Committee on Finance. - Vote 53.—Fisheries.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £32,081 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chum bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1940, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí i dtaobh Iascach Mara agus Intíre, maraon le hIldeontaisí-i-gCabhair.

That a sum not exceeding £32,081 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1940, for salaries and expenses in connection with sea and inland fisheries, including sundry grants-in-aid.

The estimate as a whole shows an increase of £9,989 on the expenditure side and a decrease of £1,303 in Appropriations-in-Aid, making a net increase of £11,292 on the amount voted last year. On sub-head A, salaries, wages and allowances, there is a reduction of £890 on last year's figure. This reduction is mainly due to the permanent dropping of the two posts of fishery superintendents, one of the holders of these was seconded to the Sea Fisheries Association several years ago, and the other has died since last year. There is no further necessity to replace these men in the Department of Fisheries. Three junior posts on the administrative staff have lapsed through the discontinuance of bounties on fish exports.

Under sub-head B a sum of £75 more than last year is provided to cover the anticipated increase in travelling expenses and subsistence payments. Sub-heads C and D call for no comment. They are about the same as last year. I might say that no provision is made in this Estimate for any additions to the technical staff which may be found necessary, assuming that the Fisheries Bill at present before the House is enacted during the current financial year. It is not likely, of course, that there will be any increase of staff until very near the end of the year in any case. It is hoped to make the necessary orders to commence operations and take over those fisheries. That would mean the employment of a survey staff, but it is, as I say, very unlikely that we will commence operations before the end of the financial year.

The E group of Sea Fisheries sub-heads comes next. Sub-head E (1) shows just a slight reduction on last year's figures, and sub-head E (2) shows no change. Sub-head E (5) has also been reduced a few pounds from the previous figures. I am asking £3,400 more this year than last year for sub-head B in connection with the hire and running expenses of the second fishery cruiser, which is on charter since November, 1937. Last year I was not so sure about the second cruiser. She was on trial and charter. Now that she has given a fair trial, we feel that she serves the purpose very well. I am asking for the full amount for the entire financial year. I would like to say that since the second cruiser has been taken on, the number of complaints with regard to poaching by foreign trawlers has very definitely decreased. These cruisers have also helped to enforce the Act passed in 1937, the main purpose of which was to deter our fishermen as far as possible from landing immature fish.

Sub-head E (4) is down by £515 on last year's figures. This sub-head comprises the direct cost of administering the Whale Fisheries Act, 1937, under which we undertook certain international obligations with regard to whale fisheries. If any whale catcher registers here, we must pay the officer on board the catcher in the Antarctic to see that the Act is carried out in every way. The reduction this year in this sub-head is due to the post of assistant sea fisheries protection officer having been suppressed. The assistant has now become an officer. It was purely a training post last year. There are three such officers employed on this job watching the whale fisheries in the Antarctic.

These three officers are employed seasonally on whale factory ships which operate in the Antarctic and which are registered in this country. It is very hard to give an estimate of what we may spend on this sub-head this year, because we do not know whether any ships will register here. As against these charges we collect, if registered here, fees off these vessels. The fees collected are more than sufficient to pay the officers that are put on board, so that there is a slight profit in watching the whalers in the Antarctic. A factory ship is usually accompanied by seven or eight catchers. The vessels that catch the whales do not do the factory portion. In some cases the catchers are registered in England, and the whale factory ship is registered here. In such cases the British Government has, so far, remitted to us the greater portion of the licence fees collected by them from those whale catchers. Otherwise we would have been paying the officer on the catcher and they would be collecting the fees without having to pay anything. In these cases there has been an adjustment, and the British Government has paid a certain amount as a contribution towards our expenses. It is largely owing to that that we have been able to make a slight profit on the administration. The amount paid by the British Government is shown as an extra Exchequer receipt. It amounts in the current financial year to £800. The item will be found at the bottom of page 233 of the printed Estimates.

As regards the F. group of sub-heads, which deals with inland fisheries, there was only one appreciable change as compared with last year's Vote. Sub-head F (1) (4), which is up by £500, provides for payments to local authorities under Section 13 of the Fisheries Act, 1925. The basis of these disbursements is somewhat complex. It depends upon the inter-relation of the budgets of local authorities that formerly received as poor rate what is now the fishery rate. The total recoupment, which is determined by a Sealed Order of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, has shown a tendency to rise, and so an increased provision is being made this year.

