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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Feb 1937

Vol. 65 No. 1

Public Business. - Whale Fisheries Bill, 1936—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be read a Second Time.

This is a Bill to preserve whale calves while we are destroying the lives of cow calves.

Dr. Ryan

I think the Deputy might reserve his witticisms for a few minutes until I tell him what it is all about. The Bill is intended to fulfil two general purposes. The first is to bring up to date the domestic legislation relating to whale fisheries which has not been dealt with since 1908, and the second is to carry out the terms of an international conven tion signed at Geneva in 1931. The Whale Fisheries (Ireland) Act was passed in 1908 when a whaling station was started in Inishkea off our west coast. The second station was opened in Blacksod Bay in 1910. These stations operated on part of the stock of Arctic whales which frequented the deep water between our north-west coast and Rockall, about 200 miles to the north-west. These whale fisheries have not been worked for some time. The principal whale fisheries that are being worked at the present time are in the Antarctic. The control of these deep sea whale fisheries can only be made effective by international conventions. In July, 1930, the first proposals for a convention were circulated by the League of Nations, drawn up by the Economic Committee of that body. The convention was signed by the various nations on the 24th September, 1931. This Bill is in part to ratify that convention, and in part, as I have already said, to bring the provisions already embodied in the 1908 Act again into operation and up to date. At the present stage I do not think it is necessary for me to deal with the various sections of the Bill.

In this country the present Government has been responsible for three classes of calves. We have the calves of the white elephants which have cost this community £2,000,000 a year, and the calves of the cattle whose destruction cost this country from £10,000,000 to £15,000,000 a year. Now we have the whale calves, and of these the Minister has very little to tell us.

It would be idle for me, or I believe for any other member of the House, to pretend that we have any expert knowledge in regard to this matter of whale fisheries. I understand from the Minister that the Bill is largely designed to implement an agreement arrived at at the League of Nations between interested parties. The only general questions in which I am interested in an academic way are these: first, what is the exact origin of the expression a "right whale," and secondly, what information is the Minister in a position to give us as to the general prospects of the whale industry in the world? We have seen in a variety of publications that in certain waters the extermination of the whale was imminent, and that very drastic measures were being taken to try and avert that catastrophe. I believe myself that some agreements were entered into between the Norwegian and British Governments with a view to preventing the extermination of whales in the North Sea and that area. I would be glad to know if the Minister can say if there is any prospect of the whale industry being developed on our shores; if so, whether it may be expected to have any substantial value; and, if it is, how it is intended to exploit that potential value, and, in the event of the Government sponsoring any scheme for the exploitation of whale fisheries in the neighbourhood of our territory, whether he can tell us what reactions on the whale industry of Saorstát Eireann the depredations in the North Sea, to which I have referred, are likely to have? Whaling used to be an immensely valuable business before the development of the travelling factory in the form of these immense boats which can capture whales and reduce them to their constituent parts at sea. Since then, I understand, the profits to be made by anybody, except those in the business in a very large way, are comparatively small, and I understand that that development destroyed whatever whaling industry was going on in this country. I should like to know whether the Minister intends to enter into competition with that type of whaling, and, if so, will the Government have to intervene to assist the industry by way of guaranteed loans or some other form of preliminary encouragement, or if he thinks it worth while doing that at all?

I think that the Second Reading of this Bill is an occasion on which the Minister might go a little further than merely saying that this is a Bill to implement the findings of the League of Nations. I think that he might avail of this occasion to give us a brief review of the whaling industry with reference to its Irish associations, and tell us what prospects he sees for Ireland before that industry in the immediate future.

Might I ask why does it take five-and-a-half years to bring in these boats, in the agreement referred to?

To give the whales time to grow.

I should like to know what is meant by such expressions, in the definition section of this Bill, as "the exclusive fishery limits of Saorstát Eireann" and "sea fisheries protection officer." There are parts of my constituency in which there is a continuous contest as to the ownership of fisheries. These people have to get licences from the conservators, who are functioning under the Minister, and when they go out to fish, they are fired upon by officers of the Foyle and Bann Fishery Company. I take it that, in Lough Foyle, there would not be very much use in fishing there for whales, whether young or old. I rather object to this Bill entirely. Apparently, it is a Bill to implement an international convention, and I take it that the maritime powers who are parties to this convention do not adhere to the rights inherent in the citizens of this State by remaining outside the territorial waters of this State, and I should like to have a guarantee from these other States that they would enforce this thing with regard to their own nationals fishing off our coasts. Why should we oblige them? Why should it be lawful for us to do this or that, or that it should be unlawful for us to do this or that, when these other people can come and break all the laws of this State and infringe on the fundamental rights of the citizens of this State?

