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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 30 Oct 1962

Vol. 197 No. 1

Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1962— Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill contains a series of amendments of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959, and also some new provisions.

To assist Deputies in considering the variety of miscellaneous matters dealt with, a memorandum has been circulated with the Bill explaining briefly the purpose of the provisions section by section. Perhaps I should add that the sections which amend the 1959 Act are arranged in the sequence of the corresponding sections in that Act. For instance, the group of sections numbered 18 to 22 are concerned with sea fisheries and will enable existing provisions to be more effectively enforced. An example of a new provision is Section 34 which is to provide such additional powers as may be necesary for the implementation of recommendations that may be agreed internationally for the conservation of fish stocks and the rational exploitation of fisheries. Those recommendations would be made under the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention of 1959 which is to supersede a somewhat less satisfactory Convention of 1946.

On the inland fisheries side, there are so many points noted for attention that I found it necessary to be selective so as to avoid delaying the Bill. I think it better to leave over some further reforms for detailed discussion and more mature consideration. To the bodies who have been pressing for such further measures, I would say that the present Bill tackles those aspects of the law in the greatest need of reform and that the desirability of additional amendments should be seen more clearly when the effect of the present provisions can be judged in the light of experience.

Several of the provisions in the Bill strengthen the law relating to fishery offences. Section 31 provides for a general correlation and upward revision of penalties.

I have referred on many occasions to the pernicious practices of using poison or explosives for the capture or destruction of fish. This subject is dealt with in Section 16 for the purposes of which Section 2 provides a wider definition of "deleterious matter" than has heretofore been employed. The convicted poisoner or dynamiter of a fishing river will henceforth face the following increased maximum penalties, namely, £100 or six months imprisonment, or both fine and imprisonment if convicted summarily or £500, or two years imprisonment or both fine and imprisonment if convicted on indictment. In either case, there will be no power to apply the Probation of Offenders Act.

Section 23 lays down similar penalties for the newly created offence of using a boat or vehicle as an aid to the commission of a fishery offence and also enables the boat or vehicle to be forfeited. While some of these penalties may at first sight appear rather drastic, it is essential that poaching activities be curbed if we are to preserve our hitherto unspoilt fisheries, of which a fair number still remain, and also to reap the full fruits of the programme of fishery development on which public money is being expended. Other provisions are also aimed at making things more difficult for poachers: Sections 9, 10, 17, and 26 would help to prevent them from catching fish and Sections 14, 15, 24 and 27 would tighten up control over the disposal of any salmon or trout illegally caught.

In referring to Section 16 and allied provisions I have been speaking of what I may call the professional poacher or destroyer of fish. The fisheries code deals somewhat less stringently with the incidental destroyer of fish—who, whether he be manufacturer or farmer is on occasion, responsible for grave injury to fisheries by discharging harmful effluents. It is right to give warning that the wider definition of "deleterious matter" appearing in Section 2 of this Bill will also apply in Sections 171 and 172 of the Principal Act and that the penalties for offences under those sections have been revised in the Table which forms part of Section 31.

Sections 3, 13 and 32 of the Bill are concerned with the power to make fishery bye-laws, which fulfil an important role in supplying ad hoc conservancy measures to meet the particular circumstances of different river systems. The procedure for making bye-laws involving the holding of public inquiries and the giving of lengthy statutory notices, although it has much merit, does not lend itself to taking speedy action; this is something which I feel should be remedied. In case of emergency, where, for instance, due to prolonged drought, fish in a particular river system are being exposed to undue exploitation, it should be possible to apply restrictions by bye-law without all the formalities which now attend the making of such an instrument.

There is also at present a technical difficulty which prevents the alteration of the weekly close time. It is therefore proposed to make it possible to impose restrictions of an emergency character, including the extension of the weekly close time, on a short-term basis and without the present formalities. Should experience show that restrictions so imposed would need to be continued for an extended term, then an enquiry could be ordered giving due notice so that parties concerned would have an opportunity of voicing their objections.