Now I come to Group G—the Sea Fisheries Association sub-heads. As a whole the group shows an increase of £7,000 on last year's Vote. Deputies may recollect that last year's provision was deliberately made a restricted figure, because I was not prepared to ask for larger provision until I had been satisfied as to the outcome of certain discussions then in progress with the directors of the association concerning future policy. The association has since furnished replies to the queries raised upon its working methods by the inter-departmental committee which had been examining that question, and I am hopeful that improved results may henceforth be expected.

Sub-head G (3)—Advances for Boats and Gear—has been restored to the figure of £10,000, at which it had stood prior to the exceptional conditions of last year's Estimate. As a matter of fact, we had to find £1,500 more than the £5,000 voted last year, towards the end of the financial year, for this purpose, and we got that from savings on other sub-heads. It is by funds advanced out of the provision on sub-head G (3) that the fishermen are enabled to get boats and gear on the hire purchase. Deputies who represent maritime counties are aware that the average inshore fisherman has little, if any, capital and, therefore, the association's purchase system has to be financed. The figure for sub-head G (4)—Advances for General Development—has been cut down to £1,000. The money advanced under this sub-head is repayable on the principle that the work for which such advances are made are of a nature more or less permanent, as distinct from the experimental operations for which grants are provided under sub-head G (2). At the present time the bulk of the works undertaken by the association under this sub-head are more or less experimental, and therefore it is natural that the provision under sub-head G (4) should be only a fraction of that under G (2).

The Appropriations-in-Aid show an aggregate decrease of some £1,300 upon last year's figure, and £100 of this decrease is under Item 2—Repayment of Fishery Loans. There are still heavy arrears outstanding on loans issued in the days before the Sea Fisheries Association was established. As the years go on we find it more difficult to retrieve anything on foot of these debts, and so we have to budget for less receipts from the debtors this year than last.

Item 4 shows the expected proceeds of lettings of sporting rights in the hands of my Department, and of the State fisheries whose upkeep is provided for under sub-head F (3). This item is down by £200. This is largely explained by the fact that one tenant, who recently was leased one of these properties, owned by the Department, has entered into a certain agreement to carry out extensive improvements in the shooting lodge in lieu of rent for the first year. We are budgeting under item 5 for an increase of £300 in repayments by the Sea Fisheries' Association of the advances made to them for boats and gear under Sub-head G (3) and for general development under Sub-head G (4). There is a relatively big drop of nearly £300 in the figure for item 6, which represents what we expect to get in respect of special local licenses for netting in the Erne and the Owenea estuaries. The salmon seasons of 1937 and 1938 were bad, not only in this country, but over the countries of north-west Europe generally. Fewer licences, no doubt, will be applied for in 1939. The receipts from special local licences are offset by payments amounting to £600 to boards of conservators which have been provided for in the 5th item of Sub-head F (1). As regards item (7) of Appropriations-in-Aid which has fallen by £150, I have already referred to this when dealing with the Whale Fisheries Sub-head— E (4). The item—Repayment of Salaries of Officers seconded for service with the Sea Fisheries' Association—which has appeared for some years past, is no longer necessary for the reasons which I gave when speaking on sub-head A.

It will be appropriate for me to say a few words with regard to the revival of deep-sea trawling by the company engaging in that business from the Port of Dublin. It is true that the group of businessmen who undertook this revival last year have found themselves faced with many difficulties; but it looks as if they will eventually be justified of their enterprise. While it is too early yet to make a definite pronouncement on the subject, I think the following few figures speak for themselves:—(a) our imports of fresh and frozen fish were for the first quarter, 1938, 46,890 cwts; and for the first quarter, 1939, 24,499 cwts. (b) The number of Dublin steam trawlers working in March/April, 1938, was two, and in March/April, 1939, was eight. (c) Total landings by Dublin steam trawlers were in April, 1938, 555 cwts., and in April, 1939, 4,065 cwts. It is true that in April, 1938, there were landings made at Dublin by foreign trawlers totalling 2,344 cwts.; but, adding that figure to the 555 cwts. then landed by the Dublin trawlers, we have a total of 2,899 cwts; and the present year's figure of 4,065 cwts. represents a very big increase on that basis. I think that covers all the sub-heads.

