. The industry and an independent chairman is willing to run with the report but there is no political will to go with it so far, which is disappointing. If we had the same type of blueprint for health, I imagine the Minister for Health and Children would run fairly quickly with it.
There was an incident in the Dáil recently where the Tánaiste, Deputy Cowen, was taking questions on behalf of the Taoiseach and an Opposition Deputy raised a question on marine legislation. Like a deer caught in the headlights, the Tánaiste had to consult one of his colleagues to find out the responsible Minister. That goes back to the point I made at the outset, which is that because the marine is split among so many different briefs, from transport to the environment to agriculture, there is no clear political responsibility. That is bad. All other countries in Europe have been associated with something. Sweden and Finland are associated with Abba, Nokia and similar brands. We could lead the way in the marine. The map of Ireland is more than the landmass, it includes the waters around it, and we should protect it carefully.
It is disturbing that there is no clear timeframe for decommissioning the fleet, the attitude to that must be changed. There is no clarity on taxation issues, causing discomfort for those in the sector. Recently when fishermen met Commissioner Borg, he said it would have to go through the normal process. What stage is decommissioning at? Has funding been set aside for it and has due consideration been made of the taxation implications? Anyone from a coastal constituency can tell the Minister that the salmon hardship fund was not all it appeared to be initially. People in the sector are willing to change, to go along with the Cawley report and take the tough medicine that is being dished out but there is no attempt to make these people confident about the implementation of the recommendations.
We must re-examine quotas. When there is a decommissioning programme under way in January, there should not be a problem with quotas in February. There is an appalling situation in the North Sea where prawn fishermen are catching cod and other white fish and dumping them back into the sea because it is an offence to bring them back to port, even though it is not an offence to fish them.
This is one of the few areas where we know what is needed and how to do it. What current and capital funds have been set aside in the BIM budget for 2008 to deliver on the main recommendations of the Cawley report, starting with the capital investment programme, decommissioning, communications and marketing?
Senator Ivana Bacik: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and welcome the key findings of the Cawley report, notably the finding that the Irish seafood industry is an indigenous industry based on the utilisation of a renewable and highly prized natural resource. It was noted in the report that the industry is critical for the sustainable economic and social development of coastal communities around the country and that the industry depends on sustainable fish stocks and a healthy marine environment. I emphasise these aspects of the report, and note that the Minister mentioned the need for action to safeguard the industry. Recently, however, there was an example where the Government failed to live up to the standards expected in the Cawley report when it came to cockle dredging.
On 25 October, I tabled a motion in the House calling for a particular set of regulations, SI 531 of 2007, to be rescinded. These regulations were passed in July and allowed fishing boats to dredge for cockles in Waterford estuary, a protected conservation area. Although there were restrictions on the times boats could dredge, dredging was permitted. The marine conservation NGO, Coastwatch Ireland, monitored the area where dredging was allowed between August and October and found enormous damage was being done to the seabed as a result of the dredging of large quantities of matter.
Coastwatch Ireland was alarmed by this and sought action from the Minister. It considered the dredging was in breach of the EU habitats directive but was told there was very little monitoring or control going on and that there was a gentlemen’s agreement between the dredgers and the State. Clearly this was not acceptable and in those circumstances I raised the matter. I also mentioned that Ireland is out of line with other EU countries, which have banned dredging for cockles in the interests of preserving marine life and ensuring a sustainable fishing industry and sustainable coastal community development, exactly as the Cawley report suggests.
I pointed out that in other EU countries, cockle fishing is only allowed by hand. As a result, cockles are very expensive and there is a lucrative market outside Ireland, where cockles are worth €1,600 per tonne. The cockles dredged in Waterford were mostly exported. I am glad to say, however, that following my intervention, the Government moved and introduced a new set of regulations. I have only just received Regulation 753/2007, signed by the Minister on 12 November, which provides that Irish sea fishing boats, or persons on board, or those using any other harvesting method shall not fish, attempt to fish or have on board cockles harvested in the Waterford estuary area. These regulations will provide for a ban on the taking of cockles by fishing boats or their harvesting by any means except by hand for private consumption in the Waterford estuary.
