Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2002 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

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

The Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2002, which was amended and passed by the Seanad, is designed to extend and strengthen sea fisheries legislation in a number of important respects. The fishing industry has welcomed it. Members of this House will note that, in order to maintain the momentum of reform and as a consequence of a Seanad amendment to section 1 of the Bill, the Bill, if passed, will be operative immediately on its signature by the President and will not require a ministerial commencement order or orders.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to provide for the establishment of an independent statutory appeals process for the licensing of sea fishing boats, to give effect to a commitment in the programme for Government. Part 2 and Schedule 1 contain detailed provisions in this matter. For ease of reference, a consolidated text of the current sea fishing boat licensing legislation, section 222B of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959, is attached as an appendix to the detailed explanatory and financial memorandum which was published with the Bill.

The Bill also enables Ireland to give effect to the 1995 United Nations agreement concerning the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. Such stocks, which are generally in the high seas and are vulnerable to over-fishing, require concerted international efforts to protect them properly. Part 3 of the Bill contains the detailed implementation provisions required. Schedule 2 to the Bill sets out the text of the agreement and Schedule 3 lists the highly migratory fish species requiring protection. At the end of this Second Stage debate, I will seek formal Dáil approval, pursuant to Article 29.5.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, for the terms of the agreement.

The opportunity is being taken to strengthen existing sea fisheries enforcement legislation, notably by including among sea fisheries protection officers additional Naval Service ranks, from sergeant and petty officer down to and including corporal and leading rating, and Air Corps ranks down to and including the rank of corporal. This is being done in the interests of greater efficiency and effectiveness of enforcement effort – section 21(1) – and increasing out of date penalties for certain serious offences – sections 24 and 25. Other penalties will be comprehensively reviewed when consideration is given to updating and consolidating the sea fisheries legislation I mentioned earlier.

As I said at the outset, the programme for Government contains a commitment to establish an independent appeals process for the licensing of sea fishing boats. An interim non-statutory appeals process was established with effect from 25 November 2002 by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. These arrangements will be superseded in due course by the comprehensive statutory appeals process provided for in this Bill. The non-statutory appeals arrangements allow appeals made by licence applicants against proposed licensing decisions notified on or after 25 November 2002 to be considered by an independent lawyer – Mr. Niall Beirne, BL, of the Law Library – nominated by the Attorney General. Details of how to make an appeal are notified to licence applicants with each proposed decision. If a licence applicant confirms in writing that he, she or it does not wish to appeal, or if no appeal is made within a month of notification, the proposed decision automatically becomes final. If an appeal is made within a month of notification, the licensing authority will have regard to the outcome of the appeals process when making a final decision on the application, in accordance with the law as it stands. No such appeals have been made to date.

Under Part 2 of the Bill, applicants for sea fishing boat licences, licensees and third parties will be entitled to appeal licensing decisions. The final decision on such licensing will be made by the independent appeals officer, who will be a suitably qualified and experienced lawyer with a minimum of five years' practice. Determination of the appeal will be subject to the determination being in conformity with the law, including the legal obligations of the State arising under EU or other international instruments; such policy directives in relation to sea fishing boat licensing as the Minister may give in writing from time to time – section 3(4) specifically provides that the Minister cannot intervene in any particular appeals case; and judicial review by the High Court if an application is made thereto, in accordance with section 14 of Bill, within three months of the determination on the appeal in question by the appeals officer.

The following matters relating to sea fishing boat licences will be available to the public electronically, via an appropriate website, as part of the transparent independent statutory appeals process provided for in Part 2 of the Bill: applications made to the licensing authority for sea fishing boat licences – section 4 (6)(a) of the Bill; decisions on those applications by the licensing authority – section 4 (6)(b); appeals made against those decisions to the statutory appeals officer, when appointed – section 6(1); and decisions by the statutory appeals officer on the appeals and an explanation of the decisions – section 11(6). Details of all licence applications received on or after 1 January 2003 are published on my Department's website,, to give momentum to the licensing reform and to accord with section 4(6) of the Bill, which was added by the Seanad. I should add that the programme for Government promises a fundamental review of sea fishing boat licensing policy, as the last such review was undertaken more than ten years ago. The review has been under way for some months.

The review group's necessarily wide-ranging remit includes a review of the current licensing law, as well as a variety of other issues of concern to the sea fishing industry. The review group, comprising experts from the Department, the Office of the Attorney General, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Marine Institute and the sea fishing industry, aims to report to the Minister by 30 June next. A key factor in the group's deliberations and the basis of its main report is the awaited clarification of last year's decisions on the Common Fisheries Policy, notably regarding the permitted overall size, composition and capacity of the Irish sea fishing fleet.

The review group has made two interim conservation related recommendations to the Minister, who has accepted them. Polyvalent boats not precluded by their licences from fishing for herring and or mackerel, but which did not fish for the species in 2002 or 2003, will not break the active pelagic requirement of fishing for either of the species for 16 weeks in each of four successive years. Polyvalent boat owners will also have the option to have 2002 and 2003 included for the purposes of their active pelagic track records, subject to having fished for at least a minimum period of eight weeks in each of those years.

The review group may decide to report early on issues which it may consider to require an urgent decision from the Minister. The group will consider outline proposals, recently published by the Minister and circulated to the fishing industry, for the regularisation of small unlicensed and unregistered inshore fishing boats. As the Minister advised the House on 5 February in answer to Parliamentary Question No. 226 of that date, the outcome of the consultative process will be carefully considered by the Minister, before he finalises the scheme for introduction as soon as possible.