Mr. Brennan

One would like to be able to compliment the Minister on a thriving industry, so far as fisheries are concerned, but I do not suppose that we can do that. It would be too much to expect that we could. I am afraid we were scarcely prepared for what appears to me to be rather a declining service more than anything else. We have an Estimate introduced by the Minister, and he put the best colour that he could on it and yet it seems bad. It seems a puzzle why we cannot do better with the fisheries. I am not blaming the Minister or the Department, but there appears to be something radically wrong and nobody, so far, appears to have touched the right spot in order to put it going. We are surrounded by the sea and we have a lot of people living by fishing one way or the other. It seems the living they make out of fishing is very precarious.

The one hopeful thing I heard the Minister say was that since the chartering of a second ship for the protection of the fisheries the complaints have been lessened. I wonder is the Minister still satisfied that he has checked poaching? If he has not, would it not be good business to engage another, and yet another protection vessel—that is, if the foreign trawlers are still coming here and taking our fish? On the whole, I do not think the Minister has impressed the House with his account of the Department's activities. We find that it is a declining service, and it seems extraordinary that while we make provision for new boats and gear to the extent of £10,000, we are estimating for a smaller sum in the repayment of fishery loans.

I do not know exactly what he said by way of justification for that, but it does not appear to me to be a justification for the sum provided annually. I could understand that some of the old loans had got musty, and that he could not expect them to come in every year. Perhaps the Minister is expecting less repayments every year. Can the Minister account for that?

With regard to the Sea Fisheries' Association, is the Minister satisfied that we are getting value for the money spent there? There have been complaints with regard to the supply of fish. I notice that £29,000 is being provided for the Association this year. I do not know what return will be got for that. The Minister also stated that foreign trawlers are not allowed to land fish here. Why? I understand that we are importing a good deal of fish and that there are complaints about supplies. Why are foreign trawlers not allowed to land fish here instead of getting supplies in in another way? I am sure there is some reason for the present arrangement, but I would like to have the Minister's explanation. The Minister stated that he is not making provision for the operation of the new Act. I suppose the Department does not know what the Act will entail, but I hope its operations will not be delayed too long. Presumably, it will be impossible to have it in operation for the summer, but there should be no delay about putting it into operation.

The Minister dealt with catches registered in England and catches registered here. Is the Minister satisfied that we are getting a proper share from the British? It appears from the Appropriations-In-Aid that the Minister is estimating for very much reduced sums next year. I wonder why he is doing that. I should like to hear his explanation. On the whole, it is really depressing that we have not got further with our fisheries. I do not know whether the position is as hopeless as it looks, but from the little information I have gathered from reading, it does not appear to be very hopeful. I shall be glad to hear from the Minister if he thinks the industry can be put on some sort of a decent footing, or whether he requires more assistance in the way of protection, or the chartering of another cruiser. If so, I do not see why that should not be done, in case the fault may be there. At any rate some effort should be made to put the industry on a sound footing.

There is one point to which I wish to call the Minister's attention, and that concerns the poor state of the inland fisheries. I do not know if the Minister is aware of the fact that there is considerable agitation in the constituency I represent, North Cork, and complaints are made by the urban councils of Fermoy and Mallow that salmon fishing in the Blackwater has practically died out, to the great loss of the people in that area. There is a loss in more than one direction, because people with fishing rights there got substantial sums in the past by letting these rights, but naturally visitors who took fishing there will not come again unless they can catch salmon. A considerable amount of employment was given by visitors who leased fishery rights along the Blackwater. I want to bring it to the notice of the Minister and the Department that the belief in that area is that the decline of salmon fishing in the Blackwater is due to the operation of a weir at Lismore. The urban councils of Mallow and Fermoy discussed the matter during the past week, and serious complaints were made regarding the losses that resulted by the condition of salmon fishing in the Blackwater. They contend that it is due to a weir which is owned privately at Lismore, and that the salmon cannot get up the river. I made inquires when I got these resolutions, and I am satisfied that there is some foundation for the complaints. I understand the weir is owned by a private company, or by an estate, and that it is so narrow, and worked in such a way that the owners need only let up whatever fish they wish, and that as a result the upper reaches will be denuded of salmon if the weir continues to be operated as at present.

