Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1996: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1996 is to introduce a new and enhanced statutory basis for the licensing and regulation of the acquaculture industry. The framework proposed will provide a more effective, legally secure and transparent licensing process which should command the confidence of the fish farming industry and all other relevant interests.

There are two statutory mechanisms at present under which ministerial authority can be exercised to licence fish culture or aquaculture. They are provided for by section 15 of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959 and by section 54 of the Fisheries Act, 1980. In addition, aquaculture installations or structures on the foreshore are also subject to the requirements of the Foreshore Acts and land-based facilities are subject to the requirements of Planning Acts.

In the period since the introduction of the 1980 Act we have witnessed the growth of the aquaculture industry to the point where it accounts for some 25 per cent of total fish production in Ireland and internationally. Total production of farms in 1995 amounted to almost 27,000 tonnes with a value of some £50 million. The total number of people engaged in all sectors of the aquaculture industry stood at 2,946 at the end of 1995.

Aquaculture or fish farming implies human intervention in the rearing of fish. This can involve, for example, the farming and feeding of fin fish in cages or the propagation of shellfish which filter feed naturally in the waters where the seed is placed. The world-wide decline in stocks of wild fish, together with the buoyant consumer demand for fish, has meant that aquaculture products now account for an ever-increasing proportion of fish production. Ireland is in an ideal position to benefit from this trend. Experience has shown that careful, environmentally sound husbandry is the key to the production of quality aquaculture food.

The Government is committed to the continued sustainable development of this valuable industry and to delivering on the potential for jobs and growth which it offers, particularly in coastal communities. The planned development and expansion of the industry is a major element of the investment programme in place under the Fisheries Operational Programme 1994-1999. The operational programme envisages doubling aquaculture output to £103 million by the end of 1999 and the creation of an additional 1,300 jobs over the period of the programme. A total investment of £36 million is planned in new projects and in the modernisation of existing facilities. To date, 58 investment projects in aquaculture have been approved under the programme involving a total investment of some £14.2 million.

To facilitate the realisation of the targets for expansion and maximise the benefit of the Structural Funds investment, a sound legislative framework to solidly underpin aquaculture development is essential. It has been agreed for some time by the industry and other interests that a thorough overhaul of the existing legislation is essential. It is necessary to address not only deficiencies experienced with the licensing procedures and constraints imposed by court decisions, but also to take account of new thinking on planning and environmental issues, as well as the significant technical advances in aquaculture itself. The existing legislative provisions do not command confidence. The claimed failings and defects are both perceived and real.

The aquaculture industry sees the present procedures as a disincentive to enterprise and as being cumbersome and slow in terms of finalising licensing decisions. The industry needs and deserves a greater degree of certainty in the process of assessment and decision making and in terms of the timeframe for decisions. Others perceive the present licensing process and procedures as failing to have sufficient regard to public rights and environmental concerns. Furthermore, all sides agree that appeals mechanisms against licensing decisions are inadequate, and applicants and objectors are poorly served by the present system.

There is a large degree of consensus on the broad requirements of any new licensing system. The degree of common ground on what is needed is particularly significant given the differing, often opposing, perspectives on aquaculture development. Views on the specific issues to be addressed in new legislation converge in many respects. Key industry concerns centre on: the need for a streamlined, impartial and speedy licensing framework; enhancement of notification-consultation procedures for licence applications; strengthened rights of appeal against negative licensing decisions; security of tenure; safeguarding of other interests; the need for more effective policing and regulation; a sound statutory basis for licences; new fee basis; and the need for explicit policy guidelines to inform decision making.

Key third party concerns centred on the need for an impartial and transparent decision making process, improved public notification-consultation procedures, better access to information, improved appeal mechanisms, enhanced regulation, monitoring and control of industry, a clear-cut penalties regime to ensure full compliance with licence and other requirements, and explicit policy guidelines to inform decision making.

Consequently, one of my primary concerns in the drafting of the Bill was to endeavour to strike the necessary balance between the essential development needs of the aquaculture industry and the acknowledged and real concerns of other parties. Getting this balance right is essential to ensure that the development of aquaculture is planned and regulated in a sustainable way. Thus, the objective of the Bill before the House is to establish a new licensing process which (i) facilitates the continued sustainable development of the aquaculture industry while meeting local and environmental concerns; (ii) gives those directly involved with aquaculture, and all other interested individuals and organisations, a reasonable opportunity to express their views on particular development proposals within a framework of clearly defined procedures and times-cales; and (iii) makes provision for the establishment of an Independent Appeals Board and process.

I would like to take this opportunity to lay to rest a number of emerging myths about this Bill which have been the subject of an advertising campaign last week in the provincial press. It is unacceptable that misinformation and distortions of the Bill's provisions and objectives may regrettably have gained a degree of credence among some fishery and angling interests. Specifically, I would like to offer the following assurances and clarification to the House that people's rights are enhanced and not diminished by this Bill. The allegation that the Bill could put fish farms on every lake, river, estuary and bay in Ireland is a gross exaggeration and distortion of the facts. As things stand, any person can lodge an application for a licence to engage in aquaculture at any place or on any waters. That remains the case. The consent of the owner, whether private or State, is required and in the case of salmonoid breeding installations, marine or freshwater, EU requirements for environmental impact assessments must be complied with. For inland or land based developments, local authority planning requirements must be met. Licence applications will also continue to be subject to full and rigorous assessment by the Department's technical services from all relevant perspectives.

The Bill will not abolish all rights to fishing, navigation and recreation. Public waters and the foreshore are a common resource with competing demands from a wide range of economic, ecological and recreational interests. No one interest can dominate. There must be a balanced usage in the public interest. Rights of appeal are enhanced and not abolished as has been claimed.

The Independent Appeals Board will not replace the courts. As in planning law, any person wishing to contest a licensing decision will still have recourse to the courts by way of judicial review provided the court concludes that there are substantial grounds for doing so. In any planning sphere, it is important to dissuade vexatious or frivolous appeals to the courts and it is reasonable to insist that appellants at least have grounds for their objections.

The Bill, as is standard practice when introducing a new format of licensing permission which will be subject to strengthened regulatory requirements, provides that all existing and future licensed aquaculture operations will be brought within a comprehensive licensing and regulatory system.

There are different types and methods of fish culture and, indeed, a range of fin fish and shellfish species are farmed. Currently, licences are granted for ten year periods, and the aquaculture industry has represented its case that licences of longer duration are needed to underpin investment, secure finance and provide the necessary security of tenure. The Bill provides for licence duration of 20 years and more, although I envisage that 20 years will be the norm.

Public notice procedures will remain in place. Our objective is to have the fullest possible consultation prior to any licensing decision being taken. Application regulations, as provided for by section 10 of the Bill, will facilitate the broadest possible consultation process, including consultation with other Departments, State bodies and agencies. The Independent Appeals Board is not biased towards fish farmers. The composition of the board is carefully balanced to ensure that aquaculture, environmental protection, wild fisheries, planning and development and industrial and community development interests are represented with no interest having a majority position.

The appeals board will be totally independent but, as in planning law, ministerial power is reserved to issue general policy directives in relation to aquaculture to which the board must have regard.

Objections to licensing proposals are not severely restricted. It will be open to any person to lodge an objection to or make representations on any proposed aquaculture developments within a reasonable timeframe.

It is proposed to exempt trial licences from appeals. Such licences will be of strictly limited duration, temporary and non-renewable, to facilitate experimental aquaculture and research and development. Long-term commercial aquaculture developments following completion of trials will be subject to the full licensing process.

The State foreshore is not being privatised. Placement of seafarm cages or structures on the foreshore for aquaculture purposes will continue to be licensed under the Foreshore Act, 1933. It has been long-standing practice for the State to grant licences or leases for areas of the foreshore for a range of economic or recreational activity.

I will now deal with the main provisions of the Bill and the new framework for licensing and regulation proposed. A fundamental requirement of the Bill is that one cannot undertake aquaculture without a licence. Furthermore, section 11 will disqualify persons from applying for a licence for any area where they commenced aquaculture operations without a licence.

Applications for licences to engage in aquaculture are to be made to the licensing authority, that is, the Minister for the Marine or a designated officer of the Minister in the event of the power being delegated. A statutory time objective for determining licence applications within four months is provided for with the licensing authority empowered to extend this period in specified exceptional circumstances. In such circumstances, reasons will have to be given to the applicant concerned and the date by which, or period within which, the application will be determined must be stated. This provision setting a four month time objective for licensing decision takes account of concerns expressed by the industry that there should be a fixed time frame for dealing with applications. It will be open to the Minister to delegate the function of deciding on licence applications and reviews of licences, or on particular categories of applications and reviews, to an officer of the Department.