I welcome the signing of those regulations, which will mean the damage Coastwatch Ireland had feared would be irreparable will not be done to the estuary. The difficulties surrounding the issue show how far short we fall from the standards outlined in the Cawley report on the seafood industry. They also show the lack of commitment given to the development of sustainable coastal communities. It is fine to pay lip-service to the report but that example showed a lack of commitment in practice and in terms of resources that would have ensured a protected marine area was not irreparably damaged by such large-scale dredging.
Coastwatch Ireland has called for practical measures to address the need to develop sustainable coastal communities, pointing out that well chosen and well managed marine protected areas will assist in developing the fishing industry and should be monitored and developed in conjunction with local fishermen. There should be coherent coastal zone management for the entire coastline.
Senator McCarthy mentioned the difficulty in finding out who is responsible for the marine. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources signed the original regulation in July on cockle dredging but now the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries is responsible and it fell to her to sign the new regulation. Part of the problem is that matters fell between different Departments, showing up the lack of commitment to the aspirations of the Cawley report.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and this opportunity to discuss the Cawley report. Other speakers have mentioned that we are a maritime nation and our fishing and seafood industry are very important. The Irish seafood industry generates more than €700 million per year and directly employs 11,665 people. The total catch in Irish waters, which are among the most productive in the European Union, was 700,000 tonnes of fish in 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available, with an economic value of €500 million to the State.
It became obvious during the debate on the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill that fishing practices in Ireland and the Irish seas have become highly unsustainable and that serious over-fishing is taking place.
Statistics show that most of the catch taken from Irish waters is taken by non-Irish vessels. More significantly, more than 75% of the stocks are now outside their safe biological limits with either low stock size or unsustainable levels of exploitation. More than half of all stocks are exploited and a further 25% are either over-exploited or depleted. Consequently, it became obvious that a new strategy was needed. This was true in particular for the seafood industry and the transfer of the fisheries portfolio to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may be a positive step in this regard as it allows for a fresh start and a fresh approach to take place.
One of the Cawley report’s key recommendations pertained to the development of aquaculture to provide seafood products. At present, Ireland’s aquaculture sector contributes approximately 40% of the revenue generated by the seafood industry. However, it is considered to lag well behind worldwide trends regarding the procedures used to farm fish and the range of species farmed. Members are aware that with the current emphasis on the desirability of healthier diets, fish is defined as a functional food. The latter is a buzzword for foods that provide a health benefit beyond meeting basic nutritional needs. It is clear that Ireland’s location on the edge of one of Europe’s largest marine areas represents an opportunity for development because the international markets for functional food and ingredients are expanding.
At present, France, Britain, Spain, Germany and Italy buy approximately 70% of the seafood caught here. As I noted, one of the Cawley report’s principal recommendations pertains to the development of the aquaculture sector. However, the report has a wider remit. It constitutes a €300 million-plus plan for the seafood industry that was launched in January 2007. This money, which hopefully will be matched by an equivalent sum from the private sector, will be spent over the next six years as part of the national development plan. It aims to ensure that the seafood industry will generate more than €1 billion for the economy and the authors of the report were asked specifically to examine the poor state of the seafood processing industry, the need for a more innovative market-focused strategy to maximise value and to examine the significant imbalance between the declining levels of fish stocks and the size of our trawler fleet.
The key elements of the report are the recommendation to introduce a new scheme of financial incentives for the sector and for fishermen in particular to decommission their trawlers in the light of declining stocks. The report generally recommends a reduction of 45% in the numbers of fishermen and boats. This constitutes a significant reduction and obviously must be carried out in a careful manner with the economic interests and livelihoods of the fishermen at heart. However, the initial focus should be on the larger whitefish vessels that are more than 18m in
The report also advocated a much greater emphasis on aquaculture as a means of providing for the ever-growing demand for seafood products. It recommended the devolution of fisheries management and, importantly, the promotion of a seafood island marketing identity for Ireland. This would result in the sale of Irish seafood under its own brand in the same way that Irish butter or beef is sold. The aquaculture development programme to meet the continued demand for seafood on which the report concentrates is to be implemented by Bord Iascaigh Mhara in partnership with Údarás na Gaeltachta. As a member of the Government, the Green Party supports the emphasis placed by the strategy on funding what are called local collective actions by fish and shellfish farmers that are environmentally sustainable.