I ask the Minister at the first opportunity to get the Department to look into the matter. From inquiries I have made, I am satisfied that salmon fishing on the Blackwater during the past year was at a disgracefully low ebb, and that that has meant a loss to people who own fishery rights along the river and who got substantial sums for them. When people who leased these rights caught scarcely any fish, it cannot be expected that they will come next year and pay the same rents, if they cannot catch salmon. Those interested in fishing are absolutely satisfied that the denudation is caused by the operations of this weir. I do not wish to press the matter further now, because I assume that it will be possible for the Minister, in the Bill which is to be introduced, to take power to deal with it. Before any further complaints are made, I suggest that the Department should, at least, investigate the position of the weir at Lismore, in order to satisfy itself as to whether the allegations made by the urban councils in the area are true.

I imagine that if the Department does that the Minister will be perfectly satisfied that the lack of salmon in the Blackwater is due to the operations of this weir. My information is that a considerable amount of money is being made by the proprietors of the weir, and that it is operated in such a manner as to prevent fish reaching the western reaches of the river. As a result, fishery rights which could be let for substantial sums may be valueless, because people who were in the habit of fishing there will not come back. I had not time to look into the matter in detail but, from inquires, I am satisfied that there is a great amount of truth in the allegation that the shortage of fish is occasioned by the working of the weir. In view of the loss occasioned to riparian owners and ordinary people fishing for salmon this season and last season, it should be investigated as soon as possible.

There were some points raised on this Estimate by Deputy Brennan and Deputy Linehan. I think it can be definitely stated that poaching by foreign trawlers has been reduced, I might say, to a minimum. No matter what protection there is, foreign trawlers will be able to make a run in now and again, take some fish, and get away. Unless we went to the very great expense of having cruisers dotted around the coast, I do not think we could do much better in the way of stopping poaching by foreign trawlers. There have been very little complaints during the last six or 12 months. I think we have struck what I might call the optimum balance between the cost of stopping poaching, and the stage we have reached in stopping it, and I do not think we would be justified in getting another cruiser for that purpose.

With regard to the point raised by Deputy Brennan as to the repayment of loans, the Deputy will realise that where you are giving loans to fishermen on a capital basis and collecting the loans by instalments, even though you might be doing quite a good business, there might be less money coming back during the year than is going out; in other words, if the Sea Fisheries Association intends to expand somewhat during the coming year and to issue loans rather freely, they would naturally give out very much more than they would get back, so that it is very difficult to form any judgement on one year's figures. It takes some time to find out exactly what is the real position.

Mr. Brennan

I do not want any misunderstanding. Possibly I misunderstood the Minister. Did we not make loans last year and the year before?

Mr. Brennan

My contention is that those loans are being paid in and we are still making loans. I do not see any reason for assuming that we ought to be making any allowance for a further wastage every year in the amounts paid in, because we are increasing our loans every year. I am not making a comparison between what we are giving out and what we are getting in this year, but I do not see the sense in trying to justify our getting in less this year than last year unless we are giving out less.

I am going to talk about these loans in a general way. It is very hard to deal with them in a detailed way, or even to put them into classes but, generally speaking, I think it may be said that the loans we made more than ten years ago, that is, before the Sea Fisheries Association came into operation, are lying there. Something has been collected on them, but, naturally, the amount collected on them every year is less because some of them have become hopeless, and probably might be written off as bad debts. We have not, however, come to the point of writing them off yet. As Deputies are aware, the Minister has no right to do so. He must come to the Dáil before he can write them off. The repayments of the loans made by the Association when it came into office first are also becoming less. They were, perhaps, a little optimistic when they came in first and they gave loans rather more lavishly than they would give them now. They are not getting the money back so well on these, but I think it could be said that the loans issued during the last three or four years, since they adopted a more conservative policy and where they have come to regard the issue of loans as a business proposition and not so much as a relief measure, are, on the whole, a sound proposition. That is all I could say. It is very difficult to draw any inference from the results of the collections for a year.