An independent Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board will be established to determine appeals against decisions of the licensing authority. A statutory time objective for determining appeals within four months will apply with similar provisions for extending this period in exceptional circumstances. The board will consist of a chairperson and five ordinary members with knowledge or experience of aquaculture, environmental protection or wild fisheries, planning and development or industrial or community development who will be appointed by the Minister. The chairperson's term of office will be five years and other members will hold office for a term not exceeding five years to be specified at the time of their appointment.

There is a standard provision for disclosure of interests by the board or persons engaged by the board in circumstances where a particular beneficial or material interest exists. The board may engage consultants and advisers for evaluating appeals. The concerns expressed by the industry and the various interest groups on the need for accountability through an appropriate right of appeal have been recognised and taken on board. To a large extent, we have used the Bord Pleanála model for the structure and procedures of the aquaculture appeals board.

The procedures relating to appeals and their consideration by the appeals board are derived from the streamlined planning appeals procedures established by the Planning Acts. The main features include: a time limit of one month for lodging appeals by any aggrieved person; a requirement to state the full grounds of appeal when appealing; an entitlement for the other parties to an appeal, and anybody else who wishes to do so, to make written submissions on the appeal within a time limit of one month; a discretionary power for the appeals board to invite a further submission from any person concerned with an appeal, where it considers it appropriate to do so; a power for the appeals board to decide, in its absolute discretion, to hold an oral hearing of any appeal and power for the appeals board to dismiss frivolous, vexatious or abandoned appeals.

The Minister will be empowered to issue general policy directives, and any designated officer exercising licensing functions and the appeals board will be required to have regard to such directives. This is a standard provision in planning law on which this part of the Bill is modelled.

The licensing authority may grant trial licences authorising experimental investigations for particular aquaculture developments. Such licences would be subject to a maximum term and would not be renewable. Because of the limited nature and duration of these licences, appeal provisions will not apply. It is clear there is a need for more flexibility in licensing experimental operations. For example, trials to establish site suitability including suitability for fallowing purposes or the viability of farming novel species have to be facilitated if the industry is to grow and adapt to new developments and technology. Diversification into new species and products is needed to avoid over-dependence on particular species or markets. The potential to develop into new areas needs to be encouraged and not hindered. Trial licence provisions will assist the ongoing research and development effort into experimental techniques of cultivation for new and currently farmed fish species.

This is not a new concept. Granting temporary permissions for trials or pilot projects is a well established procedure under the existing Fisheries Acts. The trial licence provision in this Bill will, however, impose a statutory time limit on future trial licences granted.

The Minister will be empowered to prescribe by regulations, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, fees for licence applications, licences and appeals. This provision will make it possible to lay down fees for applications, reviews or appeals as is the case under the planning Acts, in addition to fees for licences.

Matters which must be taken into account, as relevant, in determining licence applications and appeals are delineated in the Bill. These include the suitability of the area in question for the aquaculture development proposed, the likely economic effects, other beneficial uses of the water, the ecological implications for wild fisheries, natural habitats, flora and fauna. The aim here is to introduce clear licensing criteria as sought by both the industry and other interest groups.

Provisions to deal with unauthorised development and breaches of licence conditions are considerably strengthened. This will protect existing or future licensees against developments which undermine confidence in the industry and the Department's ability to regulate properly. It will also allay the concerns of other interests who can be confident that the aquaculture industry is properly regulated and placed on the same footing as other natural resource sectors.

As a measure of the importance I attach to ensuring that fish farmers comply with the responsibilities placed on them by this Bill, stiff penalties, including fines of up to £100,000 and or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, are provided for offences committed. In addition, provision is made in section 68 for the ultimate sanction of revocation of an aquaculture licence, without compensation for the licensee. I have included strengthened provisions with regard to the recapture of fish in the event of escapements occurring at finfish farms. This is a matter which I know concerns people involved in the wild fisheries sector. Licences will be open to review once three years have passed. Any decision following a review will be appealable in the same way as a decision on a licence application.

As regards other miscellaneous provisions I have taken on board concerns expressed by the aquaculture industry about security of tenure and prevention of interference with licensed operations and incorporated specific provisions to address these concerns. I have also made provision to underpin licences currently in place authorising aquaculture developments, the bulk of which were granted or renewed by my predecessors since the mid 1980s.

In the course of preparation of this Bill, my Department has had extensive consultations with a range of interest groups and State bodies. Extensive consultations have taken place with other Departments, particularly the Department of the Environment and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The views of BIM and aquaculture industry representative bodies have been considered fully, together with views of fishery and environmental interests.

Since this Bill was published I have made it clear that I welcome submissions from interested parties and am willing to consider any reasonable amendments that will improve the Bill. I am anxious that we enact the best possible legislation and am examining a number of submissions received, together with comments that were made when the Bill was before the Seanad last December. It is in this spirit that I bring the Bill before the House.

The aquaculture industry has been poorly serviced by out of date legislation and a licensing process which has failed to deliver in terms of decisions within a reasonable time frame. Those who wish to lodge appeals, representations or objections against any licensing decision were also poorly served by the statutes in place. I am satisfied the Bill provides the necessary legislative framework to command both industry and public confidence in the licensing and regulatory processes for the aquaculture industry. It underlines the Government's commitment to the sustainable development of this valuable industry and to ensuring that aquaculture develops within strict environmental standards with the rights of other users protected fully. I commend the Bill to the House.

Tá áthas orm go bhfuil caoi agam anois labhairt i bhfábhar an Bhille seo. I am delighted to have this opportunity at long last to say a few words in favour of the introduction of this legislation. The Minister of State will agree it is not complicated legislation, it borrows from previous legislation in relation to planning. I see no reason for the long delay in its introduction. We were promised it in the latter stages of 1995 and right through 1996.

Because of the controversy which has developed about the Bill it is necessary to say a few words about the philosophy and the history of acquaculture. The coast of Ireland, like our lakes and rivers, represents a major national resource. It has the potential for economic, environmental and sociological development which, if managed properly, will constitute a national asset of immense value. All development must aim to work with rather than against the natural system. However, there is a clear requirement to re-educate at least some members of the public who at the moment seem to assume that all change is bad and must be resisted at any cost and with all possible means. As in all other areas of human activity, it is recognised that development must be sustainable; it must fulfil the needs of the present generation without compromising adversely the needs of future generations. That is the philosophy which will underpin Fianna Fáil policy on development of these resources.

Historically and because fishing is mainly a coastal activity, it is rural coastal communities which depend on a fishery for survival. In controlling this natural resource questions should be asked about the social dimension — who is to own the property rights? Is it the person with the most capital, most able to effectively exploit the resources or is the fishery to be used to assist the geographical spread of communities, maintain isolated settlements and/or to support the historical rights of families who have fished for generations as in Carlingford Lough and so on? As politicians we have to address these questions and find a balance. The Bill sets out to do that.

As far back as 1852 the first ever commercial fresh water salmon farm was established in County Galway but we had to wait more than a century, until the 1970s, when Irish entrepreneurs, fishermen and students of the marine environment used the knowledge and experience of aquaculture, taken from Norway and America, to set up the first successful Irish salmon farms. Since those small beginnings, technology, the husbandry, and the new ways of doing things have developed to a stage where fish farming produces a quarter of Ireland's marine output, from a modest 20 tonnes in 1980 to 13,000 tonnes today. Fish was farmed in ponds and lakes for thousands of years.

The depletion of the world's wild stock by over fishing has given aquaculture an important and necessary food production role in Europe. In North and South America and across to Asia demand for fish steadily increases each year as consumers become more conscious of the health benefits, the convenience and the almost unlimited variety of seafood available.

Salmon, a highly versatile quality product, has a huge 300,000 tonne market in Europe alone. Irish salmon demands a premium place on continental shop shelves and restaurant menus due to its renown as a naturally produced full flavoured and consistent product.

Farming accounts for a quarter of Ireland's seafood output today. The World Bank has predicted that by the year 2025 the planet will get 40 per cent of its seafood from aquaculture. Salmon is by far the most popular and successful farmed fish species. More recently established fish farming enterprises in Ireland include oyster, mussels, scallops, clams, lobsters, eels and turbot. They join the salmon and trout farms and combine the seafarming and animal husbandry skills that exist in Irish coastal communities. The farms species list expands each year with farm cod now identified as a good potential expansion area.

One of the most important aspects in the development of fish farming has been its labour intensive year round employment opportunities in coastal areas. Many communities are heavily dependent on the jobs provided by fish farming. More than 2,000 people in Ireland rely either directly or indirectly on this kind of farming, processing and other services. Winter time sees a demand in fish farming for part-time workers, most of whom use their employment in salmon farming to boost their incomes from fishing, farming or summer time tourism employment. By combining traditional land farming and seafaring skills with up-to-the-minute technology, salmon farming has created a new way of life, linked to the sea along our western coastline.

