That a sum not exceeding £210,800 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, 1962, for Salaries and Expenses in connection with Sea and Inland Fisheries, including sundry Grants-in-Aid.
The net total of £315,800 required for Fisheries is much the same as that voted last year and there is little variation under any of the usual subheads. Some token provisions have been eliminated and, in accordance with the standard practice in this year's Estimates, the subheads for travelling, telephones and incidental expenses have been amalgamated. Slight increases under subheads A and B reflect a strengthening of the staff of the Fisheries Division. There are two new subheads — E.2 and G.4a — which cancel out and have no net effect on the Estimate but I shall have occasion to refer to them later.
As I have declared on a number of occasions, the policy of the present Government in relation to fisheries is an expansionist one and a planned programme of development has been undertaken for the implementation of this policy. The reports published half-yearly on the Programme for Economic Expansion indicate that a fair measure of progress has already been achieved. I must confess, however, that I had hoped for a more accelerated rate of advance in the field of sea fisheries. In the final analysis, the objective is to secure a very substantial increase in the volume of landings by our fishermen. Assuming that the seas around our coast are capable of yielding a much greater harvest of fish—and all the available data support this assumption — the problem may be reduced to one of providing the most suitable types of boats and gear in sufficient numbers and, more vital still, attracting and training the necessary personnel to use these boats to the best advantage. Before dealing more fully with these aspects of the problem, perhaps I should give some statistical and general information.
There were 1,764 fishermen and 532 motor vessels solely engaged in sea fishing in 1960; of these vessels, 189 were classed as 25 tons gross and over. During the year ended 31st March, 1961, 15 new boats, including nine of over 25 tons gross — five 56-footers and four 50-footers — were issued by An Bord Iascaigh Mhara to hire purchasers.
Landings of all varieties of sea fish —including shellfish but excluding salmon—were valued at £1,612,000 in 1960, representing a slight increase on the 1959 figure which itself was a record one. The increase was achieved despite an unexpected drop of over £60,000 in the value of shellfish landings, due largely to unfavourable fishing conditions for lobsters and craw-fish. Landings of pelagic fish increased by 120,000 cwt. to 455,000 cwt. and their value rose by almost £50,000 to £453,000. The quantity of herrings alone constituted over 90 per cent. of the pelagic varieties and 60 per cent. of all varieties of wet fish. At the beginning of 1961, however, herring fishing came to an end earlier than usual. The value of demersal landings increased slightly in 1960 to £819,000, despite, I regret to record, a drop of 24,000 cwt. or almost 10 per cent. in the quantity. As in 1959, the most important varieties in order of value were whiting, plaice, cod, ray or skate, and haddock, but, in order of quantity, cod took second place to whiting, followed by ray or skate, plaice and haddock. A reduction in the catch of whiting in 1960 has persisted in the early months of 1961.
The value of exports of fish — excluding salmon and freshwater fish — increased by £78,000, or almost eight per cent. over that for 1959, to the record total of £1,107,000 in 1960. Herrings accounted for more than half of that total. For the opening months of 1961, however, the early termination of herring fishing has been reflected in reduced exports.
The extent to which processing of fish is undertaken depends primarily on the volume of landings and, while I cannot report any significant increase in processing activities in 1960, I would like to underline the importance of this arm of our fishing industry by mentioning that in 1960 processed fish valued at over £300,000 constituted more than a quarter of our total exports of sea fish and shellfish products. Given increased landings, this valuable trade is capable of considerable expansion. It is encouraging to note that some of our larger fish processing firms have sufficient confidence in the future to go ahead with plans for the enlargement and modernisation of their undertakings where fish will be handled and processed in wider variety and with greater efficiency according to the best hygienic standards.
While on the subject of processing I should like to refer to the fishmeal factory at Killybegs. The closing of this factory last year threatened a serious setback to the development of our sea-fishing industry. Fortunately it has since been found possible to complete arrangements for the re-opening of the factory by a Danish firm of international standing in the fishmeal industry. The present lessee is confident that, with the co-operation of Irish fishermen, he will be in a position to operate the plant successfully. Substantial supplies of fish are, of course, essential for that purpose. In the absence of a guarantee that such supplies would be forthcoming from the local fleet, there was no alternative but to grant limited facilities for the operation of Danish boats here. I would like to take this opportunity of repeating my recent assurance to Irish fishermen that the concessions granted in this case are of a temporary nature and are intended to provide essential requirements of raw material to supplement supplies coming to the factory from home landings.
