I too was saddened to learn about the incident in Europe when the Minister was let down at the eleventh hour. We must ensure he is aware that we are fully behind him in these negotiations. We hope he will not be discouraged and will fight the battle to the bitter end.
I welcome this Bill on behalf of my party and pay tribute to the Minister for moving to amend the law to protect our national resources. The provisions are long overdue and I am sure the new measures proposed will help to consolidate our approach to the development of the fishing industry. For too long our fishing industry has been exposed to exploitation. We must now act in a determined way to ensure that the foundations are laid for the protection of our fisheries, both inland and in the waters around our coasts.
There can be no denying that fisheries has been a Cinderella industry, always promised State assistance and encouragement to develop but seldom given the means to embark on a programme of enlightened investment and conservation. The rich harvest of the sea has provided food and jobs, our fishing fleet has been upgraded but that is largely due to individuals of vision with the will to see their dreams come to fruition.
The European fishing industry is in crisis and even the European Union Fisheries Commissioner, Mr. Paleokrassas, admitted this. He said that the overall fishery sector in the European Union is going through a tough time and we have seen the recent problems in the French market when the European Union reintroduced minimum prices for certain white fish and Atlantic salmon. The crisis goes deeper than the problems of one market and the situation is rapidly going out of control. Only last month the crisis in the fishing industry was debated in the European Paraliament and the MEPs roundly condemned the inaction of the Commission and its clear lack of political will to resolve the problem.
The fact that Norway is engaged in talks with a view to joining the European Union is another cause for concern for the future of the European Union fishing fleet and has direct implications for Ireland's fisherman who land their quota of salmon from the north Atlantic. The proposed enlargement of the European Union poses many vital questions for the Irish fishing industry. Norwegian salmon production costs are subsidised to the tune of 20 per cent and facts and figures to support this claim were put forward in the European Parliament. With its salmon production set to grow by 50 per cent by 1995 Norway could fill the entire demand of the European Union. These are important matters for our representatives in the European Parliament and have even greater significance for Government Ministers who have the power to amend proposals and ensure that the European Union fishing fleet is protected. The current crisis in the European fishing industry is best illustrated by the fact that an Irish skipper had to accept £23 for a box of hake instead of around £54 which he had expected. While the low price of fish is the main problem there are the broader questions of policy such as dumping and compensation which we must address in the short term.
The Bill must be welcomed because it tackles some of the traditional abuses which have retarded the proper development of the Irish fishing industry. I am pleased that it strengthens the legal procedures for the detention of fishing boats and the seizure of fish and boat engines where an offence is suspected. For too long we have been the "soft touch" of Europe with foreign trawlers plundering our rich fishing grounds at will and doing untold harm to irreplaceable fish stocks. This plunder and rape of the seas around our coast must be tackled.
The influx of foreign trawlers to the fishing grounds off the west coast is beyond a national or Euro joke. We do not have the resources to deal with the problem. Huge Russian factory ships dwarf the protection vessels of the Naval Service. Whereas our fishery protection fleet acts in a most courageous and dedicated manner, the simple fact remains that it does not have the sophisticated, modern high-tech equipment to track down and apprehend these offenders who are plundering our seabed. Deputy Bradford and I agree — I have raised this matter at Question Time — that we need to look for financial assistance to provide bigger patrol boats around our coast. I was pleased to hear that the Minister for Justice had received encouraging information from the European Union that something would be forthcoming. Deputy Bradford made the remark that we must police fishing activities around our coasts.
The encroachment of non-EU trawlers and fishing boats into our fishing waters is a problem for the European Commission but it seems to tolerate the current crisis in the fishing industry. While I am aware of the controversial proposal from the Commission to introduce satellite monitoring, the debate on the funding of pilot projects is ongoing. Irish Members of the European Parliament have welcomed the provision of 100 per cent finance for pilot projects but the tracking of offending ships is a matter of concern. The fact remains that many of the fishing vessels engaged in illegal fishing are registered outside the European Union and escape sanction. I am pleased that this Bill will tighten the law on licensing and the registration of fishing boats according equal treatment to nationals and bodies corporate of member states of the European Union under Irish legislation.