The service industry linked to this kind of farming employs many other skilled and semi-skilled workers, including hauliers, electricians, mechanics, boat-builders, net-makers, cage-builders, feed manufacturers, equipment makers, sales people, veterinarians, marine biologists, environmental consultants etc. There are approximately 300 fish farms in Ireland — in the past they concentrated on salmon production — producing 13,000 tonnes per annum or 3.5 per cent of world production. To diversify out of salmon, which is in abundant supply in Europe, a significant number have developed shellfish and other fish production, and employment has grown.

The expansion of the acquaculture industry has been further encouraged under the operational programme for fisheries but as yet the majority of the producers do not have the necessary licences. It is estimated there are more than 800 licences pending. When replying, perhaps the Minister will tell us how many applications are pending and how he intends to process these applications or give an assessment of those who in different circumstances would have applied but have been hindered from doing so? We all know the situation must be rectified. Fianna Fáil is committed to implementing exacting legislation and ensuring a fair and equitable system is developed to maintain standards which will ensure licences will only be granted or renewed for those producers who operate within the conditions laid down in their licences. In this way Fianna Fáil believes any environmental concerns in regard to fish farming and aquaculture in general can be overcome.

Often Governments are seen to be working against the fishermen or in disagreement with them. There is a need for radical change and to move away from the continuous confrontation and contentious issues which seem to pull us apart. It is time we looked on these resources in the same way as we look on national programmes for development in other spheres and sought to have a national consensus, bringing the different components together, hammering out the problem inside closed doors. Too much time is being lost, there is too much friction and too many people have all the answers for themselves without taking into account the wider and broader issues.

We want this Bill to succeed and be seen as an opportunity, not as a threat. It may pose a threat to some. Explanations will have to be given, amendments may have to be made, there will have to be a consultative process to ensure these resources give maximum employment and an opportunity to fill the market at a time when other species are not readily available in regions which have little or no alternative opportunities. These isolated regions are far removed from Brussels, Paris and other main centres of population and have little prospect of securing mobile industry. They must, therefore, rely on natural resources and a combination of different measures. In this context, I urge the Minister to examine the possibility of bringing the various streams in this area together. Like me, he is tired of the differences and divisions which have led to a waste of time and reduced the prospects of exploiting these natural resources to the best advantage.

The Department of the Marine is responsible for enforcing the regulations and administering the industry on behalf of the State. It delegates these functions to the Central Fisheries Board, BIM and the Marine Institute. It is time the Department was placed on a higher footing as it is clearly not able to secure the necessary resources and is sometimes not listened to by the Department of Finance. It is time we upgraded the Department so that it has the necessary facilities and resources to deal with problems more speedily.

Most of the people in the industry have been crying out for pragmatic and sensible regulatory measures. No one is under any illusion that the difficulties in the industry derive from the inadequacies of the Fisheries Acts and the failure of some local authorities to properly enforce the regulations. The functions of the Department of the Marine, BIM, the Marine Institute and local authorities must be more closely integrated so that there is a consistent regime which will stand the test of time and enable local authorities which do not have sufficient skills to avail of the skills of other local authorities on a contract or other basis. This will enable us to achieve the targets set out in the operational programme.

When I visited Mayo last year I was asked to ensure that this legislation would be less bureaucratic, take into account different types of aqua-cultural methods, provide a simple, practical, efficient, cost effective and finite system of regulating the industry, inspire confidence among fish farmers, other water users and the public in its legality and efficacy, protect investment in fish stocks, recognise the necessity for finance and the availability of EU funding and be flexible so that licences can be extended to cater for changes in fish farming and farmers can diversify into other species and protect against speculation.

The Operational Programme for Fisheries 1994-1999 aims to increase the harvested tonnage from 13,000 to 24,000 tonnes. Given the time span between the making of an application, its processing and the appeals process, we are not talking about very much development in 1997, which means it will not take place until 1998. This poses a threat for the targets set in the operational programme which would have meant an income of between £80-£100 million and the creation of additional employment which will now obviously be lost. As we are dealing with peripheral and poorer disadvantaged regions, the State must provide the necessary funding for marketing, promotion, training and research.

The opponents of fish farming must realise that, like all other sectors, there is a learning curve and mistakes have been, and will be, made — there are very few areas in conventional farming and industry where mistakes have not been made. New environmental regulations have been introduced to deal with problems which were not envisaged at the time many developments were started. It is very important for salmon farmers that we have excellent water and environmental conditions and that these are monitored and maintained. The future development of the industry depends on the right legislative environment. Irish farmed salmon, with its high quality in terms of appearance, freshness and colour, enjoys a favourable image in the marketplace. However, the capability of Irish growers to supply the market with the type of produce it requires in terms of size, size mix and grade of salmon is less than satisfactory. The experts in the industry tell me that this relates to size and tonnage, factors outside the control of the industry. If we want to supply these larger markets we must achieve the targets set in the operational programme.

We must also discuss the prospect of added value. In most cases we do the primary work, at which we are very good, but other countries are better at downstream added value processing. The industry, the State and State agencies seem to be reluctant to carry out downstream added value processing. Admittedly, it is expensive and one must continuously grapple with advances in technology, etc., but, given the creation of desperately needed additional employment, we can ill-afford to ignore the opportunities offered by added value processing.

The fin fish sector represents 82 per cent of output. What is the position of this sector in terms of grant aid? Is it Government policy not to provide grant aid for hatcheries which are essential for supply? I have been told that, as a result of the downturn and lack of expansion in the industry, qualified marine biologists and others with aquacultural qualifications have not had available to them the opportunities originally envisaged. We must provide the necessary funding for training so that entrants to this sector can keep abreast of the changes in technology.

Salmon farming is a combination of age old intensive farming techniques, modern production techniques and technology. It has rapidly adapted new technologies to meet its requirements. Scientific progress continues to assist in the introduction of improvements and in pushing out the boundaries in terms of what can be achieved. The industry is approaching a pure production phase, having evolved from the earlier research and development and scientific experimental phase. The need for change is ever present as the understanding of marine biology, diet, pathology and the environment advances. With an emphasis on production, this change is less likely to come from within the industry, particularly in Ireland, and must come from elsewhere. While the industry will be quick to adapt to new production technology and equipment developed in the world market, it may not discover or be aware of scientific developments and their suitability for application in areas of fish health treatments. It is important, therefore, that scientific support structures are in place funded both by the State and industry, undertaking targets of research and continuously updating and educating the industry and the public as far as possible.

Fresh water aquaculture in Ireland concentrates mainly on the production of salmon smolt for orgrowing at sea, fresh water rainbow trout for consumption and native smolt and brown trout for restocking and export. Knowledge of the common diseases, vaccination and husbandry technologies have improved immeasurably but we must continue to push out the frontiers in that regard.

To meet our targets in the operational programme, we need a smolt capacity of ten million and, taking into account the tourism programme, that capacity should be approximately 14 million. Will the Minister say whether we will be in a position to meet those targets?

I want to deal briefly with certain management matters that have been brought to my notice because of the controversy that has arisen. I understand the success of oil-based vaccines in salmon farming means there should be little or no need for the use of antibiotics. Such guarantees are important and they should be discussed in the open. We must believe in the industry and our ability to reassure the public. The onus is on the industry to communicates more clearly in terms of the realities of these matters.

The use of more than one site will allow single generation stock production with fallowing periods between stockings. This kind of regime will lead to long-term sustainable stock health because of the breaking of the parasite pathogen life cycles, thus reducing greatly the requirement for chemical therapy. The most common therapy to be used is Nuvan aquaguard bats for the control of lice. Better net cleaning and general hygiene should greatly reduce the usage of Nuvan. Fallowing will reduce it further or perhaps eliminate it.

We should not shy away from the sea trout lice problem. The implementation of the sea trout task force report, particularly in relation to single bay management and the monitoring of farms, is important. It is interesting that for competition purposes some angling groups sought permission to site fish near the bays for shelter and other convenience. Such co-operations is good and we must be committed to finding solutions to problems as distinct from stand-off publicity campaigns aimed at frightening people which can create enormous difficulty.

The question of rates has been raised and in this context fish farming sectors are being dealt with differently from pig and mushroom producers and farmers. An opportunity was lost in this legislation to put them on the same competitive footing as others, particularly Scotland and other competitors.

In regard to emergency licences, will the Minister outline the way he intends to manage problems such as oil slicks or other pollution. As far as fish farmers are concerned, flexibility would be required to deal with that kind of disaster. The Minister might also indicate how matters are progressing in Europe in relation to the distortion of the market as a result of some non-EU countries, particularly Norway, oversupplying the market. Statistics show that Norway produces approximately 300,000 tonnes of fish, Scotland produces 60,000 tonnes and Ireland produces 13,000 tonnes. We must be wary of the bigger players in the market.