Here we have this Bill, the object of which, apparently, is to bring us into harmony with other States. What interest have we in whale fishing? What interest are we likely to have in it? None whatever. So far as I see, there is no country interested in whale fishing except countries with large industrial populations where whale oil is used for the purpose of converting it into human food. If we were to do that in this country, it would mean bringing the whale oil into competition with one of our basic products in this country, which is butter, and I do not see any hope of us in this country needing whale oil for that purpose. On the contrary, we have these other countries who want this whale oil and who want to protect it, and yet they will not recognise or honour the elementary rights of the citizens of this State, and the Government will not enforce the rights of the citizens of this State against these other people.

I should much prefer that this House should take some formal action in this matter. It should not be allowed by the House to drop and become obsolete, and some definite and formal action should be taken against these people in connection with the International Convention of which this is a counterpart. I think the Minister must have very little to do in obliging these people, who are usurping the rights of the citizens of this State at every opportunity they can get. Lobster fishing, herring fishing, salmon fishing —everything they can do to destroy the fishery of this country, they do, so far as the citizens of this State are concerned, because, in the main, our fishermen are equipped with small vessels that can only go a few miles from shore. As a result, the livelihood of our fishermen is being destroyed by the citizens of the States that are the other parties to this convention. This House is being asked to accommodate these people and to protect them and, at the same time, to penalise our own people by preventing them from any attempt to break the articles of this convention.

I think this is a very useless performance. The fishermen down at Lough Foyle, who use fishing for their livelihood, have to get a licence from the conservators, who are functioning under the Minister, in order to fish, and they dare not go 20 yards from the shore or they are fired on by the Foyle and Bann Fishery Company, their boats destroyed or confiscated, and their nets taken, and the men themselves physically assaulted. Great Britain, Denmark and other countries are parties to this convention, but what respect have they for us? Great Britain, apparently, so far as the Foyle and Bann Fishery Company are concerned, are condoning everything that is being done in Lough Foyle against the citizens of this State, but the Minister is so benevolent as to waste the money of this State in introducing this Bill and passing it into law, and then, when it is passed, apparently, a new Department will have to be set up, because licences have to be issued, and this, that and the other thing have to be done under this Bill in order to oblige these people who trample on our rights every day in the week whenever an opportunity presents itself. We have the citizens of this State being battered and hammered down in Lough Foyle under the protection of England, who is a party to this convention, and we have the French trawlers and the fishermen of other countries coming to our shores and taking away the meagre livelihood possessed by our citizens.

One almost feels inclined to sneer at the elaborate provisions of this Bill. In the definition section we have such expressions as "shore factories,""exclusive fishery limits of Saorstát Eireann," and so on. We are told that the "expression ‘the exclusive fishery limits of Saorstát Eireann' means that portion of the seas within which citizens of Saorstát Eireann have, by international law, the exclusive right of fishing and where such portion is defined by the terms of any convention, treaty or arrangement for the time being in force," and so on. What are the exclusive rights vested in the citizens of Saorstát Eireann? I should like to hear from the Minister now definitely what these exclusive rights are. Are there any exclusive rights vested in any citizens of Saorstát Eireann? Is there any protected area in which I can say that I will go out and fish there and the citizens of no other country can go on that territory? Is there such a place? If there is, why does not the Minister enforce the law down in Lough Foyle? Then we have a provision to the effect that—

"where a whale which has been lawfully shot at and struck shall carry with it a fixed line into the exclusive fishery limits of Saorstát Eireann, nothing in the section concerned shall make it unlawful to continue the pursuit of such whale and to kill it within the exclusive fishery limits of Saorstát Eireann."