Another interesting feature of the Cawley report is its focus on the relationship between the fishing and seafood sectors and the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. It called for much greater co-ordination between the State agencies that support the industry. As I noted earlier, the transfer of the fisheries brief to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may be a positive development. It allows for a fresh start and a new look to be taken at the sector. However, the Cawley report highlighted some of the difficulties that arose from the dual developmental and regulatory functions of the former Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. Does the Minister of State believe that a conflict similar to that outlined in the Cawley report might arise in respect of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?
The report also emphasises the importance of good relationships between the sector and the responsible Department. Moreover, Dr. Cawley, who was one of the report’s authors, recommended the possible establishment of a new independent regulatory agency based in Clonakilty, County Cork, which would allow for a greater focus on policy and planning.
Some of the developments that the Green Party favours are touched on in the Cawley report. The party wants grant funding to the aquaculture sector to be increased to develop technological innovation and environmentally sustainable techniques, including organic farming, as well as diversification into new species. The Green Party also wants the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to continue to work with coastal communities to identify and designate suitable marine protected areas to allow for regeneration of stocks because the over-exploitation and significant reduction in fishing and seafood stocks at present is of major concern. Finally, concerns have been expressed by Opposition Members regarding the implementation of the strategy outlined in the Cawley report. The Green Party will support the recommendation that Dr. Cawley should chair the implementation group and ensure that the key recommendations of the report would be implemented in a timely fashion. Were this to be done, the report would hold out great possibilities for the development and continued viability of the important seafood sector in the economy.
Senator Paul Bradford: I also welcome the Minister of State to the House and wish him well in his important portfolio. While it is never too late to hold a debate on the fishing industry, Members have been late in beginning to discern what can be and must be done. More than 30 years have passed since Ireland joined the European Union and during that time, great strides were made in respect of the development of the agriculture and agrifood industries. Output has increased enormously and the number of people working in agriculture-related industry grew and peaked. Admittedly the numbers have now begun to level off. Simultaneously however, the fishing industry unfortunately appeared to work in reverse. The view has been expressed that in the debate on agriculture versus fisheries at European level, the fisheries industry lost out.
If one considers the matter from a political perspective, the manner in which responsibility for marine affairs has been moved around between Departments, as well as being named and renamed demonstrates that the industry has never received the political attention it deserved. It has been incorporated into different portfolios including Agriculture and Fisheries, Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Lands and Fisheries, Marine and Natural Resources, Defence and the Marine, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, as well as the Marine on its own for some time. The figures that Senator de Búrca has just cited demonstrate that this sector employs up to 11,000 people and has enormous export possibilities and potential. An industry of such significance certainly needs strong political leadership. However, that horse has bolted for the term of the present Government as responsibilities have been allocated to several different Departments. Nevertheless, we should revert to a single Department as soon as possible. Before the last general election, Fine Gael was committed to the creation of a full Cabinet Minister with responsibility for marine activities. While that has not occurred this time, I hope we soon will be in a position to establish a full Department of the marine with responsibility for all the issues under discussion in the House today, as well as many more that relate to the marine, aquaculture and fishermen nationwide.
The Cawley report offers the context for the present debate on fishing. From the point of view of the food industry, about which we spoke some weeks ago, there is a new willingness among people to consume fish. Fish is no longer a food for Friday, the first Friday of the month or Good Friday, which it might have been 30 years ago. It is part of the everyday diet. People associate fish with part of a good, healthy diet. We must take advantage of that change in people’s psychological assessment of fish to try to grow and sustain the industry however we can.
Sustainability is crucial. We must concede that we cannot fish the waters clear, allowing no scope for growth. Sustainability is referred to in the Cawley report. It is a contentious and difficult issue for any Government because there has been the perception in the Irish fishing industry that the rules, regulations and controls under which Irish fishermen operate have not applied to our main competitors. There is much truth in it this perception and this has made it difficult to promote a regime of sustainability, control and quotas. The quota issue can be emotive and sensitive, as we found with the milk quotas in agriculture. However the quota regime is necessary. We must approach this with the aim of keeping the maximum number of people fishing and boats in operation, and we must plan for the future.