In the final analysis we have to manage conflict. Irrespective of legislation, however well thought out, or any system that is put in place, wide differences of opinion remain across the country. It is important for the development of this country, particularly coastal regions, that we seek solutions to our problems. The implementation of legislation such as this and the prospect of growth in aquaculture will be greatly enhanced. I urge the Minister to bring the disparate groups together in the context of a national consensus on the way forward.

Fianna Fáil supports the main provisions of the Bill. This is not complicated legislation but it enshrines much of what has been sought while borrowing from previous legislation. We will facilitate the quick passage of the Bill through the House in the knowledge that time has been lost; we do not want to lose any more.

Molann an Páirtí Daonlathach an tAire as ucht na n-iarrachtaí aige rialacha nua iomlán a chur i bhfeidhm chun an tionscal feirmeoireachta éisc a riaradh níos éifeachtaí. Tá sé tábhachtach go dtuigfeadh gach éinne — iad siúd atá ag plé an tionscal agus iad siúd atá imníoch faoi na rudaí atá ar siúl taobh istigh den tionscal — cad tá á dhéanamh.

Tá sé tábhachtach, chomh maith, nach gcuirfí isteach ar shláinte aon rud eile sa bhfarraige, sna locha nó sna haibhneacha ar fud na tíre agus go mbeadh treoir leagtha amach a bheadh soiléir le haghaidh fás agus forbairt an tionscail. Tá seo tábhachtach go háirithe de dheasea an easaontais mhóir a tharla tar éis an damáiste a deineadh don breach geal. Creideann an-chuid daoine go raibh baint dhíreach idir na h-áiteanna a raibh feirmeachas éisc suite agus bású an bhric ghil agus é ag filleadh ar na haibhneacha.

Tá an-chuid staidéir déanta ar an cheist sin agus caithfidh gur deineadh botúin ar feadh na mblianta nuair a bhí an tionscal ag iarraidh níos mó eolais a fháil faoi conas dul ar aghaidh.

Mar sin, cé go bhfáiltím roimh an Bhille sa mhéid is go bhfuil iarracht á dhéanamh ann rialacha daingne a leagadh síos a chuirfidh iachall ar na feirmeoirí éisc cloí leo agus a thabharfaidh iomlán eolais don phobal i gcoitinne ní h-ionann sin is a rá go nglacaim féin nó mo pháirtí leis an mBille mar atá sé leagtha amach go dtí seo.

Creidimid go bhfuil an-chuid ceisteanna ardaithe agus go bhfuil an díospóireachr seo tábhachtach mar go dtugann sé seans do na Teachtaí ceisteanna a ardú.

Beimid ag súil le freagraí on Aire ar na ceisteanna sin. Muna bhfuil freagraí iomlána soiléir sásúla ag teacht ón Aire beidh ar mo pháirtí smaoineamh ar an seasamh a thógfaimid. Ní féidir glacadh leis go nglacaimid leis na rialacha nó leis na moltaí atá sa Bhille mar atá sé ina iomlán mar go gcreidimid go bhfuil gá le leasuithe ar an mBille. Cuirfimid féin leasuithe ar aghaidh muna dtugann an tAire freagraí sásúla dúinn ar na ceisteanna uainn. Tá súil agam go mbeidh leasuithe ag an Aire féin nuair a thagann an Bille go dtí an chéad chéim eile sa Teach.

The fin fish aquaculture industry has had a chequered history since the tentative investment in it more than 20 years ago by Gaeltarra Éireann in the Connemara Gaeltacht and subsequently by Údarás na Gaeltachta. Substantial sume of taxpayers' money were invested in research and in a number of failed commercial developments until the earlier difficulties in feed conversion were overcome.

The fin fish and shellfish industries have the potential to create substantial employment in remote regions of the west in particular. The pristine quality of the Atlantic waters along stretches of the western coastline, which are far removed from domestic sewage disposal systems and other likely causes of pollution, has led an array of commercial investors into those regions searching for sheltered bays that combine optimum water quality with maximum protection for fish cages from the high seas that can be whipped up to a powerfully destructive force by the frequent storms that batter our western Atlantic coastline.

The earlier expectation of bonanza from fish farming has not materialised. There have been huge losses due to diseases which led to a period when every chemical with a potential cure was being tried, some of which were known to be carcinogenic. The alarming decline in the number of sea trout is seen as a direct result of the presence of salmon fish cages in estuary waters. The emaciated condition of the lice-ridden sea trout that returned to local fresh waters pointed only in one direction when searching for the cause.

This problem has occupied the attention of successive Ministers and Ministers of State at the Department of the Marine in recent years and has still not been satisfactorily resolved, although the fallowing policy that had to be introduced was a belated admission that there may be a major connection between the location and management of salmon farms in the sea and the near wipe-out of a very old native species, the sea trout.

Local communities in Galway West have also expressed concern at the location of fish cages adjacent to popular beaches. They fear this may have an adverse affect on tourism, a huge industry along the western coastline. In this regard, one has only to recall the protests organised at Mannin Bay, Cleggan, and Lettergesh. The attempt some years ago by Messrs Carrolls to locate fish cages on Lough Corrib to rear young salmon raised a storm of protest and led to alarm among angling clubs that they could no longer rely on the Department or the local authority to act as guardians of the marine and fresh water environment, particularly as the then Government also sought to impose a compulsory licence on all fishing rods. This distrust continues to this day and has been openly expressed in regard to some of the proposals in the Bill. I share some of those concerns.

I have a particular interest in the proposals designed to prohibit persons engaging in aquaculture without a licence, to establish a licensing procedure and to allow for appeals. Aquaculture is a big business. It produces 25 per cent of our sea food, more than 80 per cent of which is exported. There are 270 people employed in the fin fish farming industry in Country Galway alone, which produced 5,000 tonnes valued at £15 million in 1996. A further 150 people are employed in shellfish farming, producing 90 tonnes at a value of £90,000. Salmon, gigas oysters, arctic char, extensive oysters, abalone, mussels, lobster and turbot are farmed in Country Galway.

The aquaculture industry employs 3,400 people nationally, although the Minister gave a figure of 2,946 for 1995. My figures, which I received from the industry, relate to 1996. I am surprised he did not have more up to date figures. The industry produced 24,000 tonnes of food valued at £60 million in 1996, most of which was exported. As a food industry, this valuable business demands high standards. It is essential, therefore, that extensive controls are put in place to ensure that only the highest standards are tolerated so that nothing is done to interfere with the aquatic environment through interference with the balance of nature and ecological order or through intrusiveness on the physical environment. Hence the need for legislation.

I compliment the Minister on grasping the aquaculture nettle and on recognising the urgent need for comprehensive controls and an objective that has the support of the aquaculture industry and angling and environmental interests. My party supports the principle and objective of this Bill. I agree with the Minister's view that:

The aquaculture industry sees the present procedures as a disincentive to enterprise and as being cumbersome and slow in terms of finalising licensing decisions... Others perceive the present licensing process and procedures as failing to have sufficient regard for public rights and environmental concerns. Furthermore, all sides agree that appeals mechanisms against licensing decisions are inadequate and applicants and objectors are poorly served by the present system.

This is an opportunity for us to introduce proper legislation.

The Progressive Democrats Party is not satisfied the Bill contains sufficient specific proposals to allay the fears of concerned local communities, environmentalists and anglers. Neither is it satisfied that adequate procedures are being put in place to allow for full consultation on suitability of proposed sites, the conditions and regulations to be applied and on the mechanism for appealing against these decisions. We want to ensure that a fair, objective and impartial appeals system is put in place. This is necessary because of the potential threat to the ever sensitive and finely balanced ecological order which affects the fish life in our marine and fresh waters.

I will now deal with some sections about which I would like to hear further explanation from the Minister. Section 4 repeals section 54 of the Fisheries Act, 1980, which brings to an end the existing practice of having a restricted number of areas for aquaculture. The effect of this will be that anyone can apply to undertake aquaculture activities on any marine or freshwater location. This could open a Pandora's box because it gives the Minister the right to grant a licence to operate a fish farm on every lake, river, estuary and bay. There is enormous concern about this change. Why has no distinction been made between marine and freshwater sites? This will lead to an increased use of our wild rivers and lakes for hatcheries, smolt rearing and other commercial operations.

The aquaculture proposals for freshwater locations — land based, as the Minister calls it — require planning permission and must go through that process. That requirement does not apply to the sea based structures. Why has the Minister not dealt with that in the opportunity presented to him by this Bill?