I wish to return to the UN agreement set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill. The modalities for detailed implementation of the agreement are a matter for the party states and other parties to the agreement to decide from time to time, in light of conservation and management imperatives and the best use of available surveillance and enforcement resources. Concerted international action in implementing the agreement should serve as a strong deterrent to over-fishing and so help minimise enforcement costs for Ireland. The EU is anxious to secure complete ratification of the agreement by the EU and all 15 member statesen bloc as early as possible, so as to signal its commitment to sustainable fishing on the high seas and elsewhere, and has requested Ireland to make the necessary arrangements to progress the legislation and other measures required to enable it to ratify the agreement.

Enactment of this Bill is a prerequisite to enabling Ireland to ratify the agreement and become a party state thereto. Ireland is now the only EU member state not yet ready to ratify the agreement and is under considerable pressure to do so. The assistance of this House in the matter is appreciated. Ireland's obligations under the agreement are already factored into the multi-agency enforcement programme planned for 2003, which, in any event, will involve increased activity by sea fisheries protection officers of all of the agencies concerned.

I will propose amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage so as to provide enabling power for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to prescribe by regulations fees for sea-fishing licence applications and licences. The types of sea-fishing licence applications and licences to be subjected to fees have yet to be decided, as have the level of fees to be charged.

No fees are chargeable under the current legislation, namely, the Fisheries Acts 1959 to 2001, in respect of any sea fishing licence application or licence. That somewhat unique position is not tenable in view of the fact that licensing costs are at least €500,000 per annum and growing, and are met in full by the Exchequer. The main categories of such licences are those for sea fishing boats and for limited fishing for certain specially protected fish species. The required motion of instruction to the Select Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the required financial resolution will be moved for Dáil approval before Committee Stage of the Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy O'Dowd, by agreement.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill which is intended to give statutory effect to the implementation of provisions on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea relating to conservation and management matters. The fishing sector has been very important to the Irish economy and over many decades has been particularly important to our coastal communities and responsible for a large number of jobs from Dublin to Donegal and around to Kerry. I am pleased with the rationale behind the Bill and believe the instruments in it will ensure a fairer and more equitable fishing environment and a more sustainable industry.

This Bill has a number of functions and one of the most important is the establishment of an independent statutory appeals process for the licensing of fishing boats. Legislation in this area includes the Fisheries Act 1997 which provided comprehensive new licensing procedures for aquaculture activities and the Fisheries Act 1999 which brought significant change to the structure, management and organisation of the fishing industry. The provisions of the Bill are a welcome addition as they represent a streamlined and more accessible version of these Acts. The Minister has introduced genuine improvements in licensing procedures. Proper licensing is essential to any industry and this Bill ensures that the system remains fair to all. Those with genuine cases that might have been rejected up to now have an opportunity to appeal decisions. This is a welcome development and one consistent with the wishes of the industry.

The fishing industry can learn a great deal from the way the appeals system is modelled. The Bill has set out the principles of making appeals, from the co-ordination of written submissions to oral appeals and an advanced system of public notification. Overall, I am certain that such a system will benefit all involved and ensure the efficient and cost-effective management of a fair appeals process.

Sustainable fish stocks are essential if the fishing industry is to have a future. At a meeting of the Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources before Christmas, there was discussion of the high level of discards and juvenile fish being caught. This was a big problem years ago and it seems there has been no improvement when up to 70% of catches are still discards. It is worrying with regard to the decline in fish stocks and is something that this Bill will help to address. We must care for fish stocks to ensure a good future for the fishing community and industry. If the catching and destruction of discards continues, there will not be a secure future for the industry.

The Bill aims to grant the relevant authorities the powers to board and search all fishing boats, Irish and international, which is important so that quotas can be enforced. Given the number of non-Irish boats in our fishing waters, it cannot be denied that such powers will be invaluable in ensuring catch levels do not exceed European quotas. It is important that the Bill allows for the search of any fishing boat and enables the authorities to investigate catches. The penalties proposed for breaches of the regulations are justified and fair. They are necessary to guarantee that such breaches will no longer occur.

The major issue facing the fishing industry today is conservation and management of rapidly depleting marine resources. The combination of sea fishing boat licences, a fishing appeals process and extra legislation for the protection of fish stocks makes for excellent legislation which will help to secure the sustainability of the industry.

In recent negotiations, the Irish fishing industry got a harsh deal. While the Minister secured some concessions with regard to the level of quotas and reductions, there was failure on the bigger issues. With regard to the Irish Box, there has been a failure to secure continued restrictions on Spanish access. I am concerned that the policing of the Irish Box needs to be greatly improved; the Minister must ensure that Spanish boats do not enter the area and that the identities of boats and their crews are known. With fish stocks so low, it is terrible to see others take fish from us.

I was delighted to hear the Minister say that the Naval Service, Air Corps and fisheries protection officers are to be used with greater efficiency and effectiveness as part of the enforcement effort. They have among the hardest jobs going and are unsung heroes in their work of conservation and protection of the fishing industry. It is easy for politicians to criticise that work and to say that those services should be doing 101 different things. However, they have a hard job to do and I commend them for doing it.

With regard to the development of harbours – I realise the Minister of State is familiar with Wexford and the south-east – there is a chance to ensure a strong fishing industry if all harbour developments are carried out to proper safety standards. We depend on our coastal areas and fishing will be an important industry for the country in the future. We must ensure that the right investments and improvements are undertaken.

I welcome the Bill. I hope it will make the seas safer and improve fishing and boat licensing and the overall industry.