Quota management must be approached differently. Fine Gael suggested examining an alternative quota management arrangement with a view to developing a management regime that would accurately reflect the state of our fleet and fish stocks. Regarding conservation we advocate a stakeholder-driven technical conservation measurement system aimed at protecting fish stocks, and this should be placed on the EU agenda. This is a finite resource and requires management. In putting those management structures in place from a quota perspective we must examine how the Irish industry has been mistreated not only by Europe but by every Government since 1973. We must, in so far as we can, repair some of the damage and ensure the industry survives.
The Cawley report and other Government initiatives have a major role to play, but there must be a new level of political support. Politics does not serve our fishermen and coastal communities well because they lack the political impact of agriculture, which is spread across the country and has a strong lobby in almost every constituency. We must take cognisance of that and make up for the political deficit by reflecting on the figures, the significance of the industry to the country, the exports, the jobs and the question of retaining coastal communities as living political and social entities. We claim to be an island with a maritime history. If we also want a maritime future, a greater degree of political significance and attention must be attached to this industry.
The Cawley report has come about as a result of wide consultation. One can never get wide consensus, but people such as Mr. Joey Murrin, who have given a lifetime of service to the industry, will be able to give a clear lead. We must respond in so far as we can to this report and its recommendations. Senator McCarthy made the point that we have had many reports and recommendations and now we need action. The Minister is committed to responding positively to this report and no further delay is necessary. I repeat my only political point, that we need one Department to take overall charge as soon as possible for cohesion of planning and implementation. However that is a battle for another day. I support the fishing industry and demand that it be taken seriously by all Members of this House in all the political parties to make up for what we have not done in the past 30 years.
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: As it is getting late and a number of the statistics I had planned to reveal have been mentioned, I will cut to the chase and pick out some points that have not been raised. I welcome the Minister of State. This time last year he achieved a large quota for the Irish fishing industry in the teeth of opposition and I wish him well in his forthcoming endeavours on that. The fishing industry is still very important to the Irish economy for its contribution to the gross national product and its employment potential, especially in rural, peripheral areas. I welcome this report because it singles out the fact that rural communities on the western seaboard have few other alternatives and it highlights the importance of fishing for them.
I will tell a sad, salutary tale which I hope will not be repeated. I have strong feelings on this because it deals with my forbears. Perhaps the Cathaoirleach is familiar with the village of the Cashen on the estuary of the River Feale in north Kerry. For centuries it had a thriving salmon industry. Salmon was caught by draft net, whereby one person stands on the bank with a net while others row a boat in the middle, and they bring in their haul of salmon. It goes back almost to the time of Jesus Christ.
When I was first elected a councillor 25 years ago, there was still great hope that this industry could flourish into the new millennium. In my foolishness as a young councillor it was one of my ideals that we would develop it and bank it, but finally I must virtually sing its requiem. That is a sad announcement for me to make.
There were many changes of Government during those decades of neglect, there was a reduction in the fishing season and wholesale slaughter of salmon by drift net fishermen and their monofilament nets. This industry kept a community going. It filled the pubs of Ballybunion on winter nights and the shops of Listowel. All that is gone. I thank the Minister for his initiative in commissioning this report to see if we can save and develop what is left of our industry.
The markets have been mentioned. As a businessman I know there is no point in having a product if one is unable to sell it at a profit. During the recent food health debate in this House, I criticised the fact that Irish whiskey is second in the international markets to Scotch, while everybody knows Irish whiskey is infinitely superior to the best Scotch. Likewise we see South American steak restaurants all over the world but no Irish steak restaurants. I see chains of Norwegian seafood bistros and delicatessens throughout Europe and see no reason Irish seafood should not be promoted. The Cawley report is committed to the idea of Ireland as a seafood nation.
On a lighter note, there is an excellent restaurant in Leinster House and, as one would expect, a fish dish is on the menu every day. However, it staggers me that seven times out of eight the fish is cod. Why is that? There is little profit in cod for Irish fishermen and most of that cod is imported. I am sure cod is good for one.  The general public thinks it is all a cod in here so let us not reinforce that misapprehension.