Turning to subheads of the Estimate I may say that, while the provision at Subhead C.1 shows a reduction, scientific investigations will in fact be on a larger scale because, with the commissioning of the first exploratory fishing vessel last year, some of the services and materials formerly paid for from this subhead can now be provided by the Cú Feasa. Subheads C.2 and C.3 provide for contributions to two international bodies on the usual scale and travelling expenses of delegates to meetings of those bodies.
The fact that the provision at Subhead C.4 for the operation of the exploratory fishing vessel Cú Feasa shows a slight decrease on the figure for last year does not mean that the operation of the vessel will be curtailed in any way. This year's provision is based on experience of operating the vessel and is therefore more realistic: indeed it is about £1,000 higher than the actual expenditure incurred last year.
The acquisition of the Cú Feasa has made it possible to undertake investigations which should prove of great value in the development of our sea fisheries. With the aid of the vessel, research work on the Dunmore East herring fishery has been extended to a study of conditions in the open sea. Investigations into stocks of Dublin Bay prawns in the Irish Sea have also been carried out and a pamphlet outlining the results has been circulated to fishermen, buyers and other interested parties. A large amount of scientific data on whiting in the Irish Sea and off the south coast has been collected and is being examined. The vessel is at present operating off the west coast. Many of the investigations being undertaken by the Cú Feasa are of a long term nature and cannot be expected to show immediate results: data must be assembled over a period before useful conclusions can be drawn. Any helpful information obtained will, of course, be made available to fishermen without delay. Some difficulty has been experienced in the recruitment of staff for the scientific work.
As I announced some months ago, a new fisheries research station will be built at Galway. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to the Galway Harbour Commissioners for placing a site at my disposal. About half of the staff of the Fisheries Division will be transferred to the new building for which plans are being prepared. Having long favoured a policy of decentralisation, I am glad to point to this start in my own Department. Galway will also become a base for the Cú Feasa and data assembled by the vessel will be studied there. It is hoped to enlist the full co-operation of the universities in some aspects of the fisheries investigations to be undertaken.
The first essential in the success of any industry is to provide the men with the technical "know how" to do the job. I am convinced that one of the reasons why the fishing industry is not progressing as it should is the fact that we have not sufficient trained and skilled personnel. The schemes for training experienced fishermen as skippers and boys as fishermen were inaugurated to remedy this situation. Quite frankly, I am very disappointed with the response to these schemes. If we are to make real progress on the catching side, much greater numbers of young men must undergo the training offered.
The conditions of the scheme for training fishermen as skippers were made more attractive some months ago: higher payments were authorised and the training period was shortened and rearranged for the spring and summer months for the greater convenience of applicants. While there was a slightly better response when the scheme was subsequently re-advertised, it is still most disappointing in the light of the attractive terms offered. Seven trainees are at present completing the theoretical course at Galway and will shortly sit for examination. Only thirteen fishermen have so far secured certificates of competency under the Merchant Shipping Acts after completing courses under the scheme.
I appeal to Deputies to use their good offices in encouraging fishermen to come forward for training. Applicants, who must have at least three years' experience of sea fishing, are paid at the rate of £7 per week and, in addition, are eligible for allowances up to £6 per week for dependants. I am sure Deputies will agree that these payments are generous and that the training facilities offer a great opportunity of betterment to ambitious young fishermen, particularly bearing in mind the attractive terms available for the purchase of new boats. I might mention that in future An Bord Iascaigh Mhara will not issue a boat of 50 feet or over on hire purchase, unless the hirer has satisfactorily completed training under this scheme or produces other evidence showing that he is fully competent to handle such craft.
Under the scheme for training boys as fishermen, youths over 16 years of age without previous experience of sea fishing are paid up to £4 a week. Of the total of 46 boys assigned for training so far, five have graduated— in the sense that they are now receiving shares of the net earnings of the boats on which they are employed— and 22 are still undergoing training. This scheme was again widely advertised last month but the response has been poor. Eligible applicants will shortly be interviewed at convenient centres. Although the closing date announced has already passed, late applications will be accepted up to completion of the interviews early next month.
