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.