I thank Deputy Devins for sharing his time. I welcome the Bill. I live three miles from Greencastle so I am familiar with the difficult lives fishermen have working out of the Foyle and the Swilly and around the coast. It is also difficult for their spouses who often have to sit at home wondering when the fishermen will return and worrying about the difficult seas they will encounter. Any measure therefore that seeks to ease the process and incorporates supports for fishermen where they believe things are not right with an appeals mechanism is most welcome. The fishing industry is happy with this Bill.
The Bill is designed to extend and strengthen the sea fisheries legislation. While its primary purpose is to provide for the establishment of the independent statutory appeals process for licensing of sea fishing boats, I am glad it goes beyond that. The Minister pointed out that this process has been in operation in a non-statutory form since 25 November last year. An independent lawyer, Niall Beirne of the Law Library, has filled this position and it is important that people have recourse to such a person. It is important that somebody is available who is independent and is seen by the organisation to be independent when dealing with members' queries.
My query is whether it will be necessary to license our boats. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, and his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ahern, with the rest of the Cabinet to work hard to ensure that the marine remains a focus not only of the Irish Government but at European level. A time might come when we will not need an appeals or licensing system. The way things are going at present there might not be any boats going out to fish. The fight must continue in Brussels to ensure we will have boats to license.
We worked hard to get a white fish fleet renewal scheme. Of the 32 boats in the scheme, 16 were in Donegal and of that 16, six were in Greencastle. This was an important health and safety issue. In my first year as an Opposition Deputy I regularly tried to impress on the then Minister, former Deputy Barrett, the fact that the age of the fleet was between 35 and 50 years. Progress was made under the last Administration and not only were new boats provided in the fleet but support mechanisms were provided for second-hand boats to be made more modern, better equipped and safer.
Now that we have addressed the safety issue and have safer, more efficient and better boats for fishing, many boats in the fleet are not being allowed to fish. That issue is particularly strong in my constituency and it will become more important in other coastal areas. People will begin to take notice of it next year in other parts of the country. I ask the Minister of State to work with the Minister and to look at what was agreed in Johannesburg. Deputy Ryan spoke earlier about conservation. Most fishermen do not disagree with the thrust towards conservation so long as the measures proposed are in the interests of conservation. I say that in the context of this Bill enabling Ireland to give effect to the 1995 United Nations agreement concerning conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks and those vulnerable to over-fishing. There should be a concerted international effort to protect such stocks.
In regard to cod stocks, we face a serious situation which needs to be addressed, but it should be called what it is. I do not believe that the most recent decision to close a section of area six is true conservation. We need to invest money in research to examine this carefully because there are parts of area six in which there never was and never will be cod, as well as areas with spawning grounds and juvenile areas. I appeal to the Minister of State to dispatch a research vessel to area six to look at where the spawning grounds and juvenile areas are, put the statistical information together and go back to Europe armed with the results. We must deal with the situation realistically.
Fishermen are going out not to catch cod because they cannot put a notice on their nets asking cod not to apply. They know from experience that cod will not be caught in certain areas but they are being penalised with days at sea and smaller mesh sizes when the responsible fishermen know where they should and should not be fishing. This cannot be done by Ireland alone – we cannot expect our fishermen to keep out of closed areas when the rest of the European fleet can fish there. This must be an EU-wide measure which is respected around the coastline. Our fishermen are interested in conservation so we should produce the research and proof to tell fishermen that certain spawning areas or juvenile areas are being closed, thereby putting the onus back on them not to enter them. As fishermen in Greencastle have been saying for years, enough protection is provided by the various detection equipment on vessels so it should be easy to enforce closed-off areas.
A wind farm has been proposed in the mouth of the River Foyle where there is a strong wild salmon fishery. This is supposedly protected by the EU and under-exploited by ourselves, yet the wind farm developers extol the virtues of the sanctuary effect that will be created by the wind farms. This means that when the smolts arrive at the wind farm, they will not go any further but swim around only to be eaten by bigger fish. Salmon are tagged in the river in my area and it has been proven that they come back to within 100 yards of where they were born. If they go past an electro-magnetic field like the wind farm, is there proof it will not distort their ability to find their way back and will the salmon fishery survive? I ask the Minister of State, the Minister for Communication, Marine and Natural Resources, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Taoiseach to rally together to ensure it is clearly made known that we find this unacceptable, that we need more information and that we need to know what the effect will be on our salmon stocks. We have done research and we have plans to develop our salmon fisheries. The locks agency is working hard to ensure we have a fishery.
Just before Christmas I stood in the Reelin River with water up to my knees at the salmon spawning location. This should not be allowed to disappear because of 85 30-storey wind turbines that could have been located somewhere else. Furthermore, these are of no ecological or other advantage to the Republic.
I do not mind sea-fishery enforcement being strengthened if we have done our best to give the fishermen a level playing field. I ask the Minister of State to look at the situation on Lough Swilly – there is a great deal of activity, including commercial and leisure, but there is no overall plan. There is also some activity on the River Foyle and, in that context, I ask the Minister of State to progress the updating of the Foyle fishery legislation so the activity can take place in a planned and progressive manner. I ask that the Swilly be examined in the same context. There are oyster beds and mussel beds, commercial fishermen and anglers, people involved in the RNLI and the whitefish fleet, yachting, jet-skiing and swimming. These cannot co-exist in a safe manner unless we develop a coherent plan. We should look at what is happening in the likes of Lough Swilly, decide whether it is acceptable and develop an overall plan of how we can work as best we can.
The Foyle supports the car ferry, has potential for cruise liners and features various forms of aquaculture. Aquaculture is currently unlicensed because we waited for two Governments to progress the legislation, then because of the Good Friday Agreement it was left to the Northern Executive to bring this forward. The Executive is not operational at present. I have asked the Secretary of State, Mr. Paul Murphy, to advance the legislation in the absence of the Executive but that is not the best way to advance legislation – the best way is through people working locally. At least when the Executive was working, one could have a discussion with the Minister – in this case, Bríd Rogers – about the solutions. This cannot continue indefinitely. If the legislation can be expedited by the Secretary of State it should be.
Fishermen have a difficult life. I would like to see our fishing industry expand but we have problems because of decisions taken before Christmas on the sea and land. I ask that the Minister of State works with his senior colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Couglan, and the Taoiseach to examine the on-shore effects of these decisions. The Minister has been good in facilitating interested parties to put their case and they have had meetings with numerous other Ministers. However, their issues are only an example of what the rest of the country might face in years to come unless these problems are addressed now. We must believe we can provide solutions to many of the problems we will have in the future. That will come down to research and to being able to progress on the basis of facts and statistics.
Fishermen, statisticians and legislators should work together and the European Union should work with us. It is not in the best interests of anyone that some people would try to conserve stocks while others would do what is best politically for themselves, which is what I consider is the current position.
Many good points were made in Johannesburg about conservation and sustainable development up to 2015 and beyond. However, when it comes to working together in Brussels to a deadline, which is usually around Christmas, people consider what they need themselves and real conservation is not taken into account. It is a case of every one for himself or herself, and that is wrong. People should consider the bigger picture. The Common Fisheries Policy needs to be properly reviewed to take account of conservation because we want fishing for life, not only for the next five to ten years.