Sections 2 (2), 5, 6 and 7 relate to membership of boards of conservators. I have been urged to make a variety of changes in this system. I agree that the machinery for election of boards of conservators is in need of overhaul. There is a feeling that the present system of voting is open to abuse. There is pretty general agreement that voting should be by secret ballot after formal nomination of candidates but opinions are divided as to whether personal voting should be retained or whether it should give way to postal voting. I have come to the conclusion that in reforming this machinery it would be well to proceed by easy stages. In Section 6 I propose to take fairly wide powers to make regulations governing the procedure for elections. Included in these powers would be the power to repeal or amend any of the provisions of Section 27 of the 1959 Act which might be in conflict with the general purpose of the regulations.

Specific mention is made in this enabling section of power to provide for nomination of candidates for election and for postal voting at elections of conservators if it should be deemed desirable to prescribe that method of voting. I may say that in drawing up these regulations I propose to have further consultations with the various groups interested. The other provisions relating to boards of conservators would extend the term for which they are to be elected in future from three to five years in the interests of better continuity of administration; add to the present requirement for the office of conservator, namely, that the candidate should reside or possess real property in the fishery district, the additional qualification that he should be either a licence holder or a rated occupier of a fishery in that district, and prevent the co-option of members disqualified for non-attendance.

Section 8 provides for contributions towards the expenses of the Council of Boards of Fishery Conservators which can play a useful role in studying the common problems of the various boards and providing a forum for expression of their views. Provisions for eel fishing, which is steadily developing, are contained in Sections 11, 12 and 13.

I should like to draw particular attention to Section 28 which proposes to give power to control salmon fishing at sea. Deputies are no doubt aware of the situation that has arisen elsewhere with the development of large scale drift netting for salmon. I want to make it quite clear that, should there be any similar development here after the enactment of this Bill, I will not hesitate to impose such controls as are necessary in the interests of preservation of our valuable salmon fisheries. It is not my intention—I wish to emphasise this—to interfere with drift netting for salmon as carried on traditionally in certain areas.

In recommending this Bill to the House, I should like to express my appreciation of the assistance and advice afforded by the various bodies interested in fishery development and conservation throughout the country. If there are any points arising out of the Bill on which Deputies desire further information or clarification, I shall be glad to help in any way I can. I look forward to constructive suggestions in the course of the debate.

Any measure which will improve our fishery administration and tighten up the existing fishery laws will be favourably received by this side of the House. Not only will it be favourably received but any measure such as the measure presented to us tonight will have our support. I think that a Bill of this kind has been under consideration by the Department for some considerable time. It is one to which those of us who are interested in the preservation of our fisheries and their stocks will certainly give our unqualified support.

Realising the importance of our fisheries and that the fishing industry is one of our major national assets, we feel that the House should give the matter serious thought. It is our duty as Deputies to put forward any constructive proposals which we may have in mind and which will be in the interests of the development and the safeguarding of our fisheries in general.

The Bill deals with the preservation of our fisheries, the selection of the various boards of conservators and the penalties to be imposed on those who are found guilty of fishery offences. In that connection, I want to assure the House that I and this Party in general have taken every possible step to bring home to the minds of our people the importance of preserving our fishery stocks and the importance of boards of conservators providing the proper measure of protection for our fisheries. In view of that, I feel that the steps taken in this Bill are taken genuinely in the interests of the preservation of our fishery stocks.

The question of the election of boards of conservators is a matter which has been engaging the attention, I am sure, of the Department for some considerable time, but I am glad to see that at least some steps are now being taken to modernise the law in relation to the election of members to these boards. The qualifications for nomination, as set out in this Bill, should be adhered to. Whilst I feel that the election should be by secret ballot—and there are many reasons why the election to boards of conservators should be by secret ballot—it is my view that the qualification for postal voting should also be included. It is a matter which has given a considerable amount of trouble and was open to a considerable amount of criticism. The present system of election is not, in my opinion, a democratic system. I think it is a good idea to extend the term for membership of boards from three to five years. I also feel that the qualifications set out in this Bill for membership of such boards are reasonable.

There are a few points in relation to which I would be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary could give me some additional information. In regard to the inland fisheries, the question of the protection of our fisheries is probably of the greatest possible importance. I am glad to see that the law is being tightened up in this regard. After all, it is certainly high time that steps were taken to emphasise the seriousness of fishery offences. There are people who use either poison or explosives when conducting the mean campaign of poaching. That is something which warrants the steps being taken in this Bill.