Section 7(2) states: "A licence may be granted, notwithstanding the existance of any public right to fish in any waters to which the licence relates". If that subsection is applied in an insensitive manner without full adequate and meaningful consultation, it has the potential to create major confrontation at local level. Local communities which make extensive use of lakes, rivers or the sea for fishing, recreation or commercial purposes could be excluded overnight from doing that by the granting of a licence. If such a decision is now to be made — we have gone beyond confining it to designated areas — there is need for an extensive process of consultation to ensure that every possible aspect and the views, opinions and established traditional rights of local people are taken into account in granting a licence.

Section 9 gives the Minister the power to grant a trial licence for a two years period without consultation and without allowing the public a right to appeal, which is extraordinary. I do not agree with the distinction made between a full and a trial licence. I have read and heard what the Minister has said. I put it to him that the maximum period of any licence should be five and not more than ten years with an oral hearing in all cases. If the Minister does not recognise the legitimacy of that proposal, he does not understand how sensitive this issue is and the necessity for absolute openness and the opportunity for full discussion and review of these decisions. In view of the importance attached to the decision to grant an aquaculture licence, an oral hearing should be granted on request. Sections 40, 44 and 49 deal with oral hearings and will require considerable amendment to make them more acceptable than the Minister's current proposals.

Section 15 gives a right to grant a licence in perpetuity or for a period not exceeding 20 years. This is excessive and unnecessary. Does the Minister not see that, by granting licences in perpetuity, he could transfer part of the State's natural assets into private ownership? In many cases, if a fish farming company with considerable risk investments collapses and is heavily in debt to some bank or financial institution, that institution will take over the entire operation, including the licence. The ownership of part of a shore of a river, lake, estuary or bay could thus be transferred to the ownership of some large and possibly foreign financial institution. The Minister has not dealt with that issue adequately in his introductory speech and I would like to hear more in his reply.

Under section 54 of the 1980 Act, the right of appeal to the High Court is available and this Bill removes that except in the case of the appeals board the Minister proposes to set up. It has the right to have matters decided by the High Court, but only in matters of law. The only opportunity for anyone else to appeal to the High Court is provided in the restricted circumstances set out in section 73 which relates to judicial reviews. This restricts the matter considerably and is a retrograde step which must be dealt with in some way. It is difficult to see a justification for removing the right of appeal to the High Court and Supreme Court and I await with interest the Minister's explanation of the necessity for this fundamental change.

Section 19 provides that a licence may be renewed after consultation with such bodies as may be prescribed for that purpose. Who are the bodies likely to be so prescribed, what criteria will apply in their selection and what role, if any, will they play other than being consulted? I notice in the Minister's introductory speech he referred only to statutory bodies. Is it to be confined to statutory bodies or will there be others?

Part III, Chapter I deals with the establishment of an Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board whose role is to adjudicate on appeals against the Minister's decisions on the granting of aquaculture licences. In the Connacht Tribune this past weekend, a spokesman for the Department, when asked to comment on the many objections to the Bill voiced by numerous organisations, sought to explain the matter by saying the changes in the law were based on the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts and were creating a means of appeal rather than abolishing them. It is important to point out that, in the case of aquaculture licensing, the Minister retains the right to grant the licence. In the case of planning, the Minister has no role either in granting the permission or in deciding the appeals. The Minister's spokesman made a rather unfortunate and inaccurate comparison in seeking to allay the fears of the angling and environmental groups which had expressed opposition to and raised questions about this Bill.

I do not agree with the composition of the board as proposed under section 23. To achieve a better balance, there should be at least two persons appointed with specific knowledge and experience of wild fisheries and another two persons with knowledge and experience of environmental protection. I do not agree with the proposal that the board members be all appointed by the Minister. The Minister stated that the appeals board is based on the An Bord Pleanála system. It is incumbent on the Minister to make the board appointments in the same way they are made to An Bord Pleanála which is from a list of names selected by certain representative nominated bodies which can be agreed by this House or by the Minister under regulations made under this Bill.

The Minister has again defended his decision to have a board with five members and a chairperson who has a casting vote. The chairperson must have knowledge of the aquaculture industry. Two representatives specifically with knowledge of the aquaculture industry will be appointed. Of the six, three will come from an aquaculture industry background. There will be one wild fisheries representative, one environmentalist and one person from a development or community development background. That is why much concern has been expressed about the possible bias which may exist within the structure of the board to be appointed. That is why I propose that the Minister consider favourably increasing the representation for environmentalists and wild fisheries representatives on the board in a way whereby the public can have confidence in the board to act independently. If the six members of the board are to be chosen by the Minister and if they are to adjudicate on the Minister's decisions to grant licences, the public is entitled to be somewhat cynical, to put it mildly, about this operation. The Minister has the right to issue directives to the appeal board with regard to the matters it must take into consideration. The board's function is to adjudicate on ministerial decisions while its members are appointed by the Minister and do not represent any particular organisation. They are there because the Minister chose them. Unfortunately, it has been the practice to appoint people of the Minister's or Government's political persuasion to such boards and that further taints the process.

The method of selection is an important factor in establishing a board that is seen to be independent at all times. Perhaps it is unfortunate that the Minister of State's civil servants said that the basis of this appeal system is An Bord Pleanála. If that is the case, let us have it all, including the method of selecting its membership. The Tánaiste brought forward the amendment to the legislation establishing the planning appeals board which governs the way in which appointments to the board are made.

Section 75 provides that licences issued under section 15 of the 1959 Act shall be deemed to be aquaculture licences. In view of the High Court and Supreme Court decisions in the Ballyvaughan and Mulcahy cases, which stated it was unlawful to issue licences for fish farms located in the sea in accordance with section 15 of the 1959 Act which dealt exclusively with freshwater fisheries, the question arises as to whether the proposal in section 75 is constitutional. Can the Minister of State offer a specific answer? Although this matter has been raised with him in correspondence which I have seen, he has not answered the question. The Supreme Court held that the granting of the licences in the Ballyvaughan and Mulcahy cases was illegal. What has happened in the meantime? How have those operations become legal? Are they to be granted an aquaculture licence under this legislation without having to do anything more than wait for the passage of the Bill?

I have searched this Bill to see if it is proposed to establish an inspectorate with powers to enter fish farms to establish whether the terms and conditions applying to the licences are being complied with. I failed to find any such provision. This is a critical omission and must be rectified if the public is to have confidence in the licensing system. It is obvious to everybody in the fish farming industry and to observers that mistakes have been made. Salmon farmers are known to have exceeded the allowable tonnage under their licences and to have breached other conditions attached to them. One of the complaints about the industry is that the Department has been unable to police it adequately and satisfy local concerns that licences and the conditions attached to them are being complied with at all times. Who will carry out that task? Perhaps the Minister of State will be able to point out that fishery officers will take on this task as an extra responsibility. It would have been helpful, however, if a specific reference had been made to it by the Minister of State. Perhaps he will clarify the position.

A number of the provisions in the Bill refer to the public interest yet nowhere does the legislation define what matters are to be considered in determining whether the public interest demands certain action. Under what criteria is one to judge whether the public interest has been breached? There appears to be a lack of clarity in that regard but the Minister of State might be able to supply a simple answer.

Great importance is attached to this Bill. The industry has developed enormously since the passing of the 1959 and 1980 Acts but there is a huge void in the legislation and in the opportunity to make adequate regulations and provisions. Everybody who is interested in the environment and in the development of the fish farming industry welcomes the opportunity presented by this Bill to legislate for a regime on which all sides can rely and in which they can have confidence. The industry can progress in the knowledge that policing mechanisms are provided to ensure that good fish farming practices are employed by all promoters and operators working in the industry.

When fish farming developed some years ago it was seen as an exciting development, particularly for people in west coast areas where the waters are ideal. It was envisaged that the industry would provide huge employment in areas where it was extremely difficult for the State to attract sufficient industry to provide employment for the local population. It presented the opportunity for tremendous rural renewal. The industry has been successfully managed in Norway and other countries but it has not taken off to the same extent in this country. There have been difficulties including diseases, and the way they were dealt with converting food to the weight of fish, etc.

These problems have made investment in fish farming a high risk business. The ESB lost a huge amount of money when it invested in the industry — it is no longer involved in that — as did some of my friends who invested in fish farming. I was sorry to see their investments fail. They were brave entrepreneurs; they made an investment and took the risk. The difficulties they encountered in dealing with the desease problem and its alleged effects required a quicker response from the State. Hopefully, progress has been made in that area.

One cannot point the finger at this Minister of State. He has been active and attentive to his duties. He has put many mechanisms in place to complement those established by the former Minister, Deputy Andrews, who is keenly interested in angling. We want to see the natural environment preserved and the fish farming industry developed. We want both to live harmoniously together with neither interfering with the ecological balance of the other. I hope we can achieve that.