Deputy Brennan referred to another question, a bigger question, if you like, as to whether we are getting value for the expenditure on the Sea Fisheries Association. That, again, is a very difficult question to answer. When I first took over fisheries, I was inclined, as anyone was likely to be, to be rather doubtful as to whether the thing was a good proposition or not, but it had reached a stage then at which I thought it better to give it a few more years' trial.

I thought the Minister was optimistic in those days.

Not about the Sea Fisheries Association, anyway. I might have been optimistic enough to think that I could do better myself, but I was not tempted to take over the fisheries from the Sea Fisheries Association. I thought it better to let them continue. I think I can say that, for the last year, the Sea Fisheries Association are beginning to get the confidence of the fishermen to a greater extent than before. The proportion of fish marketed through the Association is much higher now than it was, so that the fishermen are evidently beginning to think that the Association is a good organisation, so far as they are concerned. They are, as I say, beginning to market their fish to a greater extent through the Association, and I think that is a good sign, because, after all, they are the best judges. Secondly, for the last season, that is, the season starting last October, the prices realised for the fishermen through the Association are better than in previous years, and that, I suppose, is the reason they are marketing more of their fish through the Association. On the whole, I think it would be a mistake to scrap the Sea Fisheries Association, because it looks as if it is doing a little better than it was doing before. I was asked why foreign trawlers cannot land fish here. I may be wrong in making that statement, but no fish can be landed here without a licence to the importer, and, since that system came into operation, the foreign trawlers have not landed fish here, I suppose, because the traders who get the licences prefer to import their fish from one of the big centres in England, and not to take their fish from a foreign trawler. The foreign trawlers can scarcely call in with fish because they would not be sure of having all their fish taken by those who hold licences, and they go elsewhere to land their fish.

Mr. Brennan

Did they not call previously.

They did, when they could land the whole catch on the Dublin market and have it auctioned. They cannot do it now, because the people who hold licences for the import of fish would not guarantee to take the whole catch from them. I presume that is the position. If the Department were to issue licences to foreign trawlers to land fish here they would come, but the licences are not issued in that way. They are issued to the importers on the basis of their imports last year, and they evidently have not thought it wise to bring in a trawler with fish. They think it better to send a wire, a telephone message or a letter to one of the big fish distributing centres in England and to ask for the exact amount of the various classes of fish they want.

Mr. Brennan

Does it not seem to be a mistake that we should allow trawlers to go over to Grimsby and deliver their fish there, and that then they should be delivered back to us?

I believe the fish trade is a very complex business, because there are so many classes of fish, and customers who want cheap fish and other customers who do not mind paying a little more. A person trying to carry on the fish trade must be particular about the classes of fish he imports on his permit, and he cannot take a trawler's whole catch because he might not be able to dispose of it. Deputy Brennan also hoped that the new Bill would come into operation without any great delay. I presume that he had in mind the big principle of the new Bill, that is, the taking over of the fisheries. Other sections of the Bill, which deal with the ordinary fishing legislation with regard to the regulation of fishing and so on, will come in immediately, and we hope to make some progress with the first stages of the taking-over of the fisheries this year.

So far as staff is concerned, that will only mean a staff for a survey of the fisheries and I have come to the conclusion that by the time we make the necessary Orders and ask the Civil Service Commissioners for this staff, we will have very little payments to make in the present financial year. We may have some, but they will not be very much. The system of registration of these whale-catchers and factories in England and here is, I think, on the whole, satisfactory. In any case, I am afraid we have to put up with it, because we cannot compel a whale-catcher to register here on the plea that the factory is also registered here. It is a matter for the owner of the ship.

Mr. Brennan

Can we not refuse his registration here altogether?

We could do that indirectly.

Mr. Brennan

It seems to be a cost to us.

It is not, but if we were losing on it, we could do so. We could say to the owner of a factory ship: "We will refuse to licence your ship unless you bring your catchers over." We are making, if the factory ship comes along and registers here, because even if all the catchers register in England, we get about 80 per cent. of the amount which the British Government receives towards expenses and even on that basis, it would be a paying proposition. It is not every Minister can boast of making a profit out of legislation.