I welcome the Bill. One can have all the fishing boats in the world but problems will arise if there are not enough fish to catch to provide fishermen with a living. The policy of this country must continue to be focused on sustaining the quantity of fish in our waters and in ensuring that Irish fishermen have the opportunity to catch enough fish to provide them with a decent living. Anything else is unacceptable to the industry.

Thousands of people are involved in the fishing industry. I am from County Louth, which is a fishing county. Many people are employed in the industry at Clogher Head, which is a big fishing village. Like all fishermen, they are very concerned about the future of the industry and they have expressed grave concern about the Minister's apparent deal on the Irish Box. There is no certainty about what happened, which means it will be for the Irish and Spanish Ministers to decide later how much extra Spain will get. Otherwise, the EU Commission would have ruled definitively on the margins to be allocated.

Fishermen on the east coast are concerned that those who continue to fish in the Irish Box are moving north, while those in the North of Ireland may also try to converge on the Irish Sea and in the process push out those who already fish there, especially those who fish off the coast of County Louth. That must be addressed.

There is a much higher dependence on, and consumption of, fish in continental countries than in Ireland. In terms of volume, the Irish market is small. It appears that cod fish will become a rarity. A recent television programme showed how, when new cooked fish was introduced to fish and chip shops, customers reacted favourably until they were shown the fish they were eating at which point some expressed unhappiness with the appearance. It illustrates the need not only to conserve existing popular fish stocks, but to fish stock that is not currently in the food chain, some of which is caught and discarded. There is now an opportunity to allow fishermen to intensify their efforts to catch and market the many species of fish that would be new to consumers. Perhaps the Minister will address that aspect.

Surprisingly, I have been informed by some fishermen that they do not have a problem with increasing the size of the mesh they use to catch certain species but they are not supported in this by the regulations. The use of smaller meshes means catching smaller fish that have not matured, which has a negative impact on the conservation of fish stock. The use of larger nets avoids this problem.

From speaking to fishermen in County Kerry it is clear that many people make a living from inshore fishing, thousands of them part-time. While they welcome the impending regulation of their industry, they hope it will not prove expensive. It is a big business on the western seaboard, in counties like Donegal and Kerry, and it needs to be nurtured and supported in a way that will support the income of the small unlicensed and unregistered in-shore fishermen.

I commend the Minister for outlining some of the key provisions of the Bill so cogently. A main purpose of the Bill is to establish an independent appeals system by putting the interim system on a statutory basis. The Bill also incorporates the 1982 convention on the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks which cross the boundaries of a number of countries. Ireland signed the convention in 1995, but has effectively blocked its implementation in the European Union regional area. I understand the Department of Foreign Affairs has long pressed for the enactment of this legislation to rectify this.

The creation of an independent licensing appeals system is welcome. Section 3 provides that the appeals officer will be an experienced legal official. I understand that the following sections, down to sections 8, 9 and 10, follow the format for the establishment of a number of other appeal systems. Many Deputies are familiar with assisting constituents in making appeals and the Bill clearly sets out the various stages involved, including oral hearings and submissions.

I especially welcome the Minister's comments on the use of an appropriate website. Since I became my party's spokesperson on fisheries I have found the Department's website helpful. As of last night, four or five applications for licences were placed on the site. I welcome section 11, which provides that the appeals officer will have absolute discretion to make a final determination.

The commencement provisions set out in the Bill were amended by the Seanad. Other amendments will be required and the Minister of State indicated he would introduce some on Committee Stage. I previously objected to provisions of the kind set out in paragraph 3(c) of the First Schedule, which defines people by age, which is, or should be, unconstitutional. In section 4(a), politicians seem to be barred from almost every major State activity or system. That seems to be standard in legislation at the moment and I have some queries about it.

A fully independent appeals mechanism in the licensing system is long overdue. There have been allegations of favouritism towards districts around the coast, depending on who is the Minister or Taoiseach of the day. One of our colleagues in the Seanad mentioned that there were famous Dingle licences, possibly associated with the occasional presence in the locality of a very prominent Taoiseach.

Our current system is based on the policy document, Licensing of Sea Fishing Boats: Policy, Criteria and Administration. A key aspect of the document concerns the conservation and rational exploitation of available fish stocks. "Sustainable fisheries" and "maximum employment" should be the key phrases in the basic philosophy of the Irish fishing industry. The document sets out in great detail the problems with which we have had to deal in respect of the EU regime and equivalent capacity, as well as the issue of economic linkages.

I asked the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on two occasions during Question Time when we will get the final report on the review of sea fishing licence policy. The Minister told us the group carrying out the review has made a number of recommendations, which he has implemented in respect of polyvalent boats, the most multi-functional boats, and the different options people have in relation to their track record in fishing. It is regrettable that six or seven months into the term of this Administration, we are still being promised this major report.

I presume this Bill will have an impact on the likely outcome of the report and that we will have to legislate further for issues that may be raised by the review group concerning the policy when the Department produces the fisheries (consolidation) Bill. I would welcome an update. The Minister mentioned that we will possibly have the full report in June.

Despite the developments that have taken place, concerns about licensing policy around the coast are continually brought to my attention and that of other spokespersons. I have repeatedly asked the Minister, Deputy Ahern, about the amazing decision seemingly made by his predecessor Deputy Fahey regarding our largest freezer trawler, theAtlantic Dawn, owned by Mr. Kevin McHugh. It was apparent that Deputy Fahey had to engage in lengthy negotiations with Franz Fischler and the EU over two years to ensure that this huge 144 metre boat could be placed on the Irish register. Given that we were making our case in respect of this matter and that we had a fine committee led by Mr. Pádraig White, our distinguished former public servant, it was extraordinary that we were embarrassed that this major, single-owner ship was taking up so much tonnage on the Irish register. The decision was very strange and I have asked the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to look back over the era concerned to see what lessons can be learned.

