Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Irish Fishing Fleet.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

37 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Marine if he has satisfied himself that the Irish fishing fleet can adequately compete with its EC partners or others in terms of Irish catch quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

47 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Marine the progress, if any, which has been made in the past five years to improve the opportunities for the Irish fishing fleet to capitalise on its location in the European Community with particular reference to supplies, markets available and improvement to the tonnage and size of the fleet; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 37 and 47 together.

Ireland is uniquely situated to exploit the rich fishing waters of the North East Atlantic, where we have valuable quotas of both pelagic and demersal species. Fleet policy has accordingly developed along a two-pronged model. One of these has encouraged the emergence of a powerful and efficient pelagic sector with an emphasis on ensuring bulk supplies of quality herring and mackerel to processors based primarily in the North West. The other targets demersal stocks, particularly along the west coast where Ireland has traditionally underutilised its quota allocations.

Under the terms of the special whitefish scheme, introduced in 1992, skippers were encouraged to bring in specialised deepwater vessels which would target stocks of high value whitefish. Seventeen of these vessels have now entered the fleet with a further three expected before the end of 1993.

I would also remind the Deputy that the campaign to modernise the Irish fleet received a major boost in April when the commission published its decisions on grant aid for the fleet. Community funding of £1.3 million was secured for 23 modernisation projects, underpinning a total investment of around £4 million making this the most successful Irish grant aid tranche for a number of years. The next round will be made in October next and I will be pushing strongly at that point for further funding for modernisations.

Utilisation of pelagic quotas, has remained steady at, or close to, 100 per cent over the last five years and, with the new whitefish capacity coming onstream, utilisation of west coast demersal quotas is expected to increase significantly.

I would, however, sound a somewhat cautionary note in reminding the Deputy that Irish fleet development is circumscribed by the multiannual guidance programme for the fleet for the period 1993-96. Although Ireland recorded a considerable success in the negotiations on this programme at Community level and although the programme does provide for some expansion in the Irish fleet over the next few years, nonetheless, the fleet targets set in the programme must be met, with obvious implications for fleet development in Ireland.

Turning now to markets, Ireland is a net exporter of fisheries products and exports are growing strongly year to year. Over the five year period from 1987 to 1991 the value of these exports has grown from £124 million to £175 million. However, there is always room for improvement and we are continuing the search for new markets abroad, particularly for pelagic species.

Many of the new markets identified are for processed fish products. In this context I am happy to inform the Deputy that Ireland currently has in place a very successful programme for the development of fish processing with aid from the European Community. Over the past three years over £25 million has been invested in projects in the processing sector with aid of over £11 million from the Community. Almost 60 projects have been assisted and this will result in the creation of in excess of 500 new jobs and will serve to protect the long term viability of another 750 full and part-time jobs in the sector.

I appreciate the Minister is only six or seven months in office and is doing his best. Would he agree that the potential of the Irish fishing industry has been totally neglected by successive Governments? It is appalling that Ireland has 16 per cent of EC waters, 5 per cent of quotas and that we are behind other countries in regard to investment in our fishing industry. Would the Minister agree that our vessels are inadequate to compete with what is happening in regard to fleet development in other countries? Our marketing and processing is behind that of other countries. Emphasis has been placed on investment in agriculture for many years. Would the Minister agree that the figure of approximately £145 million in respect of fish exports is tiny in comparison to agricultural exports? Yet, we are an island nation with 16 per cent of EC waters. Would he also agree that unless resources are invested in our fishing industry, and soundings in this regard are made in Brussels, we will continue to be treated as second class citizens and others will continue to fish in our waters?

I agree with much of what Deputy Barrett has said. When I was in Opposition I forcefully pinpointed those issues also. I am aware of the fight there is to get to the position we should be in and which we should have been in a long time ago. Neglect may be a strong word to use in regard to the fishing industry, but the regulations were operating against this country. The Minister is in Luxembourg putting down a marker for this country to ensure that we cannot be put into a disadvantaged position with regard to any other country in the EC. I agree with the Deputy that the fishing industry has been the poor relation here in comparison with the agricultural sector.

Would the Minister agree that for the Irish fishing industry to realise its full potential the fishing fleet would need to have access to all our fishing waters? Would the Minister recognise that there are certain areas of our coast inaccessible to Irish fishing vessels, particularly those which have been licensed in the last few years? The Minister did not refer in his reply to the 17 to 20 licences that have been issued. Does the Minister see dangers ahead with the accession of Spain and Portugal to our fishing grounds? I understand that negotiations are continuing in this regard. Does he consider that there will be dangers to the future of the Irish fishing fleet if the Spanish and Portuguese are given unlimited access to our fishing waters?

I agree with the Deputy in that I do see dangers ahead. I see major dangers for the fishing industry. In 1996 the Spanish and Portuguese will have access up to the 12 mile limit and they will be able to enter those waters with their fleets. This matter is being negotiated at present in Europe by the Minister. Unfortunately, the area the Deputy has outlined is banned from the Irish fishing fleet and that is why the licences were granted in the first instance. I concur with what the Deputy has said. There is stormy weather ahead for the Irish fishing industry in 1996 because of the treaty which will allow the Spanish and Portuguese access up to the 12 mile limit. That is something we will have to closely monitor. We will have to introduce the conservation priority we consider will be necessary so that we might obtain some derogation to ensure fair competition.

Would the Minister not agree that one of the difficulties the industry faces is its lack of capacity to develop? The fragmented nature of the industry is a serious obstacle to its development. Would the Minister indicate if any steps have been taken by his Department to bring a united approach to the development of this industry, which has a huge potential for value added and job creation?

The Deputy's point that the industry is fragmented may be valid. The Deputy can be assured that we will have a united approach in regard to any discussions in Europe on quotas, conditions, fleet modernisation and so on. That will be a priority.

I am not sure if I made my point clear. Many entrepreneurs in areas of the industry have an individualist approach in that they spend much time keeping what they have and are not concerned about the broader interests of the industry. Some means must be found to bring these disparate groups and agencies together to enable the industry reach its potential and to pursue the development of the industry.

BIM has the responsibility for selling what we produce. There is a clear link between the amount of money they can spend on marketing and the sales of Irish products. Its marketing budget is extremely small compared to the potential market that exists.

It is a matter for BIM to decide what resources it provides to its marketing section. It has a budget and it works from its budget. It is up to that body to decide its marketing programme. I share the Deputy's concern that we should be marketing fish in a positive way and, hopefully, we will do that.

Money is needed to do that.

The consumption of fish in this country has increased considerably in the past two years and we hope it will continue to increase.

More money is needed.

Will the Minister agree that the kernel of the problem in the fishing industry is the size and condition of our fishing fleet? Most of our fishing fleet is now over 20 years old and classified as punts in comparison with the fishing trawlers of other European nations. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that adequate finance will be made available to the Irish fishing industry to enable those boats to be replaced by quality fishing vessels to counteract the threat now posed by the fact that the Spanish and Portuguese will have access to our 12 mile limit within the next two years?

I assure the Deputy I have already sent plans to Brussels for modernisation of the Irish fishing fleet.

Has the Minister made provisions for finance?

I have sent a proposal to Brussels to modernise our trawlers so that we can compete with those countries.

The Minister does not have any money.

On a point of order, I wish to protest in the strongest terms possible that we have been waiting for Question Time on marine matters for the past six weeks and that this House has been able to take only three questions. That is totally unacceptable, it is no wonder the fishing industry is on its knees.