The future of the fishing industry depends on the recruits now being attracted to the catching side. To my mind this scheme for training boys should play a very important role in the expansion of the industry. I have sought the assistance of the Minister for Education and his Department in encouraging pupils towards a sea fishing career. It is my earnest hope that many more boys will come forward and, when they are experienced fishermen, go on for further training to secure certificates of competency as skippers.
I must again record my appreciation of the co-operation of the skippers and crews of fishing boats taking part in the training scheme. With the continued expansion of the scheme I look to other skippers to provide berths on their boats with the same measure of co-operation as their colleagues have been giving.
Both the scheme for training fishermen as skippers and that for training boys as fishermen are advertised in the press from time to time but anybody interested may, without waiting for an advertisement, ask at any time to have his name recorded in the Fisheries Division. I look forward to the time when it will become necessary to increase the provision under Subhead C.5 because of greater interest in these training schemes.
Subhead E.1 provides the annual grant-in-aid of administration expenses, such as salaries, fees and travelling expenses, and development projects undertaken by An Bord Iascaigh Mhara. In addition to the grant-in-aid of £160,000 which is the same as that provided last year, repayable advances up to a total of £220,000 have been authorised for the current year; these advances are in the main used to provide boats and gear for fishermen. The grant-in-aid also includes provision for new boats— 15 per cent of the cost and the subvention necessary to meet the difference between the interest paid by the Board and that charged to purchasers at the reduced rate of 4 per cent. I may also mention that I am considering what further incentives might be introduced to give the hire-purchasers a new deal and encourage them to better efforts to meet their commitments.
Up to the present, boats of about 56 feet in length have been the biggest built by An Bord Iascaigh Mhara. A boat is now being designed by the Board which would be about 65 feet in length, just short of 50 tons gross tonnage, have an engine of up to 250 h.p. and be capable of fishing at considerable distances off our coasts. Such a boat would, I am told, cost something in the region of £20,000 and should be within the capacity of competent fishermen to purchase. The acquisition of boats of this size would strengthen the position of owner-fishermen who have a very important part to play in this country's fishing industry. Indeed a few fishermen have already acquired boats of this or even greater size.
I have been examining a number of the activities of An Bord Iascaigh Mhara. I find that there are strong differences of opinion as to whether the Board should continue to market fish or leave this field entirely in the hands of private enterprise. In any event I am not at all satisfied that our present marketing arrangements are the best that can be devised. Before proposing any changes, I will, of course, consult with the various interests concerned. Any decision on this or any other issue must be considered in relation to its effect on the industry as a whole rather than on any one sector.
I now turn to the two new subheads — E.2 and G.4a — showing substantial figures of £186,000 which, as I said at the outset, cancel out and have no net effect on the Estimate. The object is to seek approval of the House for the writing off of a deficit in respect of advances made to the former Sea Fisheries Association for the provision of boats and gear. Advances totalling £408,500 were made to the Association for that purpose in the period of more than 20 years up to its dissolution in 1952. These advances were made from the Fisheries Vote and were repayable by annuities, the amount repaid each year being appropriated in aid of the Vote, as, for instance, at Subhead G.4 for the current year. In contrast, perhaps I should mention that advances to An Bord Iascaigh Mhara do not pass through the Vote, but are made from the Central Fund and appear "below the line" in the Exchequer Account published regularly in Iris Oifigiúil.
Neither the Association nor its successor, An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, has been able to recover all payments due for boats issued to hire-purchasers, some of whom, unfortunately, have utterly failed to meet their commitments. In the worst cases, it has been necessary to resume possession of the boats and re-issue them at a loss. In this way, losses have been accumulating over the years and the annuities due to the Fisheries Vote have been falling into arrears. Had the liability to the Vote been reduced as each loss occurred, the total amount written off would be much smaller than the figure of £186,000 which is inflated by the inclusion of interest that has been accruing over the years. At long last, however, consideration of the matter has reached the stage at which this deficit can be formally wiped out. An Bord Iascaigh Mhara will, of course, continue to repay to the Vote advances made to the Association in so far as they correspond to the value placed on assets still remaining.