Deputy Brennan said that in the introduction of the Estimate we did not show any great hope as regards fisheries generally. Perhaps not. Speaking generally, the first thing we ought to do, as far as our fishermen are concerned, is to see as far as possible that the fish are there. The protection of our fisheries by utilising cruisers to keep foreign trawlers out is one thing. I claim that we have reached as satisfactory a stage as we can in that matter. Our second aim is to prevent our own fishermen within our territorial waters from catching immature fish. We have taken steps towards that end by an Act passed recently. It is only very recently that we have begun to administer that Act, and we hope to make further headway in that direction. The next step, if the fish are there, is to equip our fishermen to catch them. The Sea Fisheries Association was set up for that purpose, to provide boats and gear for those who are unable to purchase them. The Sea Fisheries Association are doing that and, I think, under present circumstances, they are doing as well as they can so long as we regard them as a business concern. Some Deputies might consider that the Association should be regarded more as a relief agency. If we have to give out anything in the way of relief, that is a different matter. The Sea Fisheries Association was set up as a business concern, and the association must act on that understanding. Our third aim, if the fish are there, is to help the fishermen to market them under the best conditions. I think the Sea Fisheries Association have improved conditions a good deal in that respect. They have helped the fishermen. Certainly the great majority of the fish caught by the inshore fishermen is now marketed through the Sea Fisheries Association.

With regard to salmon, I explained here in bringing in the Estimate—and we also had some discussion on this matter on the Fisheries Bill—that last year was a bad year, not only in Ireland but in the whole of western Europe, for salmon fishing. The year before was not too good, but the year before that was good. The decline complained of in the case of the Blackwater is, therefore, only part of the general decline in salmon fishing. I have had, indeed, general complaints from several quarters that the decline is due to a certain weir on the Blackwater. I do not know how that complaint should have emanted so spontaneously from so many quarters. Many Deputies and many public bodies appear to realise that at the moment——

If the Minister would allow me for a moment, I might explain that my information—and I cannot vouch for the accuracy of it—is that up to a recent period the weir was being operated by lessees from the proprietors and that since the proprietors have taken over the weir from the lessees they are working it on a more aggravated scale than the lessees were. As I say, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that statement.

The Department would naturally keep itself informed as to whether these weirs were being worked properly or not. I think the Deputy may take it for granted that salmon are getting past that weir in the ordinary way.

May I put this point to the Minister. I do not want to make the matter contentious at all. The suggestion that was made to me is that there is absolutely no free gap. I think that is the situation as far as the Lismore weir is concerned. The free gap was abolished some time ago.

I do not think that is right.

The Minister may be aware that my information comes from the Fermoy Urban Council and the Mallow Urban Council and people interested in the fishery. I am putting the point that there is no free gap there.

We had a fair amount of discussion on a certain section of the Fisheries Bill on that subject. It was explained then that a number of these weirs were passed by a certain body that sat away back in the "sixties". For the consolation of Deputies, I should like to state that they will become the property of the State before long.

That is another point.

Surely the Deputy is not afraid that there will be no salmon left?

The danger is that when they are the property of the State no more salmon will go up than at present.

After they become the property of the State?

What I fear is that, without any investigation, no more salmon will go up when the fisheries are brought under the Department than now under the Lismore estate. That is the danger, unless you are prepared to allow more of a free gap than the Lismore estate has given.

If the State owned the weir they would have to keep in mind the desirability of allowing sufficient salmon to pass the weir to produce a crop of salmon for the coming years. I think that will be attended to. I should like to assure the Deputy from inquiries I have made—I do not say that I got an exact official report—but as a result of the very scant inquiries I was able to make after certain representations had been made to me here on the Fisheries Bill, I think the salmon are able to get past that weir. I should not like to guarantee to the Deputy that things are altogether satisfactory, but I think the anxiety that was expressed is largely due to the fact that last year was a bad season, not only on the Blackwater, and not only in this country as a whole, but over the whole of Western Europe.

Vote put and agreed to.