In recent days we have had reports from Lorna Siggins, the distinguished marine journalist, and others that there are allegations of offers of 5,000 tonnes from another vessel, theVeronica, which is also owned by Mr. McHugh, but which exceeds the Irish tonnage level. It seems that some very strange decisions are made on licensing policy.

We have also had complaints about developments such as that in Lough Swilly in north-east Donegal. There are allegations that the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has been encouraging the licensing of Dutch-controlled operators regarding a huge territory of the Lough Swilly seabed for bottom-cultivated mussels, while our indigenous fishermen with small whitefish boats and the men who traditionally manage the wild oyster fishery are being pushed aside. Section 8 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997 states clearly that the awarding of any aquaculture licence over a wild oyster bed is illegal, yet they seem to have been awarded. We are hearing reports that massive vessels are sailing up and down the Swilly and operators in traditional fisheries are not being treated fairly. I want the Minister to examine this matter.

During the term of the last Dáil, our Green Party colleagues asked repeatedly for the integrated coastal zone management plan and conclusive legislation. It is regrettable we have not addressed this. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, could have done better at the beginning of his term of office in addressing in a global way, with reference to the Pádraig White report, the overall future of our fisheries by way of a White Paper, rather than having adopted thead hoc approach used to deal with the CFP negotiations and later other matters that arose. While many welcome the regulation concerning small, inshore vessels under 12 metres, other operators are concerned because their licences were very clear-cut in the past. These operators followed the conservation plans of the Department and now feel they could be penalised. I hope the legislation will improve and develop these areas.

Most of the legislation relates to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of December 1982 relating to the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. Schedule 3 of the Bill outlines the interesting species, mostly tuna, pomfret, marlin, swordfish etc. In particular, I welcome section 19 of the Bill, in which the Minister is giving authority to declare conservation areas, and section 21, which extends the powers of our Naval Service and Defence Forces at all levels to allow them to act as fishery control and protection officers.

The 1982 convention is model legislation. It lays out criteria to which we can still aspire in many respects 20 years later. The key elements of it, such as long-term conservation and sustainable use of these migratory species, could be applied to any wild fish species. The precautionary approach as implemented by the Department's Marine Institute is also important. The recognition of the importance of biodiversity and human activity in the environment is welcome. Article 18 sets out the duties of flag states which we have discussed at length in committee. The abuse of flags and the use of flags of convenience flouts our determination to conserve many areas of our seas. It is generally Spanish boats that do this by flying British or French flags. We need to address the problem more comprehensively in our own legislation.

I welcome the convention and our belated implementation and adherence to all that it entails. I hoped today to get the first opportunity to review more extensively than is possible with a short question the performance of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern. It is the view of the Labour Party that his performance has been dismal. He has been engaged in a holding operation like the little boy with his finger in the dyke. He seems to have no plans for our industry. It has been striking to see the statements on everything from broadband, broadcasting and the semi-State sector to oil and gas which are posted hourly on the Department's website. Everything conceivable is mentioned except our fisheries, which are the basis for a key indigenous industry employing 25,000 workers and broadly involving perhaps 100,000 people. The constituencies of all Members present are likely to be inhabited by these people. In Howth town and peninsula, which is in my constituency, can be found a vital part of the economic infrastructure of north-east Dublin.

I know the Minister's brief has been difficult. I attended Franz Fischler's press conference and listened to the Commissioner speak at length about what he intends to do and how difficult it will be for Irish fishing communities. He used the words "difficult" and "hard" to describe everything and he described his aim of closing off huge areas of our seas. I told the Minister on the radio one Saturday before we departed for the negotiations that he faced what was probably the biggest test of his career. He has failed that test. He said the Hague Preferences were retained and that he gained extra whitefish stocks while the moratoriums on fishing for cod in the Irish Sea and hake in the Celtic Sea had been lifted. He said our quotas had only gone down by 5%, but he was immediately contradicted in that by the fishermen's leaders. He declared that we had a key input into the new Common Fisheries Policy. Much of what he said was pie in the sky. He had not put the national review group's report at the heart of the Common Fisheries Policy as he said he had. The Minister also failed with regard to total allowable catches and quotas. While he said we faced huge fleet reductions, what he arrived back with was disastrous.

That was the case with the Irish Box. The day he returned from Brussels he said he would appeal to his Spanish counterpart to act responsibly in this matter, but by then he had been metaphorically netted by the Spanish Fisheries Minister. The softly, softly approach to Viga and the other ports of northern Spain has resulted in a disaster for the Irish Box. It was a disaster because the Minister refused to address the relative stability of quotas in a sensible, coherent way before the negotiations. Our quotas are based on the historic quotas from 1973 to 1976. Since we entered Europe the majority of our Ministers in this portfolio have been Fianna Fáil Deputies. Throughout the 1970s and in 1986, when Spain and Portugal joined the Union, they failed to address the issue of the size of the quota. This nation has at least 11% of the seas of the EU, but is allowed a miserable 4% of the quotas based on the 1973 to 1976 figures. That is the fundamental problem and nobody has rectified it.

