: I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am aware that the Minister for Fisheries stated recently that it is his intention to introduce a comprehensive Bill to block a loophole that exists in the legislation with regard to fines on foreign fishing vessels found poaching within our territorial waters. I understand that the Taoiseach today, during the debate on the Order of Business, stated that such a Bill might have to be introduced today or tomorrow. Nevertheless, we gave plenty of notice that we were not satisfied with the existing situation and we have decided to proceed with the moving of the Bill in the hope that the Government will allow it to pass and if not that they will agree to amendments to keep it in line with their proposals.
There is a glaring need for amending legislation. All the available evidence points to a big increase in poaching by foreign vessels since the legality of the existing legislation was questioned, particularly since the High Court decision in February last that the District Court did not have the right to fine foreign vessels more than £100, which is the maximum fine, and that the District Court did not have the right to order the confiscation of catch and gear. This is the kernel of the matter. In some cases the cost of the catch and gear amounts to thousands of pounds. The District Court in Cork was found to be wrong when it ordered confiscation of gear worth £102,000 belonging to a Bulgarian trawler named Aurelia on 22 September 1976. We hope that this legislation will raise fines and penalties to a realistic level.
There has been a big increase in the scale of poaching by foreign vessels. I will endeavour to illustrate that point by referring to replies to recent questions in the Dáil. In answer to a question on 1 December last, the Minister for Fisheries told us that from 1 January 1970 to 1 December 1977 19 Spanish boats had been prosecuted for illegal fishing in our territorial waters. In eight years, 19 Spanish boats were apprehended and convicted of poaching. In 1977, 12 boats were apprehended. In the previous seven years a total of seven Spanish boats were apprehended and in one year, 1978, 12 boats were apprehended. Since then, 14 Spanish boats have been apprehended. In one week in May of this year seven Spanish boats were apprehended and convicted of illegal fishing. That was a rate of one per day whereas up to 1977 the rate was one per year. Poaching must be stopped because our fishing grounds cannot take this type of depletion. The Spanish, French and Dutch boats are no longer in the same category as the Irish fleet. The Spaniards are no longer using 40 foot or 50 foot wooden boats. In the last ten years they have been using very large boats and their catching power is immense. Not alone are they convicted of illegal poaching but they are invariably convicted of catching under-sized fish, which is a serious aspect of the matter.
Contrary to common belief our fishing grounds are not rich in fish stocks. We are not as rich in fish stocks as Norway and Iceland. Our fishing grounds are only average and can easily be ruined by the recent fishing efforts of the Spanish, the Dutch and the French.
On 1 December last the Minister promised to introduce a Bill in January of this year to bring fines to a realistic level. On that day I asked the Minister if he had any plans to increase fines to a realistic level. The Minister said he had, that a Bill was nearly to hand and that he would introduce it in the Dáil in January. So far we have not seen that Bill. On 13 April 1978, Deputy Dr. Browne asked the Minister if any steps would be taken in regard to a recent High Court ruling that the valuable penalty of confiscating fishing gear of foreign trawlers was unconstitutional. In reply, the Minister said that he proposed to introduce amending legislation urgently to increase fines substantially to provide for the forfeiture of fishing gear and to provide for trial on indictment in cases of illegal fishing. In a reply to a supplementary question by Deputy O'Keeffe, the Minister said we could have a full and constructive discussion on the legislation which he proposed to put before the House within six weeks. The Minister said that we would have two Fisheries Bills within six weeks. That reply was given on 13 April. This is 13 June and so far we have not even had one Bill. We need two Bills in relation to fisheries urgently.
We urge the Government to accept this Bill. If they have any reasonable amendments to put forward we would be glad to accept them to allow the Bill to go through the House as quickly as possible. During the hearing of a case in Carrigaline District Court on 12 May this year the District Justice said it was ludicrous that the maximum penalty which he could impose for poaching by foreign boats was £100. He did fine two Spanish trawlers £100 each for fishing within our exclusive limits. He also fined each of them £50 for having under-sized mesh in their nets. The continentals have no qualms about the size of the fish they catch. As this Bill does not provide for increased fines——