That is a very subtle sub-section. It is like the defence that is put up by the poachers along our shores when they are fishing for lobsters and say that they were not within the three-mile limit. Anybody can fish, apparently, for whales within the three-mile limit and he shall have a good defence under this sub-section if he is able to say: "We struck this whale outside the three-mile limit and we went to catch it in somebody's back garden in Saorstát Eireann." That apparently is not unlawful.

I wonder who invented that section? What genius thought of that? It shall be unlawful for any person to go on board a ship of Saorstát Eireann, a fishing ship, the Muirchu probably, and from there shoot a whale outside or inside the waters of Saorstát Eireann. There is apparently plenty of water around Saorstát Eireann, but before this Bill is finished I should like to hear the amount owned by Saorstát Eireann defined. This whole fishing business, as far as enforcing and administering the rights of this country are concerned, is a joke. This measure, with its enormous machinery, not to frustrate foreign countries but to frustrate the citizens of our own country, is introduced to prevent our fishermen doing this, that and the other thing. The fishermen in Innishowen are not to fish in the Foyle for salmon according to the Foyle and Bann people, and apparently they are not to fish for whales in it according to the instructions that the officers of the Department will get when this Bill becomes law. This whole territory will become an entirely neutral zone. Across the lough, at Magilligan Strand, there will be a possé of officers belonging to the Foyle and Bann people to see that our fishermen do not go out to fish for salmon. On our own side, our own officers will be there to see that the fishermen do not go out to fish for a calf whale. What a sensation will pass over the district when they hear of the contents of this Bill! I think we could get plenty to do that would be of benefit to the country instead of wasting the time of the House and the money of the taxpayers in introducing legislation of this kind.

Dr. Ryan

I was asked by Deputy MacDermot why there was such a long delay in bringing in the Bill. Perhaps I might also answer Deputy McMenamin's point in regard to that matter by saying that I do not look upon this Bill as of great importance and that it was only when what I might call the more urgent business had been disposed of that this Bill was taken on. However, there was another reason.

What about our own Fishing Bill that you promised long ago?

Dr. Ryan

That will come too. There are certain ships registered in this country for whaling. If the Deputy will examine the Bill closely he will see that the Bill is not so much directed against the citizens of Saorstát Eireann as it is against Saorstát ships—quite a different matter. As a matter of fact, Saorstát ships might not be manned by Saorstát citizens.

Like Saorstát industries.

Dr. Ryan

I do not know if the Deputy can make a very strong point about that. However, it can be dealt with at another time. I was asked by Deputy Dillon what "right whale" means. I find it very difficult to define what "right whale" means because it is defined in a peculiar way in the various countries. In America it includes a North Atlantic whale, a Pacific whale, and so on. It looks therefore as if it is a seaman's term. Every seaman will refer to the whale he has been accustomed to harpoon and capture as a "right whale."

The peculiar thing is that some of them are described as "Atlantic right whales."

Dr. Ryan

The Schedule has a varying definition.

One could understand the expression "right whale," but when you come to describe one as an "Atlantic right whale" and another as a "Greenland right whale" it makes the thing rather obscure.

Dr. Ryan

That is true. Deputy McMenamin speaks of pursuing a whale inside our fishing limits. I do not know very much about whales. Although I do not know very much about whales, I read a book once about one famous whale called Moby Dick, and I know it is possible for a whale to travel quite a distance after being harpooned or shot. A lot of them would travel from outside the exclusive fishery limits to within the limits.

And then the fishermen would start taking lobster.

Dr. Ryan

We shall deal with that. It would be too much to expect that those in pursuit of a whale should take their bearings just outside the fishery limits and stop at that moment to see where the whale has gone.

Why should they not?

Dr. Ryan

They would not have time. If Deputy McMenamin were in pursuit of a whale, he would have other things to think of besides taking his bearings on the different coast lines. I do not know how the Deputy can make an analogy with the case of the lobsters. Surely they do not pursue lobsters inside the fishing limits? The lobster does not travel as quickly as the whale.

Would the Minister permit me to give him an example? Take the example of the Minister out shooting. If he goes along a barbed wire fence, and shoots a bird which falls on the other side of the fence into another man's property, it is illegal for him to cross the fence to take the bird.

Dr. Ryan

I know.

But you will allow the Norwegians and others to travel inside our exclusive fishing limits to take a whale.