Technical assistance projects of the type financed from Subhead F have included visits abroad and advice from foreign experts. Deputies will recall the publication of two reports in recent months. One of these is the specially commissioned F.A.O. review of the sea fishing industry which is based on a study made by a Canadian economist. Various suggestions in this report are being considered, along with comments received from persons and associations interested in the industry. Comments from Deputies will, of course, be also welcome.
The second report to which I have referred is that of the Swedish consultant on fishery harbours. After consideration of that report, I had the pleasure of announcing the Government's scheme for the development of five major fishery harbours — at Killybegs, Castletownbere, Passage East, Howth and Galway — at a cost of some £1,200,000. The full programme of construction works will take a few years to complete and, while I appreciate the problems confronting the Commissioners of Public Works, I can assure the House that I am constantly pressing them to proceed with these works as quickly as possible. No doubt some Deputies here will pursue the same line in the course of this debate. Perhaps I should add that the development of these major harbours does not mean that smaller landing places will be neglected: proposals for improvement of several of them are also being considered.
On the question of extension of exclusive fishery limits, progress towards international agreement is regrettably slow. We are keeping in close touch with other countries in this matter and have taken part in some informal talks. We are anxiously seeking every possibility of establishing an international rule of law on the issue. As Deputies know, we support the United States/Canadian proposal for 12-mile exclusive fishery limits.
On the inland fisheries side, there is a good deal of work in hand which we expect to lead to increased production of many kinds in our inland waters, but it is not a case merely of bringing increased fishing power to bear; one must patiently work out measures of improvement which may take five to ten years or more to show results.
Salmon fishing, which is the most important item on the inland side, runs in cycles of productivity dependent on weather, particularly rainfall, on temperature trends in distant waters, and on a number of other imponderable factors. It will therefore be appreciated that any view of productivity must necessarily be long-term. In recent years, salmon fishing has been passing through a trough of low catch returns: the total catch by all methods, which over the ten years to 1957 was returned at an average of over 16,300 cwts., was down to roughly 15,000 cwts. in 1958 and 14,500 cwts. in 1959; in 1960, it fell to just over 11,000 cwts. —the lowest figure on record since 1945. This very low return was due to a combination of circumstances. The run of spring fish was a poor one in most rivers as also were the runs of large or early summer fish. The main grilse run was late and came with continuous rain which gave high water conditions unsuitable in the early stages for netting and later in the season for angling also.
While we can do nothing to speed the return of more favourable conditions in the distant feeding grounds of the salmon, we must continue to work for the better protection of the spawning stock and for the improvement of our rivers in a variety of ways calculated to provide the requisite conditions for increased production.
A lot of useful ground work is being done and there are some activities which are already showing promising returns. As a result of the brown trout and coarse fish development work being carried out by the Inland Fisheries Trust in collaboration with Bord Fáilte Éireann, a record number of 39,000 angling visitors came here in 1960 as against some 29,000 in the previous year. This record represents the spending of more than £1,000,000 in 1960.
Another example of progress is the increase in the value of eel exports which rose to some £41,000 in 1960 as against £37,000 in 1959 and £32,000 in 1958. These are encouraging results from the revival of eel fishing which has become possible since certain statutory restrictions on the operation of eel weirs were removed in 1958.
The amount provided for inland fisheries in Subheads D.1 to D.10 shows an increase of less than £1,000 this year — £88,760 as compared with £87,775. Perhaps I should deal briefly with the principal matters arising under these subheads.
The major item at Subhead D.1 makes provision for statutory payments to local authorities in compensation for the loss to their funds due to exemption of fisheries for local authority rating. A slight increase maintains the trend of a number of years past which reflects the rising level of local rates.
Noteworthy among the payments to be made to boards of conservators out of Subhead D.1 is a payment of £500 to the Ballyshannon Board of Conservators to enable it to contribute to the cost of protection in the Erne system. The cost of this scheme continues to be shared with the Electricity Supply Board and the Ministry of Commerce, Belfast, who are partners with my Department in these measures for the welfare of the salmon stocks in this river system.
