Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Commercial Salmon Sector.

Michael Bell

Question:

2 Mr. Bell asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources if he favours a set-aside or buy-out of drift net or snap net salmon fishing; whether a definitive decision is required at this stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15544/01]

I have previously advised the House on the complexities inherent in promoting a complete voluntary buy-out or set-aside of the Irish commercial salmon sector. The Deputy will be aware that funding has been made available for two catchment based set-aside draft net schemes on a pilot basis and I have invited regional fisheries boards to make proposals to me.

My Department has been working with the Southern Regional Fisheries Board on its proposal for a five year set-aside of commercial netting on the River Blackwater. It has not been possible to reach agreement for this season on this proposal because the actual take-up by commercial fishermen was proving too low and many of the active fishermen, in particular, were not on board. The SRFB will continue to explore with local interests the possibility of reaching an agreement for the 2002 commercial season.

A number of interests are pressing for a national scheme to fund the complete cessation of commercial salmon fishing. Whether such a scheme would have the desired impact in conserving our salmon stocks and represent value for money is far from clear at this time. I have made the point that international experience on the removal of commercial wild salmon operations is mixed. There are instances in which stocks have not recovered despite the complete closure of the commercial operations. Furthermore, not all active commercial salmon fishermen are willing to be bought out. I have cautioned against the excessive raising of expectations about compensation and reiterate that simplistic solutions will not work.

My objective is that all commercial salmon fishing is sustainable, proportionate and predicated on quality and I am considering all policy options for future direction in that context. I have asked my Department, in conjunction with the ongoing work of the National Salmon Commission on consideration and effort reduction, to analyse all appropriate strategies at our disposal, including incentivisation, fishing season restrictions, catch restrictions and licence reductions. The Department is assessing the practicalities, realism and benefit of different approaches to achieving the overall objective. The cost benefit of any strategy is a key consideration. My Department will liaise closely with the National Salmon Commission in finalising its assessment.

I would like to point out to the Minister that due to a typographical error, the words "draft net" were omitted after "drift net".

Will the Minister outline the details of the pilot schemes? Have they been publicised? I am not aware of them and they would serve as a useful yardstick. Does the Minister intend to extend the pilot schemes to other locations throughout the country and, if so, when? What is the timeframe for the current schemes or will they run indefinitely?

I do not have the precise details of the schemes on the River Blackwater and the other river to hand but will forward them to the Deputy. Neither I nor the Minister of State can recall the other river involved in a set-aside scheme. Our intention is to identify common ground for set-aside or buy-out with commercial salmon draft net and drift net fishermen. This is quite a complex issue. Many fishermen do not wish to engage in a buy-out or set-aside while others have completely exorbitant expectations of the level of compensation.

I have asked the National Salmon Commission which is representative of all the groups involved in this area to discuss the issue and bring forward proposals. Discussions have also been held with Orri Vigfusson who is anxious to see a complete buy-out of the commercial salmon sector. I pointed out to him that the situation which prevails in Ireland is not similar to that in other areas in which buy-outs have proved successful. It is not possible to make simple comparisons in this area.

Does the Minister agree that the lack of a concrete proposal from the Department to the fishermen concerned is causing difficulty? I am not aware of any such proposal. Some fishermen are dreaming up compensation figures running to telephone numbers. Until such time as the Department puts a solid proposal on the calculations for buy-out or set-aside to all sectors on a nationwide basis, we cannot get down to serious discussions on this important matter.

I accept the Deputy's point. The National Salmon Commission was established to address these issues and identify common ground among the various sectors in the industry. I have had a number of discussions with various interests. It is a complex issue and not one where one can lay a plan on the table and expect everyone will agree to it. That will not happen. The National Salmon Commission is trying to come up with a formula to enable us to pursue the policies of set-aside and buy-out.