I read the contribution of distinguished former Minister, Senator Daly, in the Upper House in which he stated that nothing could have been done for the fishing industry in 1973 because it was too small. On the contrary, the industry was a significant part of our economic infrastructure and had great potential. The industry's vulnerability was one of the reasons the Labour Party and one of our great local representatives, former Minister, Justin Keating, opposed entry into the European Community. We felt that our fisheries were being sold down the river. The issue of relative stability of quotas has never been addressed and Deputy Dermot Ahern did not go to Brussels to change that. The Pádraig White report makes it clear that the socio-economic aspects of the Common Fisheries Policy demand greater economic development for peripheral areas of the community than for centralised areas. Our continuous quota is at variance with the idea of developing coastal communities whose basic income comes from fishing.

The Common Fisheries Policy and the socio-economic rationale behind regional policy have never been integrated and the Minister did not seek to have that happen. However, it is the failure in terms of the Irish Box which poses the most serious threat to the future of Irish fishing. Although the issue has been a slow burner in 2002, we are still hearing reports of a Spanish armada off northern Spain and northern Morocco. Neither the Minister nor the Taoiseach has kept track of what passed between Spanish Prime Minister, José Maria Aznar, and Romano Prodi in the months leading to the review of the CFP. Spain's record should have caused us to fear the worst. Is it not striking that one of the Spanish boats arrested and towed to Galway for flying a British flag had 4,500 tonnes of illegal monkfish on board? The Spanish have never been interested in conservation. The idea that we allow huge numbers of extra boats into a part of our territory when conservation is a key word of our fishing policy is contradictory. There have been disturbing reports that the Minister has made an informal deal with the Spanish and that we are beginning to see the impact of what this will mean over time.

While activity is still low in that area, the only recourse for the Minister will be to go to the European Court. As Mr. O'Donoghue of the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation pointed out, we need concrete alternative proposals from the Minister. It is no wonder that Jason Hooley and the Irish South and West Fishermen's Organisation felt they had to take matters into their own hands with a blockade.

An equally disastrous result of the Minister's achievement on the CFP is the appalling scenario which faces Donegal and fishermen in the north-west in regard to the nine days at sea rule. This has been overshadowed by the issue of the Irish Box, but it is as potentially catastrophic.

Mr. Ahern allowed Irish interests to be caught up in the determination of Franz Fischler and the EU Commission to dramatically introduce new rules for the cod stocks in area six. The British Government, of course, for whatever reason – some say for political reasons – was not determined to defend its own fishermen. Our fishermen, however, were allowed to be caught in the net again. There have been reports in recent weeks that the Inishowen port of Greencastle risks being wiped out as a key landing port because of the operation of this new regime. Lorcán Ó Cinnéide, the chief executive of the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, and others have raised concerns about safety issues and query why other conservation measures such as fish size and separators were not utilised in this regard.

With regard to quotas and total allowable catches, it was very striking that immediately after the Brussels negotiation, the Minister, Deputy Ahern, was challenged by the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation and others who claimed that there was up to a 9% cut in our white fish quota and perhaps a 7% reduction in our pelagic quota.

The fundamental problems remain. As my colleague on the Fine Gael benches said, we await the completion of the Brussels negotiations. I note that the Minister met the Greek Minister during the Greek Presidency and we have had negotiations with Portugal. Spain and Ireland seem to have a "softly softly" approach. The European Commission seems to say that the box issue can only be resolved bilaterally. I accept that this legislation is a couple of steps forward.

The Minister must realise the huge socio-economic importance of fishing to many coastal areas. I mentioned Greencastle and Killybegs but there are also other great ports like Rossaveal, Dunmore East, Castletownbere, which I know very well, Howth which is in my constituency, Clogher Head and other smaller ports.

The Deputy should not forget Kilmore Quay.

Yes, I should not forget Kilmore Quay. The hinterlands of all those ports are greatly assisted by the fishing industry. The industry was valued last year at €550 million with at least 25,000 directly or indirectly employed in the industry. The Howth peninsula which is in my constituency has a long tradition of sea-faring. Howth fishermen and other fishermen from the other ports were the ones, and not the Department, who approached Deputies like myself with conservation proposals such as the improvement of mesh size, the closure of spawning grounds, the reduction of fishing in sensitive areas and a change to fishing for other species. The Howth Fishermen's Association and others have borne very stoically the closure since 1999-2000 of the Irish Sea spawning grounds at this time of year. As their representative, I join them in their feelings of bitterness at the results of the negotiations held before Christmas. We believe there should have been more detailed preparation and a more serious effort to acknowledge the support of the fishing industry to our communities.

The Bill is a small step and I may put forward some amendments on Committee Stage. This is the first time, other than Question Time, that I have been given an opportunity to discuss the fishing industry in the House. I ask the Minister to pay more attention to the industry and to adopt a more dynamic, proactive approach. In one sense,per capita, we are the great fishing nation in the European Union and the style of this Administration should reflect that. I commend the Bill.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ferris and Cowley.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

When I read this Bill the sentence that jumped out at me in the explanatory memorandum was that the EU is very keen that we ratify this as soon as possible so that we can "signal our commitment to sustainable fishing on the high seas and elsewhere." The European Union and most of the developed fishing industry desperately need to show some interest in conservation and sustainability of fisheries because that is the last thing that has happened in the past 20 years since the original convention. It is shocking to think that it is 20 years since that very laudable document was introduced. We have utterly failed to live up to the precautionary principle, to the ideals of sustainability which were so cleverly and clearly outlined in that convention.