The Minister of State has been a revelation since he took office. If he continues working in this way and continues to find favour with students and practitioners of fishing, Democratic Left Deputies will be elected on the west and south coasts. Séamus Rogers's case might not be as forlorn after all.

There might be one elected in Waterford.

There was a Democratic Left Deputy but he voted to elect the former Deputy, Charles Haughey, as Taoiseach and lived to regret it.

(Wexford): Never.

Waterford does not have the same indented coastline as the west of Ireland so our aquaculture industry is confined to shellfish rather than salmon and trout farming. Fish farming is a new and interesting phenomenon in our area. The statistics quoted by the Minister of State are startling. Twenty-five per cent of the total value of fish sold to exporters comprised shellfish and farmed fish. That is enormous. Three thousand people are employed in the industry. One wonders if that number could have been greatly increased if we had carried out a scientific examination of the habitats in which aquaculture could be fostered. I would like the Minister to refer to that in his reply. Up to now success has been hit and miss. The success in my constituency is purely due to the efforts of individuals who invested money and took a chance.

A number of major ventures on the west coast which involved huge investment by companies such as Guinness and the ESB suffered heavy losses. What efforts has the Department of the Marine made to identify locations around the coast where fish farming and aquaculture in general could be a viable proposition? If somebody told me 20 years ago that the Ring Gaeltacht area of County Waterford would have a lucrative oyster industry I would not have believed it. I would have thought that a few oysters might be produced there, but to produce a vast quantity of oysters there did not seem possible 20 or even 15 years ago. It was due to the efforts of a few locals who invested their money. What research has gone into the likely locations for the industry?

Will the Minister say why the 1959 legislation and the 1980 legislation has been found to be deficient — that matter was not referred to in the debate. This legislation is being introduced because those two Acts are deficient. I suspected they were deficient several years ago when a shell fish project was started by a number of people off Woodstown Strand in the Waterford Estuary and a number of locals, for various reasons, were not happy with the project. When the tide was fully in, trawler men trawled the area for flat fish. The locals objected, but apparently their objections fell on deaf ears. Some locals on the land were concerned about the effects on the environment and the ecology of the area, but their objections also fell on deaf ears. When inquiries were made about the terms of the licence for the people who had put these ventures in motion, it was discovered that, despite the publication in national newspapers of reports that some of the individuals had received huge grants from the Department of the Marine for the ventures in which they were involved, they did not have a licence. Under the 1959 and 1980 Acts they were not entitled to and could not be granted a licence.

What does the Minister intend to do about unlicensed projects which have proceeded? Does he intend to licence them retrospectively or go through a licensing procedure whereby locals, whether fishermen, environmentalists or the general public who are not happy with a development, can stop such development in the event that their objections are legitimate?

I will come a little closer to the Minister's home to point out an analogy. I heard on the radio or television during the past week that huge office blocks are to be built between beautiful old residences overlooking the sea in the Minister's constituency in Dún Laoghaire, some of which have been there for 100 years, and the proposed buildings would block the view of the sea from the residents living in the area. It is incomprehensible that an amenity such as a gorgeous view of the sea can be eliminated, with no redress under our complex planning laws, which contain anomalies. That the view of the sea can be blocked and individuals affected can do nothing about it should be redressed. Likewise, people who have had to endure fish farming projects in their area have no recourse in law to prevent them from operating.

There is something wrong with the licensing laws and I have no doubt that is why this legislation is being introduced. Even if there were deficiencies in the 1959 and 1988 Acts, one would have thought that the Foreshore Act, 1933, and the planning laws of the mid-1960s would give citizens the right to object, but apparently that is not the case. I would like the Minister to spell out what exactly he is doing to address the inadequacies and inconsistencies in the legislation. His speech, which is fairly comprehensive, does not refer to the reason the legislation is being introduced.

The Minister referred to people's rights and myths. That is a little poetic, similar to poems the Minister, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, would write, but apparently there are a few budding poets in the Department of the Marine.

(Wexford): It is rubbing off on the Minister.

The Minister was a student of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins.

Does the Minister intend to bring in guidelines to distinguish between wild salmon and salmon raised in cages? There should be a major differential in the price, particularly in regard to fresh salmon, but that differential may not exist because if a person does not have a sensitive palate he or she may not be able to distinguish between wild and tame salmon. Those of us who live by the sea and regularly eat fish know the difference. The public is entitled to know that some salmon is wild and some is tame and there should be a significant price differential.

In conjunction with the Minister for Tourism and Trade, perhaps the Minister will consider bringing in a law to make it compulsory to indicate whether salmon is wild or tame. I find it very difficult to distinguish between the two in the case of smoked salmon, but it is not too difficult in the case of fresh salmon. I am not sure the general public understands the difference and certainly continentals may not understand it. We are at a great disadvantage because of the preponderance of Norwegian salmon reared through fish farming, which floods the market at various times of the year. Since we produce much wild salmon it is important that a distinction is made between the two. It would be helpful if we were given figures for the amount of salmon produced in cages by Norwegians and the amount we produce. It has a huge effect on the overall market for salmon, trout and any other species of fish which can be reared in artificial surroundings.

How does the Minister or the Department decide who is allocated foreshore for aquaculture, for example, in the production of oysters, mussels, clams and cockles, which are found around the Irish coast? Is it like the Klondyke goldrush where people go out, rail off an area and lodge their claim with the Department of the Marine or another agency? Is it done in consultation with the Department of the Marine? I have seen disputes arise because of the size of foreshore which some people have obtained. Some have obtained a large amount of foreshore and others a minute amount. Is there a regular tendering system or is it first come, first served? How are the various plots allocated? If it is not done in a regular manner, there should be a tendering system. The various areas which are identified scientifically through research as being suitable for aquaculture should be advertised and people should be invited to tender for a certain area and a certain type of shellfish. It is a slap-happy system which should be more regular.

I do not have a problem with the form of licensing system advocated by the Minister, particularly the appeals board. An appeals board is badly needed and perhaps this is one of the reasons the Minister is introducing this legislation. I know the other two Acts are deficient and I am at a loss to know why. Perhaps it is because there is no provision for an appeals board under existing legislation. This would explain why those in the Woodstown area of my constituency cannot do anything about trestles which were put down without licence. Those who do not want them there cannot do anything about it. The appeals board may find licences should be granted and the trestles and shellfish should stay there. I cannot give my constituents an answer, which is why I am asking the Minister to tell me.

There was a similar situation in Dungarvan Bay. On one side there is a massive oyster fishery off the Ring gaeltacht, which has been a tremendous boon to the area in providing employment. On the other side of the harbour people put out trestles with clams on them, without a licence. It is a built-up area and the locals objected. Who wants to look out their window and see a beach and a strand covered in trestles and seaweed and tractors and trailers going in at all hours of the day and night? The local residents did not want it and could not find out if those involved had a licence. They kicked up a fuss and the promoters of the project were told they were contravening the Foreshore Act, 1933, or planning legislation. It was one or the other and I do not know which. It appears that the means of preventing undesirable developments are not clear. Perhaps this legislation will provide for this.

The Minister may be able to suggest other species which would be suitable for aquaculture. We are used to traditional shellfish along the coast. It was a source of interest when oysters and clams were capitalised on. Does the Minister have a planning and research section in his Department which could encourage people to cultivate an additional series of shellfish or finfish?

Overall, we welcome the Bill. We welcome anything which clears up irregularities and blocks loopholes, of which, apparently, there are many in existing legislation. We appreciate the good work the Minister has done since he entered office. I will look for concessions from him on the salmon fishing season in the course of another debate.

(Wexford): I also welcome the Bill which is long overdue. I compliment the Minister on initiating a process which will pull the aquaculture industry together.

Over the last 15 years, this industry has been controversial and seemed to operate in a piecemeal manner. From my limited involvement in this area, the Department of the Marine has shown a distinct lack of interest in its development. There have been major delays in the issuing of licences and legislation was practically nonexistent. As a result, confrontation between the developers and objectors seemed to be the order of the day.

As in Deputy Deasy's constituency, there are many shellfish operations in the Wexford area. We have heard of Bannow Bay oysters and the mussel industry. Letts were probably the pioneers of the shellfish industry in Wexford. They still are and have developed further in Cork and other areas. According to media reports, there seems to be an alarming incidence of confrontation on a regular basis on the west and south-west coast. Despite these problems, aquaculture has developed as an important component of the fishing industry. The Minister mentioned the 2,946 people employed in the aquaculture industry at the end of 1995. The total farm production in 1995 amounted to 27,000 tonnes with a value of £50 million and this is expanding.