I contacted some of my friends in Fenit this morning. Their dilemma is that if they are fishing for oysters and lobsters in season, they must get two separate permits and two separate boats. That is ridiculous. The Minister should examine this anomaly. With due deference to my colleague from Donegal, a bugbear of the southern fishermen is that their boats are not as big as those of the fishermen in Killybegs who get approximately 75% of our quota. There should be a more equitable distribution of quota between the big operators, who usually bring their catch ashore in the Shetlands, Norway or such places, and our fishermen who bring their catch ashore to O’Catháin Iasc in Dingle.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I thank Senator O’Sullivan for sharing time with me. One can say little in four minutes; this debate should have been much longer. The marine industry deserves far more support that it receives but I am glad we have a Minister at the helm who will fight the cause again in the near future.
When I was first elected there was a review of the white fish fleet. At that time 28 boats of over 15 metres were operating full time out of Greencastle. There are now nine and some of them are reported to be either getting involved in the decommissioning scheme or selling their boats. That is the other side of the decommissioning scheme. If we are trying to ensure the boats are safer, we must have unsafe boats removed from the fleet. For that reason I welcome the decommissioning scheme. Many of the boats being built by McDonald’s in Greencastle are destined for the in-shore crab fisheries, so there is life in the in-shore sector. As the crab stock increases we could see fishing becoming a seasonal activity, as occurs with the wild oysters. In that eventuality it would be necessary to talk to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, about whether the rural social scheme could be extended to deal with that.
After a reasonable decommissioning scheme there must be a future for small modern fleets. Last night I spoke in the House about a reasonable quota. Quotas must always be fought for but 13% of the catch or 1.332 million tonnes of fish is discarded. The dead fish discard is a dead investment for everybody. It is important that we deal with this. It appears that if something is seen to be of less value, it does not matter if it is dumped. I do not agree with that. There is a place for everything. In Spain, spider crab is a delicacy and valuable commodity. Yet, a couple of years ago my sister-in-law and I walked to Greencastle and we saw spider crabs littered around the harbour. They were seen as inferior in this country. One person’s gold, therefore, is somebody else’s piece of dirt. We must sell the image of what we have and how important it is. Furthermore, we must get what is considered valuable in other countries to those countries and make a profit from it.
If we intend to have a small modern fleet, it is important that it does not become a closed shop. There must be a method for new entrants to get into the industry and onto the first rung of the ladder. It has been suggested that BIM could be given the task of buying a small amount of tonnage which could be held in the Government’s name and leased to properly trained young people who are setting up their boats. When that period expires, they should be encouraged or even forced to buy replacement capacity on the open market. New entrants need some degree of support when getting into the industry. Alternatively, a retirement scheme should be introduced which would allow fishermen to take early retirement in return for handing over their boat or capacity to a properly trained young person. It would be a farm retirement scheme for fishermen.
I welcome the announcement today by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, that a new monitoring vessel will be provided for the Foyle area and Carlingford. It will be used for scientific monitoring and data collection and I trust it will be a positive development for the Foyle. Policing is one matter and collecting scientific data is something different. If this development is geared to working with the fishermen and to support their work, it is good.
I also welcome the 2008 to 2013 marine tourism strategy for the Foyle and Carlingford Lough. It will help in terms of access infrastructure, marine tourism, recreational fisheries and skills training through local partnerships. It will involve significant investment and regeneration for the Foyle. Moville community college has worked in tandem with the boat building industry in Greencastle to ensure that transition year students can learn the trade of fishing. It is important to think about the future in the context of modern technology and skills and a reduced fleet to match the reduced quotas. We should support the young people in keeping the tradition of fishing alive.