It is now a time of crisis for fisheries because of over-exploitation. At the latest Johannesburg summit a date of 2015 was set to reduce the unsustainable behaviour of fisheries throughout the world. Many people in the environmental movement believe it was an incredible failure of the Johannesburg process to cut back the resolution of the problem yet again by another decade or so. It is about time we started acting and not just talking about sustainability. It is a shame on this country that environmentalists believe that the Irish Government is just as bad as the rest when it comes to talking about conservation but not living up to it. We will chase after our own quotas regardless of conservation consequences. We will try to protect our interests when what is needed throughout the developed world is a genuine commitment to conservation. I can only hope but I am very sceptical that the enactment of this Act will move in that direction.

I refer to the United Nations convention on conservation. There is one area where I believe we are not carrying out our duties of conservation and that is regarding the protection of other species which are caught up in the fishing of migratory species such as tuna and marlin. I am speaking about the catching of common dolphin and harbour porpoises by Irish fishing vessels. The Minister will be aware that there has been much controversy about the application of twin trawling techniques in the Bay of Biscay by Irish boats where on certain occasions, it is reported, twin trawling boats have caught up to 30 dolphin in one trawl, causing the deaths of those dolphins.

The Irish public buys its tin of tuna and feels that all is well with the world again because we have tackled the issue and we are now buying dolphin-friendly tuna, but that is not the case. When I contacted the Minister's Department on this issue, I was told that a small contingent from BIM was sent to test out a new sonar device which was designed to keep dolphins away from the nets. This is only a minuscule investment in terms of time and attention and it is not being taken seriously. When I asked about the commitment for the next season beginning in May that each boat would be required to carry out preventative measures, yet again there were no plans. On the issue which this Bill deals with, how to fish migratory fish such as tuna, it seems we are in disregard of the UN convention which we are trying to enact. We are talking the talk but not acting out the conservation measures that are proposed.

In the Irish Sea and other closed-in waters we still see large depth dolphins caught in gill netting systems. The numbers may have gone down slightly because our level of fishing has gone down but it is still going on at an unsustainable level and is diminishing those populations. The public would be up in arms if it was aware of the lack of Government activity in this area.

A solution was mentioned in regard to tuna fishing. This Bill is primarily about those migratory species. It is worthwhile talking about the possible use of long lines with hooks on them but we must be careful. There has been talk, because of the lack of success for Irish fishermen in the twin trawling system, of moving towards a long line system. In the introduction of any such system the Minister would have to apply a technique where lines are laid beneath the water surface so that seabirds are not caught up in them. This has been a problem in similar systems around the world where fulmars or other birds going for the bait coming off the boats get caught and killed. If we are to develop the fishing of these migratory species we will have to be the leading country in terms of conservation measures, but I get no sense of that happening despite this Bill coming before the House today.

Let us look at the issue of how this legislation could improve the lot of Irish fishermen. I used every opportunity I got in the debate with the Minister to raise the issues of the Irish Box and the difficulties faced by the Irish fishing industry. I have said that we should use conservation measures in a positive way in terms of restricting fishing activity and giving our local smaller boats a chance. For example, Irish fishermen fishing for hake in the south-west waters use a 120 mm mesh net by regulation whereas Spanish and French boats possibly use 100 mm filament net. However, if an Irish Naval Service boat tries to prosecute they have the excuse that they are allowed to carry that net because they could have been fishing in the Bay of Biscay or elsewhere, where such a mesh size is allowed.

Perhaps in this instance we could use this legislation to say "No" and to insist that if they are in Irish waters they cannot carry that net. We could say the mesh size is against our conservation measures and is not allowed. That would be one way of restricting the invasion of foreign boats in Irish waters. When I put this possibility to the Minister the reply was that it would not be possible. The lack of effort in conservation is to be criticised. It is not sustainable in terms of fish stocks nor does it protect our jobs.

A detail in the explanatory notes on the Bill which sets out some of the licensing agreement was interesting. To reiterate what Deputy Broughan said, when one reads the considerations that are taken into account in licensing a boat it is astonishing that conservation measures are just put in as a postscript at the end. The first four or five points that have to be taken into consideration are local economic interests. When we look at the section in regard to boat licensing we wonder what our Government was doing when it gave such a massive tonnage licence to boats like theVeronica and the Atlantic Dawn. How can the Government possibly justify the tonnage given that it will bring less jobs than would have been the case with an allocation of the tonnage to a greater number of boats? It will bring less landings and less benefits to Irish ports. It is time the Government gave an explanation of its rationale in licensing those boats. Silence is not a sufficient answer if the Government is espousing conservation policies.

The introduction of the appeal system is welcome. I welcome the general content of the Bill. However, it will be to no avail if the Government does not pursue the conservation agenda rigorously. Fish do not have votes and that is part of our problem. Ultimately, if we continue to ignore the need to maintain viable fish stocks the people whose livelihoods depend on those fish stocks will realise that our lack of implementation of conservation measures cost them their jobs in the long run. The State had better stop signing Acts and ratifying treaties unless it implements them. That is my criticism of the fishing policy pursued by the Government.

I welcome this Bill as a step towards bringing the area of licensing into the public light. This issue has caused a good deal of difficulty in the past where certain large operators appear to have been treated by a different set of criteria from others. It has allowed them to establish a good deal of control over the fishing industry in parts of the country to the detriment of smaller individual operators and entire coastal fishing communities.

The issue has brought a certain degree of mystery to many within the industry up to now. As the Minister is aware, I and other Deputies raised the question of the licensing of one particular large operator. While not casting aspersions on the Minister or his officials I have not received a satisfactory reply to that matter.

I cannot explain to fishermen in the south and west how an enormous amount of tonnage was given free to one operator. It is an injustice that people who are trying to get licences and tonnage must pay €3,000 to €4,000 per tonne when other people can get it for nothing. This can only serve to create an atmosphere of suspicion and bad will. Therefore to the extent that this Bill lifts the veil of secrecy on such matters it is to be welcomed.