Credit should be given to those who, despite the confrontation, difficulties and delays by the Department of the Marine in issuing licences and giving them support, stayed with aquaculture and produced a modern industry. I agree with the Minister that it is necessary to take it a stage further. There is a need for proper legislation and the establishment of a process which will encourage people to become involved in the aquaculture industry in the coming years. I noticed in the Mayo News that a group called “The West's Awake” made a number of allegations about the new legislation. While the Minister dealt with some of them in his speech, perhaps he could elaborate on the new trial licence against which there is no appeal. He mentioned the short duration of this licence but that may not appease people who are concerned. A significant number of organisations question the Minister's new trial licence system. Perhaps he could clearly define the duration of the licence. There will be widespread concern because people want some appeal system whereby they can air their views.

The Minister also spoke about privatising the foreshore. From experience I know foreshore areas can become controversial in coastal counties. In Wexford Harbour, Lady's Island, Bannow Bay and many other areas of County Wexford major controversies have erupted over who should or should not operate within the foreshore. Some of the biggest objectors to developments in the areas I mentioned were the harbour boards or commissioners who seem to think it is a protected area where no new developments or operations should take place. It is one of the most controversial political areas I have come across in my time dealing with marine issues.

No one seems to want to let go of anything within the foreshore and it is difficult to define who owns it. Usually it takes months to get a response to representations to the Department of the Marine, even for a gun licence to shoot in a foreshore area. Sometimes I feel the Department of the Marine is afraid to make any decisions in this area because of the objections that may arise.

Those objecting to the legislation have also questioned the idea of creating a licensing system which is heavily biased towards fish farmers. Perhaps the Minister will spell out in his reply how he envisages this operating. I am sure he will not hand it over to fish farmers in an area and then find himself in all sorts of difficulties later on. The Minister has dealt with some of the 12 points listed but perhaps he might clarify some other areas in his reply. Some of the questions raised have already been fairly well cleared up by the Minister, and others seem to be flimsy questions amounting to objections for the sake of it.

It says at the end of the article: "Tell your local TD what you think. Remember this is an election year. Don't allow them to take away your traditional rights". Everybody seems to want to tell their local TDs what they think, particularly if it affects them in any way. Everyone I meet nowadays, whether it is the school project or other projects, asks me to get a commitment from the Government this year because it is an election year. If one were to give all the commitments the public is currently seeking, any party coming into Government would be in severe difficulty. However, it is an area the Minister should clear up quickly.

There is always a difficulty in trying to strike a balance in coastal communities between what is acceptable and environmentally friendly, and what is required to develop jobs. This area has the potential to create a significant number of jobs if it is developed in the right way. Any legislation to be introduced must be balanced and fair so that all sides will have a say. It is equally important that coastal communities should be given an opportunity to see industry or aquaculture developed in a way that creates jobs. The Minister mentioned having provided 3,000 jobs to date and said another 1,300 or 1,400 will be created by 1999.

Some coastal areas are being completely denuded of industry and jobs. Many people are leaving coastal communities and moving inland to secure jobs. With a bit of imagination, commonsense and flexibility on all sides many hundreds of jobs could be created around our coastline.

I am annoyed by people from Dublin and Dún Laoghaire who buy holiday homes for £100,000 or £150,000 and lead the objections the moment any new project gets under way, be it a fishing development or — as in a recent case — a coastal sawmilling industry. Just because they buy a house in an area they do not have a monopoly on the area for ever more.

The Minister has gone out of his way to be balanced and to produce legislation that will encourage development while protecting the environment. All sides must be given a fair hearing. If we allow industrial development to be stifled because of one or two objections, we will find that coastal communities will die out. Such communities, comprising families that have lived there for generations, are the real protectors of our coastline.

Side by side with aquaculture we must ensure the development of tourism activities including pleasure boating, swimming, water-skiing and cruising. These and many other operations take place in harbours where proper regulation and licensing will allow them to prosper and grow alongside aquaculture development. I hope this will become the norm and people will realise there is a way of ensuring all those areas progress rather than just being selfish and making things awkward in a confrontational way. Confrontation will not resolve many of the problems that exist for people seeking jobs.

The fishing industry, including fish farming, is a high quality food industry as the Minister indicated. We have an ideal opportunity to develop it as we produce this product in a clean green environment. We should be in a position to develop our fishing industry and avail of export markets. People are looking for fish and are turning away from some of the more useful food products. In the years ahead we can capitalise on traditional food products including fish.

I support what Deputy Deasy said about farm salmon and the wild species. A distinct line needs to be drawn in this area because people can become confused about which is which. Perhaps the Minister could examine this area to see how it can be dealt with in future. There should be a price differential. It may be the case that some retailers do not explain clearly to the consumer which variety is on sale. This may result in overcharging.

Some time ago I tabled a question to the Minister asking him the amounts of Norwegian salmon imported. This causes grave concern for those involved in the industry as these imports distort the market. I am led to believe that in some instances workers have to be laid off in certain months of the year when the market is flooded with Norwegian salmon. What controls can be put in place to ensure the consumer continues to purchase Irish salmon?

The lack of legislation was a deterrent to new investors in the industry. There was a view that they would encounter difficulties immediately from objectors as well as delays in obtaining licences from the Department of the Environment. The perception was that this was not the right industry in which to invest. The Minister has addressed each of these issues in the legislation. I hope that as a result those who wish to invest in the industry will receive a more friendly response from the Department of the Marine and within the industry.

On the selection of nominees to the board, I have said consistently that the persons appointed to boards are usually cronies of the Minister concerned or of the parties in Government. It is important that the right people are appointed to ensure that the industry is placed on a sound footing. They should have the required knowledge, be able to attract investors and find new markets, new species included, for a state of the art industry. Too often in the past people who were not capable of running a corner shop were appointed to boards whose decisions had major implications in terms of jobs and investment. The membership of the board should not mainly comprise representatives of fish farming as that would defeat its purpose.

Delays in the processing of appeals will cause major problems. The regulations introduced by the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, a number of years ago stipulate that An Bord Pleanála should make decisions within four months, if possible. I understand that in the majority of cases, however, it seeks additional time. This causes major problems in the building industry in particular. This issue was highlighted by the South-Eastern Construction Federation and the Wexford Construction Federation when I met them prior to the budget. The Minister should not allow the new board to avail of a similar mechanism. He should be strict with it for the betterment of the industry and ensure that it has the required number of staff to resolve any problems. In fairness to An Bord Pleanála, it has insufficient staff to deal with the large increase in the number of appeals resulting from the building boom.

I welcome the Bill which will do much to put the industry on a sound footing and allow the Minister to achieve his objective between now and 1999, that is, to create an additional 1,300 jobs. Once legislation and regulations are in place and there is a proper structure, people will want to invest in the industry. That can only be good for the nation as a whole but, more importantly, for coastal communities which are heavily dependent on it.

Most speakers have welcomed the Bill with some reservations. I wish to be constructive and help the Minister find a way through the minefields he will encounter in processing the Bill through the House. It has already caused great concern in Galway and throughout the west, irrespective of its good intentions. Alarm bells have been set off in angling and fresh water circles in Galway city, Moycullen, Oughterard, Cornamona, Clonbur and Headford and the entire Corrib and Mask region. The Bill passed through the Seanad without great fuss on 12 December, but it will be the subject of a more thorough debate in this House. When it was drafted in November it was circulated to various bodies for their comments. Will the Minister list the bodies to which it was circulated?

In a letter to The Irish Times on 30 January a Mr. Mark Helmore stated that the Bill could lead to fish cages being placed on every river, lake and estuary in Ireland. This caused concern in the Corrib and Mask region. In a letter to the same newspaper the following week a Mr. A W Lionel McKee stated that if what was stated in the first letter was true, it was a serious matter. After that the debate took on a life of its own with angling and fresh water groups holding emergency meetings to examine and discuss the Bill. That exercise led to the publication of half page advertisements in local papers in the west last weekend. The Minister of State is aware of the questions posed in the advertisements. He replied to some of them when introducing the Bill. I am sure the people concerned did not place those advertisements without considering or being advised on the Bill. I presume they would not incur that expense without having serious reservations about it.

The following questions were posed in an advertisement. 1. Could there be fish farms on every lake, river, estuary and bay in Ireland? 2. Will it abolish the rights to fishing, navigation and recreation? 3. Will it abolish the existing right of appeal against a licence to the courts? 4. Will the court be replaced by a ministerial board? 5. Will it legislate at a stroke and retrospectively approve all existing and illegal fish farm licences? 6. Will it license farms for 20 years or in perpetuity? 7. Will it effectively exclude fishery boards, county councils, An Bord Pleanála and the Environmental Protection Agency from the licensing decision? 8. Will it create a licensing board heavily biased towards the fish farmers? 9. Will it compel the appeals board to heed the Minister's policies? 10. Will it severely restrict objections in the limited circumstances where one has rights? 11. Will it introduce a new trial licence against which there is no appeal? 12. Will it effectively give salmon farmers full ownership of their sites — privatisation of the foreshore?