I referred last year to the scheme of regulated fishing in the Erne estuary which was being instituted on an experimental basis for the three years 1960, 1961 and 1962. I am happy to say that the run of salmon in this river last season was rather better than the average for the preceding three years, and it was found possible to declare the fishery open to fishing by commercial methods from 29th June; up to that date a total prohibition on fishing had secured the passage up-stream of some 3,000 fish. This was the pre-arranged escapement figure which, taken together with escapement at week-ends and so on, is regarded for the time being as providing an adequate spawning stock. Unfortunately, the run of fish has not been quite so good this season and the escapement has not yet reached the 3,000 mark. I may say that the fishermen have quite willingly accepted this unusual system of regulating the fishing season which they recognise as being designed to help in the rehabilitation of salmon stocks in the River Erne, while at the same time permitting a gradual return to a normal level of exploitation.
An increase under Subhead D.3 for management of State fisheries arises mainly from higher wages and fishery rates on the Owenea fishery, which is managed by my Department in conjunction with the hatchery at Glenties. This subhead also provides funds for the management by Fisheries Division of fisheries held by the Land Commission and Forestry Division. Receipts from the letting of these State fisheries are brought to credit under Subhead G.3.
The sum of £4,200 provided at Subhead D.4 for scientific and technical investigations shows an increase of £500. This modest sum by no means reflects fully the importance of the work being tackled by the biologists and engineers. It will be spent on building up equipment and in defraying the incidental expenses of various operations of investigation and development. A few of these call for special mention.
Much has been learned in recent years of the extent of predation to which salmon, sea trout and brown trout are subject. The predators include pike, pollack and fish-eating birds. Investigations are being pursued in greater detail and the results will be published for the information of conservancy authorities and anglers' associations.
The biologists are making a study of how fish life is affected by arterial drainage work. A section of the Moy system is being examined according as drainage work proceeds and the effect on fish food and spawning grounds can be observed. The engineers are engaged in working out means of employing fish counting devices under varying conditions.
The revival of eel fishing which I mentioned earlier will be helped by investigations into the stocks of a number of rivers and the efficiency of the existing methods of capture. Experimental work will also be done with modern methods of capture used in other countries. Experience gained abroad in methods of holding, transporting and processing eels will also be passed on to the industry by practical demonstrations.
The promotion of fish farming has given rise to a number of problems which are being tackled. Feeding trials have been initiated with the object of ascertaining the tolerance of rainbow trout to a diet of fish food pellets — a convenient form of food which has been developed to solve some of the problems of food supply for fish pond culture. Experimental work on the rearing of rainbow trout in brackish water using sea organisms as food will also be undertaken.
These, of course, are merely some of the more unusual features of a comprehensive programme of scientific and experimental work.
Subhead D.5 provides for compensation for the statutory suppression of freshwater netting rights and for miscellaneous expenses in that connection. The delay in completing these payments is due to difficulties experienced by claimants in proving title.
The grant-in-aid of £33,500 which is being provided in Subhead D.6 for the Inland Fisheries Trust compares with £30,000 paid last year and £25,000 in the preceding year. The Trust will, of course, also receive during the year a contribution from Bord Fáilte Éireann in respect of the final year of the present joint five-year angling development plan.
I do not need to go in detail into the nature of the work being done so well by the Trust in the development of sport fishing for brown trout and coarse fish, and also of sea angling. These activities are fully described in the Trust's annual reports and their merit is widely acknowledged. I must, once again, pay tribute to the indispensable co-operation which the Trust and Bord Fáilte have received from angling associations and development groups throughout the country. The spirit of self-help and of goodwill which has been engendered in the relations between these bodies has manifestly contributed to the success of their efforts. I appeal to all concerned to maintain this spirit and also to be jealous of the reputation they have earned of fair dealing with the visitors who have come in such numbers to enjoy the excellent fishing facilities now offered.
The grant-in-aid under subhead D. 7 to the Salmon Research Trust amounts to one third of the running expenses subject to a maximum of £1,000, the balance being contributed by Arthur Guinness, Son & Co. (Dublin) Ltd. Since it was set up in 1955, the Trust has been studying the problems connected with the management of salmon fisheries and a good deal of useful information has been assembled. I have been informed that a progress report will shortly be published.