The Minister will be aware of another case where I made a representation to the Department in regard to the refusal of a licence to a person in Donegal. He felt that he was given no adequate explanation as to why he was refused and why others were granted licences. It is these anomalies and inconsistencies that create bad will and difficulties. That individual appears to have run into a concrete wall in attempting to receive an explanation. It is to be hoped that such cases will no longer occur and that all decisions are potentially open to examination.

I am aware that some fishing organisations made representation to the Minister and the Department over certain provisions and they were able to suggest amendments and improvements in the legislation which have been incorporated. That is welcome. It is healthy that people actively engaged in the industry are allowed the opportunity to consult and make suggestions. I commend the Minister for that. One of the issues they were instrumental in getting implemented was the right of third parties to object to the granting of licences. This has been incorporated in Part 2, section 8. That provision will allow interested parties to scrutinise the process of the granting of licences and it is welcome.

I hope this level of consultation with the representatives of fishermen will continue, particularly as we enter the critical period of review of the Common Fisheries Policy and try to resolve the ongoing difficulties regarding the Irish Box conservation area.

I welcome the conservation aspects of the Bill which give effect to the UN agreement on the conservation of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. Everyone agrees on the need to protect the particular species involved and there would appear to be no controversy in that regard. I would, however, contrast the reasonable and rational basis of this measure with the current lunacy that appears to govern the EU's intervention in the conservation of commercial species within Irish waters.

We are all aware of the recent legal decision to open up the Irish Box and the grave implications which that has for the future of Irish fishing. Fishermen are likewise concerned – concern is the mildest expression – with the manner in which the directives on, for example, the conservation of certain whitefish stocks are being implemented. This has led to a number of arrests of Irish fishing vessels and an increase in the level of bad feeling in regard to the whole area. Last month theArdent was arrested in Castletownbere after its third day fishing that month. Bad weather led to a number of boats being tied up in January, which meant there was effectively no income in the households of those concerned.

I have fished for many years in Fenit. Last night I flew down to Kerry to go to the house of a great friend of mine from Fenit who was lost yesterday off Loop Head. He had 40 years experience in the fishing industry. I also went to the house of the two young fishermen on whose boat he was fishing. The grief of the families and the loss to the communities is indescribable. This small fishing village, which has suffered greatly in the past, has again been hit by a terrible tragedy.

Fishermen are taking more and more chances in order to make a decent living. They are going further west off the coast than ever before. This presents greater difficulties for them to encounter, yet they are met with more and more regulations and rules, mostly emanating from Europe, which is detrimental to our fishing industry.

The best people to conserve the fishing industry are those who are involved in it, as they have a vested interest and make their livelihoods from it. They know the extent of current fishing stocks. Involving them is the best way to proceed and ensure a successful outcome to conservation. The notching of lobsters in conjunction with the fishery boards has been successful in conserving stocks, which has shown signs of recovery. This is a good example of the type of measure which needs to be brought in. The fishermen themselves have spearheaded the conservation of the oyster industry in Fenit.

As I remarked in the House last week in regard to farming, Irish coastal fishing communities are in crisis – and that is an understatement. The level of regulation and restrictions upon them has led to a steady decline in income. This is a disgrace when it is contrasted with the amount of fish that is taken out of Irish waters by EU vessels. It has been said that Ireland has been a net beneficiary of EU membership but when the issue of fishing rights is taken into account we become a net contributor.

While I support what the Bill sets out to do in regard to licensing appeals and the conservation of species, a great deal more attention needs to be focused on the immediate problems facing the industry. I will continue to raise this point. The Government needs to consider the plight of the fishing industry. It needs to prioritise its efforts in addressing the needs and requirements of those engaged in it. I hope the Minister of State will take these points on board and give them the attention they urgently deserve.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is important legislation but I am somewhat concerned about certain elements it does not contain. Anyone who lives beside the sea, particularly in the west of Ireland, as I do, realises the importance of our fishing industry.

At school we learned about the value of our natural resources and what it meant to have such a rich resource off our coast. Before we joined the EU in 1973 we probably did not realise our potential in that regard. While EU membership allowed us to get money for development, we gave much away over the years. We had derogations but now the day of reckoning has come.

While we all agree that over-fishing will spell the end of the industry and that conservation must be a feature of the industry, the EU often goes over the top in regard to regulations. I am particularly concerned by the impact of these regulations on the small boat fishermen and those who catch lobsters, those who go out in dangerous conditions to supplement their incomes from farming. As a result of EU regulation they no longer have any livelihood on the land and now they are being put under pressure at sea. I urge the Minister of State to look at their plight.

Some time ago legislation was introduced that effectively put sea angling clubs out of commission. I was involved in setting up the sea-angling club in Mulranny, which was an important part of the local community. Every member of the family was involved in it and had a great time. As a result of over-regulation this vital lifeline to the community has gone in Belmullet where it had been a feature of local life for 35 years.

I consider the legislation an over-reaction to safety. The boating tragedy in Wexford was due to people not wearing life jackets but those involved in sea-angling groups who are known to me do wear them and are aware of the safety aspects. They accept that it is necessary to have a responsible attitude. Insurance costs are high in this area and the onus is on everyone to have a safe system in place. However, what the law requires is above and beyond all of that. The sea-angling club in Belmullet is attempting to do something to address this matter, as will many other such clubs.