The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, was in Greencastle recently and saw the National Fisheries College. If we are to develop our rivers and oceans for marine recreation, we must open the facilities we have, such as the National Fisheries College, to people so they can learn about safety. We must also continue to support the rescue services. There have been many losses and tragedies but there have also been individual cases of suicide and the rescue services have been there. We must continue to support them in their broad range of activities.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy John Browne): I thank Members for facilitating this debate on the future of our indigenous fishing industry. I also thank Senators for their contributions and their positive response to the Cawley report. This report is the bible of the seafood industry for the future and it has received a general welcome in the House. I am also pleased Senator Keaveney has received good news about the Foyle. She has been fighting that for many years and I am sure she is pleased with the news today.
Senator Twomey raised the issue of research and development. Dr. Cawley produced a wide-ranging report on research, the development of new products, the creation of value added products, the improvement of quality, presentation and market research. He raised these issues in the report with the objective of maximising return from a sustainable fishery. We will proceed in implementing the thoughts and views of the report.
Senator O’Donovan welcomed the fact that the report was drawn up in consultation with the fishing industry. This was a key success of the report. We asked Dr. Cawley to draw up a seafood strategy for the future and to do so in conjunction with the sea fishing industry. He toured the country and, I am sure, had many debates, discussions and battles with the industry. However, I believe the industry had confidence in Dr. Cawley and, as a result, we have a strategy that has been drawn up with the involvement of the fishing industry. That is as it should be. Senator O’Donovan encouraged the fishing industry to work with Dr. Cawley and it is important that the strategy we have now is focused on what the industry wanted.
Senator O’Donovan also raised the issue of the increasing cost of fuel. I understand its impact in terms of profitability on fishing operations. Supports in the form of grants and schemes for more effective fishing gear are already in place. The high fuel costs will continue for some time and the Government’s strategy is to address the fundamental issues in the sector through the removal of vessels from the fleet, thus making the remaining vessels more profitable as they will be permitted to land greater catches. It will also work with the industry to increase the value of the fish landed through a range of measures such as improved quality of landed fish, increased value added and focusing on the marketing of fish. The industry made a submission on the implications of the cost of fuel but, as Senators are aware, state aid is subject to what the EU decides. The matter of subsidies for French fishermen was raised, but doing things differently is the way forward. Senator McCarthy raised the issue of which Department should have responsibility for the fishing industry. Based on the Cawley report and the issues raised therein, I advocated, as a Minister of State in the outgoing Government, that it should be the responsibility of the then Department of Agriculture and Food. Fish is a food-based industry and it is only right that it should be based there. In addition, most EU countries have a Minister who deals with agriculture, food and fisheries, and now we have a similar set-up. It will result in better operations which will be advantageous to the industry. In addition, representatives of the fishing industry itself had requested that responsibility for the industry be given a permanent home, suggesting the Department of Agriculture and Food as being the most suitable place. The Taoiseach took that on board when he was making his decision.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of cockle fisheries. This is one of many traditional inshore fisheries and has been very important to coastal communities in my area and other parts of the country. The Government is committed to sustainable development of the cockle industry. Up to a year ago there was no management plan for this industry. I initiated a plan, but the current Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, who took over during the changeover, had to sign it off, and then we got into difficulties. The management plan is the way forward. Cockle fishing is a traditional industry which has been in existence since before the time of Molly Malone. We are speaking of a plan for managing an industry on which families depend. People earn an income from cockle fishing. We must strike a balance between the livelihoods of families and protection of the environment. I hope the cockle fishing industry will continue well into the future. We do not need Coastwatch or NGOs to tell us how to run the industry. They are entitled to give their opinion, but we must make decisions based on sustainability and we will continue to do so.
Senator O’Donovan wants to know whether I push Molly Malone’s barrow. No, although I did in the past. Senator de Búrca made a valuable contribution in which she spoke about dividing the regulatory functions of Government with regard to seafood. We have already done that by setting up the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, which was recommended in the Cawley report. The Government accepted that recommendation and the authority is now in place. We will be dealing effectively with the industry in the future.
I thank all Senators, including Senators O’Sullivan and Keaveney, for their contributions. We will certainly consider the issues raised and we will work closely with Dr. Cawley. We have set up an implementation group which we wanted to keep independent and we asked him to stay on as chairman of the group. He is working with the industry and has had about four meetings with its representatives to date. We hope to see the fruits of this work early in the new year with the commencement of decommissioning and other strategies which he is anxious to implement as soon as possible.
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