I expected that, when we were reviewing the protection of our fisheries, some steps would be taken to provide a greater measure of financial support for boards of conservators to employ more full-time water-bailiffs. I understand that there are boards whose financial resources are not very healthy. If the best type of water bailiff is to be attracted, he must be well paid. For that reason, I hope that, when this Bill becomes law and when the boards of conservators are considering their future policy in relation to the protection of our fisheries, they will undertake a reorganisation of their staffs. and take steps to increase the staffs on a wage which will attract more people to the job, thus enabling the waterkeeper to devote more of his time to certain stretches of river. I understand there are very large stretches of water under the supervision of, say, one or two waterkeepers. They have very extensive stretches of river to protect and it is impossible for them to be in two places at the one time. If the staffs were better paid, it would attract the right type of person. The post of water bailiff or waterkeeper should be regarded as a high one in the service because of the special duties which he must perform.

I should be glad to see those who have given years of service in this regard covered by a pension scheme and that provision be made for their future. I understand there are quite a number of them who have devoted the best years of their lives to the service of boards of consevators. In the early stages, they were employed at various low rates of pay. They have given very honourable and faithful service to their boards. Financial arrangements should be made to safeguard their interests when the time comes when they can no longer be employed.

I come now to fishery offences. I have always held the idea that district justices were too lenient. Probably district justices went as far as the law enabled them to go but there are many instances—and they are on record— where waterkeepers, in the lawful discharge of their duties, were assaulted and beaten up. I have often felt that the full measure of the law was not meted out to the offenders. The protection of our fisheries is of the greatest possible importance to us. The law as it stands has not been sufficiently severe to discourage, to a great degree, illegal fishing. I hope that when this Bill becomes law, it will at least be a contribution to the safeguarding of our fisheries from unreasonable trespass and serious offences.

I agree with the section which deals with the procedure for making bye-laws involving the holding of public inquiries and the giving of long statutory notice. No doubt, due notice must be given of major changes. There should be provision for cases of emergency. From time to time, we have known of cases where speedy action was called for. As the law is framed at the moment, there is no provision for any speedy action—for example, the making of bye-laws without the holding of such public inquiries. I feel no major changes ought to take place without boards of conservators at least having an opportunity to present their views on whatever changes the Fisheries Branch may have in mind. No doubt, meetings of the board can be arranged at short notice. There would be no reason for any great difference of opinion between the boards and the boards' officers and the officers of the Fisheries Branch in relation to this matter.

The Parliamentary Secretary should give us some further information in relation to Section 23. The provisions of this section are rather far reaching. Subsection (1) provides that if a person uses a boat or vehicle as an aid to the commission of an offence under any provision of the 1959 Act, such person shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than £100 or to imprisonment for not more than six months and, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding £500 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years. There might be extenuating or very special circumstances. If there were very special circumstances, there should be some provision to cover such a case.

Subsection (2) contains a very far-reaching penalty. It provides that, save in the case of a boat which is used without the consent of the owner, any boat used for the commission of or assisting in any offence under the provisions of the 1959 Act—except an offence in relation to sea fisheries— shall be forfeited. No discretion as regards the forfeiture of the boat shall be given to the court. If a person is convicted on indictment of an offence and it is proved that a vehicle was used in the commission of the offence, the vehicle may be forfeited by order of the court. Here, discretion is given to the court with regard to the forfeiture of the vehicle. There may be very special circumstances and I am wondering if we may be framing the law a little too tightly. However, I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us certain guarantees in relation to that point.

Section 27 prohibits the buying of salmon or trout unless the purchaser is the holder of a dealer's licence or an exporter's licence. That is reasonable enough. It is only right that those details should be given. It is my experience that the poacher would not be half as active as he is, if it were not for the fact that he has an outlet for his catches. It is not to the credit of boarding houses, guest houses or hotels that they should purchase illegally-caught fish. That is why I feel it is only right that identification should be given in this regard.

However, I am wondering if there may be any special circumstances which may again crop up in relation to this or if the Parliamentary Secretary may consider that the law is being framed too rigidly here. In the case of very special circumstances, a person who would not be guilty of a very serious offence might in some way or other, so to speak, be caught out and, I am wondering if the section is framed the right way, so as to give an outlet for some person who really would not be guilty of an offence but who at the same time could be under very grave suspicion.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 31st October, 1962