While the legislation is aimed at strengthening our fishing industry, I am concerned that over-regulation may bring about its demise. This is similar to the nitrates and habitats directives. Much of County Mayo has been made almost redundant from a farming point of view. We do not yet have an official national park but there is one promised for Ballycroy. Such areas of land are diminishing in value because of the restrictions on their use due to conservation measures.

If it was a question of the last salmon on the River Moy or the last grouse in the bogs of Erris, then there would be an outcry from An Taisce and such people, but nobody is shouting stop when it is a case of the last person in the west or north-west of Ireland. Professor Seamus Caulfield has predicted from the census figures that nobody will be left in Mayo by the end of the century. This is the area which I represent and it would be a terrible tragedy if this was to come about. We should be introducing legislation which will help to prevent that happening.

I would like to see something in this Bill that would give me hope that there will be a future for this area. I fear that there is so much regulation that people are forgotten about. As someone once said, let us be treated as animals so that we might be treated better. We might be treated better if we were the last grouse or the last bat in the country.

We are all in favour of safety at sea but it has been overdone and needs to be looked at again. Fishing is a proud tradition and people in areas such as Achill have been involved in sea-angling for generations. In the past, fishing was an important industry but the controls on driftnet fishermen have put people out of business. Such people may also have a farm but because of de-stocking they have been driven off the land. We were told that what is in mind in the Fischler proposals is to change.

When we first joined the EU the Mansholt plan predicted that only large farms would be viable, and that is now the case. Many fishermen also depend on the land and we must consider these small people. We can overdo conservation. I agree with the need for conservation but the Minister must also take account of the small men. TheVeronica is a fine boat and is owned by an Achill man. The value of the quota of that boat is enormous but many small fishermen are trying to eke out a living on the sea. These small fishermen matter as well.

When I was going to school we learned that we were not utilising the full value of our fishing industry. Since joining the EU the country has come on by leaps and bounds. Many economic activities have been deregulated and perhaps deregulation should have been applied to fish stocks also. However, we did not do that and now we must pay the price. The EU gave us large boats and improved piers but there is a price to pay for these developments.

How far will regulation go? Is the schoolboy who catches one or two fish to be subject to regulation? We have not realised the potential of our fishing industry and it would be a shame if this potential, which was recognised for so long, was not developed. We have missed many opportunities over the years. Of all products, fish has the greatest potential for improving our health. All medical literature claims that omega-3 fatty acids help one to live longer and they are found in abundance in fish. The fish on the west coast have less chance of being radioactive than those on the east coast, but that is another matter.

Licensing can be overdone. It must be fair and we must consider the small man. TheAtlantic Dawn and the Veronica are massive ships but we must also consider the small fishermen and their communities, whether they are fishing for a few lobster or sea angling. I would like to have seen more emphasis in the Bill on conserving people rather than conserving fish. We are conserving fish, bats, salmon and many other creatures, but the people matter too. If there is no one to eat the fish what is the point of having a fishing industry? I say, as Shakespeare did, “Pause there Morocco.” We should think about this. We are an island nation and our waters are an enormous resource. Our fish catch does not reflect the true value of this resource, and that is a pity.

A licensing system is only as good as its enforcement. The Bill contains many references to enforcement. This has been our problem for many years. Fishermen have come from Spain and other countries and fished our waters with impunity. I hope this Bill will bring about an improvement in this situation. If we realised the value of our fishing industry and had a proper way of protecting our assets we would do much better.

Fishing is big business but the small man matters and he should not be forgotten about. I am concerned about the over-regulation of small boats and I hope the Minister will consider this aspect of the matter. I urge him to meet the sea angling clubs and to try to find a way around this problem. If laws do not serve the people what is the point in having them? Conservation is important but people matter as well.

There appears to be a general welcome for the Bill. The Minister of State has said that even the fishing industry has welcomed it. I am sure not all the industry has welcomed it but there is, at least, a general welcome for the Bill within the House.

The Bill will establish an independent statutory appeals process for sea fishing boat licences so as to give effect to the commitment in the current programme for Government. Under Part 2 of the Bill applicants for sea fishing boat licences and third parties will be able to appeal licence decisions and the final decision on such licences will be made by an independent appeals officer, who will be a suitably qualified and experienced lawyer and will determine the appeal. That may be a step in the right direction.

Will the appeals system include securing tonnage for boats? Some small fishermen, particularly on the west coast, are penalised by having to acquire tonnage at considerable expense to themselves before they can even go out to sea. I ask the Minister of State to clarify this matter in his reply to this debate.

Sustainable fish stocks are essential if the Irish fishing industry is to have a viable future. However, while ensuring conservation we must ensure that we have a fair enforcement system.

Fishermen themselves are the most effective conservationists. The recent lobster stock conservation measures were implemented by fishermen and these measures have led to a recovery in lobster stocks.

The benefit of the fishing industry to our economy has long been undervalued and underestimated. Fishermen go out in all kinds of weather and fishing is a hazardous employment. Deputy Ferris referred to a neighbour of his who was lost at sea. As some speakers have indicated, fishermen are now taking greater risks to ensure that they have a livelihood.

The fishing industry should be an important part of our economy but this is not the case. We are tied by the Common Fisheries Policy into a false and inadequate quota system. We have 11% of the fishing waters but less than 4% of the fishing quotas. This is the crux of the difficulty in the fishing industry. Our fishing quota is insufficient and is disproportionate to our fishing waters.

The last round of negotiations attended by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources was disappointing. He secured some benefit in the white stock but he allowed us to be severely discriminated against. He had to appeal to the Spanish fleet to be responsible within the Irish Box. That was a weak position for the Minister.