Dr. Ryan

I am obliged to the Deputy for that point in law. I understand that point about shooting over the fence, but that is quite a different matter. In shooting a bird the Deputy can stand and look where the bird falls and he can consider whether he should take a chance in breaking the law. If, however, the Deputy had a harpoon attached to a whale, he would not have very much time to consider what was going to happen next, at least as far as I understand it. It is a very dangerous business.

It is a good thing to oblige all these foreigners.

Dr. Ryan

There is no necessity whatever for that. If we take any of the European Governments whose nationals are alleged to have done a certain amount of poaching here, without making any bargain, if we can find out definitely that any particular ship has poached and report that particular crew to the Government concerned, that Government will give them the necessary order not to do it again. Deputy Dillon asked if there was any prospect of development. I do not think so under the new conditions. As I said already, there were ships away back in 1908 to 1910 doing whaling along the West coast. They did give some employment, but the present ships are merely registered here. They have no Irish nationals on them. They do their fishing in the Antarctic, and they spend their profits somewhere else. They are of no advantage to this country. I do not know whether there is any possibility of developing an industry of that kind here again.

In reply to Deputy McMenamin, I cannot improve upon the definition of "exclusive fishery limits" given in the Bill.

Would the Minister tell me what definition he gives?

Dr. Ryan

I shall read it for the Deputy:

The expression "the exclusive fishery limits of Saorstát Eireann" means that portion of the seas within which citizens of Saorstát Eireann have, by international law, the exclusive right of fishing and where such portion is defined by the terms of any convention, treaty or arrangement for the time being in force made between Saorstát Eireann and any other State includes as regards the ships and subjects of such State the portion so defined.

I am not trained in law and the Deputy is. I take it he understands that definition.

Is Lough Foyle within the "exclusive fishery limits" of Saorstát Eireann?

The wording of this Bill would suggest that there were some whales in the immediate neighbourhood of this island. There used to be. Am I right in saying that, as a matter of fact, whaling is now done in the Arctic and Antarctic and that whaling in the immediate vicinity of this island has ceased for all practical purposes?

Dr. Ryan

Under modern conditions of whaling, it is only possible to carry it out in the Antarctic, where whales are plentiful.

The only effective part of the Bill, then, is that part which gives the Government power to compel the master of a whaler to extract all the oil from all the parts of the fish and not to jettison a large part of the whale which might not yield oil as abundantly as the blubber does.

Dr. Ryan

For the moment, no whaling is being done around these islands. Under this Bill, if anybody comes on to our register here and goes to the Antarctic for whaling, we can enforce the conditions that are being enforced by other countries which have a greater interest in this matter than we have.

The Minister did not make that clear. Observe what is going to happen now. We have no fishery control at the moment. Great Britain has a big system for controlling whale fisheries. So has Norway, and so have all the Baltic countries. If any parties now want to engage in the industry by capturing the whale, extracting the oil and jettisoning the bulk of the whale carcase, they can come in and register their boats here. They will then be subject to our Department of Fisheries. British and Norwegian ships, if they want to escape the pains and penalties imposed by their Governments for improper fishing, can come in and register here. We, having passed this resolution and undertaken to employ League of Nations methods of treatment for whales, may be faced with the obligation of setting up elaborate whale-fishing inspection arrangements in order to enforce the law in respect of whale fishing, which is not conducted in the immediate vicinity of our island, but in the Antarctic. The supervision of whale fishing is a very expensive business. It means that you have to put an inspector on every whaler. The day is gone when a fleet of small whaling vessels went out. Nowadays the mother vessel goes out. It is really a factory vessel and it is accompanied by a number of subsidiary boats, on each of which it will be necessary to have an inspector.

Could not the warble fly inspectors be used for this purpose?

They will be too busy until after the election.

There may be an influx of whalers for registration in the Port of Dublin if they can take themselves out of the jurisdiction of the Baltic and British Governments and place themselves under the jurisdiction of our Government. If we accept responsibility for this Bill, shall we not have to enforce the law?

Dr. Ryan

The Deputy is quite right in what he says. To avoid the penalties in their own countries, whalers might come here and register. But they will have to pay a licensing fee which will cover the expense of inspection.

Is it the Minister's intention to fix a substantial fee for the registration of foreign vessels?

Dr. Ryan


Question put, and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, 10th February.