The power to implement the provisions of the Bill must be delegated to the duly appointed officers designated by the Minister and the Department. I pay tribute to our fishery protection officers for providing a sterling service ensuring that our natural resources are protected from illegal exploitation. It is no secret that they have come under threat in the line of duty; they have been attacked and injured as they go about their lawful duty on behalf of the State. They must be protected with the full force of the law.
I welcome the decision to impose heavy fines and terms of imprisonment on people convicted of assaulting officers. Some people seem to have adopted an ambivalent attitude to the protection of fishery officers. Incidents at sea involving illegal fishing have resulted in assaults and injuries, yet some elements in society treat the matter in a light hearted way as if their sympathy lies with the poacher and those who engage in a game of cat and mouse with the fishery protection officers. Our history has tended to glamorise the poacher but today there are shadowy and secretive elements linked to subversives who muscle in on illegal fishing activities. We must be conscious of this trend and take firm action to prevent the men of violence controlling any segment of the fishing industry.
Increased protection of fishery officers was one of the recommendations in the report on the Ballycotton Tribunal but questions such as safety and training could usefully be explored by the Minister and his Department to ensure that the fishery protection service is fully equipped to meet the threat posed by illegal and subversive activities.
While I give a general welcome to the provisions of the Bill, section 21 causes a degree of confusion. This section deals with the penalties to be imposed in cases involving the purchase, sale or possession of unseasonable or unlawfully captured salmon, trout or eel. There seems to be a contradiction; if a person charged with an offence can prove that the salmon was lawfully captured the charge shall be dismissed. If the person can prove that the salmon was lawfully captured there would be no need for a court appearance.
The reason I refer to this section is that our inland waterways and fisheries have the potential to be developed to boost angling tourism in some of the most scenic areas of the country. In the midwest, on the lakes of Clare and the Shannon Estuary, angling has considerable potential to be developed as a tourism activity. The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board — in particular Eamon Cusack and Jim Robinson — is doing tremendous work marketing the area nationally and abroad to attract anglers and fishermen to the region. During the next six months up to 1,000 foreign anglers will visit the Shannon Estuary. Most of the fish caught will be returned live to the water. The local economy will be boosted by the presence of so many anglers fishing in local competitions.
I welcome the fact that the Minister in deciding an application for a fishing boat licence, will take into account criteria such as landings at Irish ports, the creation of employment and local expenditure. Ireland offers wild, fighting freshwater fish and a range of warm and cold water fish. We offer quality angling in the most unpolluted rivers, lakes and seas in Europe. We must not destroy these natural advantages by unplanned developments which prove damaging to the environment.
There are six million registered anglers in Britain and, this market has been targeted by bodies such as Bord Fáilte. Angling tourism will only be developed if there is easy access to our lakes, rivers and sea fishing. Ireland benefits from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the seafood rich western European continental shelf. Because of these geographic advantages we can offer the sea angler a range of excellent opportunities. Quality angling is available from rocks, piers, beaches or small boats in bays and inlets. We can also offer deep sea fishing. We are right to be concerned about the long term future of the fishing industry, be it the deep sea commercial harvesting of fish or the sporting activities of local and foreign anglers.
While we have a commercial interest in this area we must also act from a conservation viewpoint. We must not over-fish the seas; we must have an enlightened policy on capture and conservation. As some of our European partners do not share our views — there has been evidence of this during the past few days — we face an uphill battle. While there is a need for increased conservation measures there is also a definite demand for the restructuring of the European fishing sector. Senior European Commission officials admit that support for such a move may not be forthcoming from all member states. Herein lies the problem; if all member states cannot agree to abide by the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy what chance have we, a small nation on the edge of Europe, of protecting our valuable fishing waters?
This question goes to the heart of European Union policy. I urge the Minister to act now in a bid to resolve the crisis in the fishing industry. We wish him every success in this task. I also ask him to examine ways of improving maritime safety. It is distressing that in the first six weeks of 1994 more than 100 seafarers died at sea. These deaths can be attributed to substandard ships and to the fact that operators put profit before safety. Many countries have failed to implement the rules of the International Maritime Organisation and this trend is disturbing. I urge the Minister to take these points into consideration in future legislation.