As a Deputy representing a west Galway constituency, I have only to think back to a time less than ten years ago, 17 December 1987, when the Fisheries (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill quickly slipped through the Dáil and came before the Seanad on 18 December 1987 to understand why this Bill might cause such concern. As a Senator I outlined my fears about that Bill. I finished my contribution that night by warning the then Minister that anglers in the Corrib-Mask region would not accept that Bill. It became known as the infamous rod licence Bill.

Deputy Browne paid little heed to the fears sometimes generated by this type of Bill. One would have to have been in the west for the four years following the introduction of the rod licence Bill to realise the concerns and trauma it caused in communities there. I had first-hand experience of the tension and divisions caused by that Bill and I never want to experience them again. Some of the hurt caused in communities, parishes and in families has not been assuaged. People from outside the area found it hard to comprehend the passion and concern about the rod licence Bill. Opposition to that Bill was founded on a genuine fear that a licence to fish our lakes would lead to control of the waters and the installation of smolt rearing cages on our lakes. That fear consolidated a campaign against the rod licence Bill and, if it is not dealt with — I am sure the Minister of State will deal with that real or imaginary fear — it will consolidate a campaign against this Bill. I do not want that to happen. I want that fear dealt with in a rational and appropriate manner.

I hope the Minister of State will be able to respond positively to the concerns raised about this Bill. If he is not able to do so now, we should not rush Committee Stage. Any time spent on it will be better than time wasted addressing fears concerning its provisions after its introduction.

Will the Minister clarify the impact, if any, the Bill will have on the procurement of permission for installation of smolt cages on lakes and rivers? Some people are of the view that it will automatically abolish all planning permissions in this area, but that is not the case. Will the Minister of State clarify if a licence for fish cages can only be got in designated areas? Will designated areas be abolished under the Bill and will it be possible to obtain a licence in any area?

I am concerned about section 2 under which the Minister can delegate his or her function in granting a licence to a civil servant. I do not like that departure. I would prefer if the Minister made such a decision. I ask the Minister of State to amend that section because it is always preferable that such decisions be taken by those with political responsibility. I am not saying this Minister would, but a future Minister could wash his or her hands of an awkward case by handing it over to a civil servant.

Section 31 provides that a person who communicates with the appeals board to try to influence a decision shall be guilty of an offence. That is a restrictive clause and it could even debar a public representative from making a legitimate representation because the purpose of any representation is to influence a decision. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider that provision.

Under sections 45 and 46 a person appealing a decision has only one month to make an appeal. The person can make only one submission which cannot be added to. It appears that the objector's submission would be available to the applicant, but unlike the planning appeals board's position, the applicant's response to the objection would not be available to the objector. That lessens the rights of the objector compared to the current position under the planning appeals board. There cannot be an oral hearing except at the Minister's discretion and the only access an objector would have following an appeal would be a judicial review, which would be at the expense of the objector. A judicial review could cost £50,000, which would be prohibitive to an ordinary objector.

Under that section, will the Minister of State clarify the position regarding current fresh water cages or smolt cages which are in place without planning permission? I have reservations about the section that introduces a two year trial licence with the sanction of only the licensing board. That would be a dangerous development. Section 7 (3) outlines 11 conditions regarding monitoring. Who will monitor the position, given that there are no inspectors and one of the objectives of the introduction of this Bill is to regulate existing practices that are not in order or are illegal? How can inspectors be available, particularly given that the major Corrib development plan has used the limited resources of the fisheries boards? Who will ensure that the conditions set out in section 7 (3) are followed?

Section 15 (2) provides that an aquaculture licence should be granted in perpetuity or for a period not exceeding 20 years. Why should the licence be granted for 20 years? Could it not be granted for a period of five to ten years at which time it could be reviewed?

The introduction of the Bill has created genuine fears among anglers in the Corrib, Mask and Connemara region. I do not wish to engage in scaremongering. I raise these points on foot of the advertisement in local newspapers, the bottom line of which stated that people should contact their local TD. Before the publication of that advertisement, many people contacted me to express their fears about this Bill. I would be failing in my duty if I did not bring those fears to the Minister's attention. He met some of those people at the TAFI annual general meeting in Athlone when they may have expressed their fears to him and he may have dealt with them. Will the Minister confirm that this Bill will not do away with the necessity to obtain planning permission before fish or smolt cages can be placed in fresh water?

The production of farmed salmon in Ireland is about 15,000 tonnes annually. If it is envisaged that the production of farmed salmon will be doubled, that will increase the demand for salmon smolts by the aquaculture industry in the region over the next few years. According to statistics in a document produced by the Western Regional Fisheries Board on potential sites for salmon and smolt production for aquaculture, the lack of available freshwater sites is impeding the development of the industry in the western region. That publication states also that it is important not only to identify the projected smolt requirements but to decide how and where this can be met. How can we double the production rate and still cater for the smolts without having any effect on our freshwater lakes? I have done some research into this. There are 25,000 smolts in one tonne or four million smolts in 160 tonnes. It takes approximately 250 million litres of fresh water to produce one tonne of smolts, that is, 55 million gallons. It would require 8,800 million gallons of fresh water to produce four million smolts, or 160 tonnes, each year.

Galway City, for example, uses ten million gallons of water each day or 365 million gallons of water each year. The annual production of four million smolts would require about 3.5 times the amount of fresh water used by Galway City each year. This is a massive amount of water, and the only fresh water available in such quantity is in Lough Corrib and Lough Mask. That is the reason for the fear.

In 1987, at the height of a campaign against the rod licence, there was a real threat of planning permission being given for smolt cages on our freshwater lakes. This is what united the people in a common stand against the idea of the rod licence. The fear was that the rod licence would confer control of the lakes on the Government and take it away from the people of the area. This threat existed in 1987 when planning applications and appeals in connection with smolt cages on our freshwater lakes were able to win through the planning law. One application at the time was a double planning application. Planning permission was sought under reference 52454 from Galway County Council. It was a planning application for permission for fish cages at Lough na Fooey at the head of Lough Mask which feeds the Mask and also connects to the Corrib. It was first refused by Galway County Council on 17 July, 1986 on the grounds that (1) such fish cages would be a public health hazard to the headwaters on Lough Mask, which is the major source of a public water supply, and (2) they would result in injury to the visual amenity. The application was appealed and was refused by An Bord Pleanála which mentioned only visual amenity as a ground for refusal. The application was then renewed under reference 55416, and it was decided by Galway County Council on 17 February 1988, only months after the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1987 was passed, to grant temporary permission for five years. The county manager at the time said that he had no option in the matter because the planning appeals board had refused the previous application only on the grounds of injury to visual amenity and that, as the second application was for submerged cages, he was obliged to grant it. However, submerged cages would pose the same threat to the headwaters of a lake as over water cages. I put this on the record to illustrate that the fears of people at that time about the possibility that smolt cages on the great western lakes, Corrib and Mask, was not imaginary, and the real risk that planning permission will be granted for smolt rearing on our freshwater lakes.

If production is increased by 100 per cent, how is it proposed to cater for it? Is the fear of people in Galway and Mayo justified? People outside the area may think we are head cases, but between 1987 and 1991 when the rod licence Bill was abandoned it was illustrated that our fears were not imaginary but were real and caused consternation in our community. In my lifetime I do not want to see that happen again.

If we are serious about the protection of our waterways, we cannot take any chances. Galway City, with a population of 60,000 and the surrounding areas from Galway to Oughterard, Headford, Tuam, Oranmore, Maree and Clarinbridge, are all supplied from Lough Corrib. How do we know what effect it would have on the waster if fish farms were allowed on the Corrib, or so-called land based fish farms on the edges of rivers, tributaries to the Corrib?

We will not be thanked if we allow anything to harm the jewel in our midst, the Corrib-Mask, the greatest free fishing lake in Europe. That is why I have taken a different approach to previous speakers. I have complimentary things to say about the Bill also, but I will reserve them for Committee Stage. I wanted to alert the Minister to the real fears that exist on the ground in the area I represent.

I wish to join with other Members of the House in giving a general welcome to this legislation. A cursory perusal of the Minister's speech gives one a graphic understanding of the growth and development that has taken place in the aquaculture industry over the past number of years. The figures are significant. If the industry continues to grow, the need for this legislation will become all the more urgent.

Fish farming is very much a west coast phenomenon, not something we are familiar with on the east coast although there are aspects of the aquaculture industry that are significant. There have been significant developments along the coast in my constituency in recent years, particularly in the area of Carlingford Lough.

Debate adjourned.