I regret that it has not yet been found possible to put into effect the agreement reached whereby the Trust is to investigate the effects of effluent from bog workings on fish, fish food and spawning. The hold up is due to difficulty in the recruitment of scientific staff but this obstacle will, I believe be overcome in the near future and the work can then begin. A sum of £1,000 is provided under Subheads A and F towards the cost of the work which is expected to amount to some £3,000 a year at the outset. The balance will be contributed by Bord na Móna and Arthur Guinness, Son & Co. (Dublin) Ltd.
The two fish farm demonstration units set up under subhead D.8 last year at the Glen of Aherlow and at Blackwater, near Enniscorthy, have been operated successfully and the farmers concerned have found a ready sale for the rainbow trout according as they reached marketable size. It is right to emphasise that the two farmers who are running these demonstrations have been fortunate in being able to secure attractive prices for their output which one cannot count on being maintained in conditions of more plentiful supply. The results will be reviewed in a few months' time when the entire produce of the first stocking with fry has reached marketable size. However, even allowing for a certain settling down of the price, it seems safe to assume that such ventures can be quite profitable. In any event it has been established that the production of rainbow trout in ponds for table use is a practical proposition for the small farmer who can quickly acquire the know-how and, without undue expenditure of labour, bring in a worthwhile addition to his farm income.
Funds are being provided this year for setting up some further demonstration units — one has already been constructed at Raford, near Loughrea, County Galway, and another at Ballymote, County Sligo, and plans are being prepared for a site near Mullingar. I am content to let the verdict for or against small scale fish culture depend on the results achieved by these demonstration units.
Fish farming is, of course, conducted on a large scale at Roscrea and Woodenbridge. There are also proposals by Danish interests to set up fish farms in County Kerry. While the expansion of production and the building up of a substantial export trade in rainbow trout are beset with many difficulties, the establishment of such projects is to be welcomed and I need hardly say that my Department will co-operate fully in advising private interests.
The sum of £16,000 at subhead D.9 for contributions to the Salmon Conservancy Fund stands as it was last year, but it will be allocated in a different manner. The amount ear-marked for grants to boards of conservators to supplement their revenues from fishery rates and licence duties has been increased to £9,000. This increase has been rendered necessary by the shortfall of receipts into the Fund last year from the salmon export levy. The total paid into the Fund from the levy and from excess licence duties fell just short of £10,000 because of the poor fishing season and the consequential decline in salmon exports, whereas in a good year such payments should be around £15,000.
There is a further allocation of £2,000 for minor works for the improvement of salmon rivers. The greater part of the Exchequer contribution towards the cost of two major works — the fish passes on the River Inagh at Ennistymon and the fish hatchery and rearing station at Cong —has already been paid into the Salmon Conservancy Fund and only a balance of £5,000 is to be provided this year towards these projects. A contract has been placed by the Limerick Board of Conservators for the work at Ennistymon which should shortly commence. The work at Cong is to be undertaken by direct labour and arrangements to that end are being made by the Galway Board. Conservators have in general been quick to take advantage of the scheme for minor improvements; there are in hands many works for the improvement of spawning facilities or the easing of obstructions to the passage of fish to the spawning grounds and these must in time contribute in increasing measure to improving the salmon stocks.
Subhead D.10 relates to the European Inland Fisheries Advisory Commission which held its inaugural meeting in Dublin in April of last year. The Commission appointed an Executive Committee which is responsible for carrying through the programme of work set down for execution by the time of the next meeting in April, 1962. The provision of £100 this year is to meet expenses of participation by the Irish representative who is Chairman of the Commission and of the executive Committee.
The work of reviewing the law following on enactment of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959, is now well advanced and the drafting of a first instalment of amending legislation is almost completed. This Bill, which will soon be ready to bring before the Dáil, will incorporate proposals to deal with the more pressing problems. Among these I would mention the need for more effective measures to deal with offences like the poisoning of a river which can be so far-reaching in doing lasting damage to the fish stocks.
Draft legislation has also been prepared to amend the Foyle Fisheries Act so as to make similar provision in regard to poisoning offences and also to strengthen the powers of the Foyle Fisheries Commission in the light of experience.
The development of our fisheries— both sea and inland — is a major aim of Government policy. I am glad to say that a real start has been made but I am very conscious that much remains to be done and I am determined to do it. In recommending this Estimate I may say that, when more money can be effectively devoted to the development of our fisheries, it will be a pleasure for me to come to the House for additional funds.