Other Questions. - Fishing Limitation Scheme.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

58 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will make a statement on the outcome of the meeting involving representatives of the north-west fishing industry and the Taoiseach on 7 March 2003. [10825/03]

The meeting with representatives of the north-west fishing industry on 7 March was positive and productive. The discussions concentrated on how best to develop a viable alternative to the fishing effort limitation scheme agreed at last December's Council. As the Deputy will recall, I opposed this approach at the December Fisheries Council on the basis that the application of days at sea restrictions was not the appropriate mechanism for the recovery of cod stocks and would severely impact on the economies of coastal fishing communities.

It was agreed at the 7 March meeting that a prerequisite to the development of a viable alternative cod recovery strategy was the collection of additional scientific data on the state of the cod stock off the Donegal coast and especially the fishery off Greencastle. Following the meeting, I asked the Marine Institute to proceed immediately with a study costing over €300,000 into cod stocks off the coast of Donegal. This study, which is supported by EU funding, will involve the evaluation of the benefits of a seasonal closure of the Greencastle codling fishery and will be led by the Marine Institute with input from the Donegal fishing industry and BIM.

This project will increase our knowledge of the cod stock in the area and I am confident that it will in turn enable more appropriate and specific technical conservation measures to be devised. I will be seeking to have such targeted measures incorporated into a long-term recovery plan for that cod stock with a view to replacing the blunt instrument of the days at sea approach.

The meeting also considered that there may be possibilities for diversification for fishermen affected by these new restrictions. In particular, this may involve the use of alternative fishing methods and gears, and I have asked BIM to explore such possibilities with individual fishermen.

Has the Minister's Department figures which show the economic impact of the nine days at sea rule on the Donegal ports and particularly on Greencastle? In particular, has the Department figures showing the impact of the rule on smaller fishing boats, where the major impact was expected? Has the Minister proposals on the likely loss of earnings by Donegal fishermen and a financial package, which the Killybegs fishermen's organisation and the Irish Fish Producers Organisation asked him to investigate?

On the particular instrument which lays down the days at sea limitation, we have had extensive discussions with the industry and with the people affected. Depending on the type of mesh size used, a number of boats which it was thought might be affected will not be, provided they have a particular mesh size. Boats will be permitted to fish for 25 days, 23 days or 15 days, depending on the mesh size used. The number of boats involved is relatively small but I accept that the rule will have implications for people onshore and offshore. That formed part of the discussions we had at the recent meeting. Following from that meeting, BIM and the Marine Institute have been involved in seeing what assistance and alternatives could be operated.

At the most recent meeting we endeavoured to have the days at sea rule changed. A number of countries, for different reasons, were also against it. Denmark and France, particularly, voted with us against the amended proposal but for different reasons. Unfortunately, the UK did not. Despite the brouhaha in Scotland, the UK still insisted on the days at sea limitation which, obviously, meant that any amendment we proposed could not be included.

Will the Minister elaborate on how mesh size affects whether boats would have to reduce their days at sea? Would the rule affect larger or smaller boats? The Minister said the vast majority of boats would not have to apply for the nine day licence? Did the rule fall particularly on any area? Will the Minister briefly outline what other technical measures he believes could bring about the conservation that the Fischler proposals seek?

On mesh size, we issued an advisory note to fishermen to explain exactly how it would apply. Trawlers with towing gear, except beam trawlers, and with a mesh size over 100 mm are restricted to 11 days. For a mesh size of 70 mm to 99 mm the limitation is 25 days. When we checked the log books of some of the boats involved in that area and examined the history of what they had been using we found that many of them would be able to fish for 25 days under the existing regulations. To a certain extent, therefore, there was an alleviation because of the interpretation of the EU directive. We are working with the Commission and will continue to do so in relation to alternatives that might be put in place. The Deputy may be assured that the Commission is taking a very tough line on the issue of the recovery of cod and hake in our waters.

Was it typically the smaller inshore boats which were using the mesh as against larger boats?

Generally speaking, the larger boats which were able to go out into the deeper water were not affected by the restriction on days at sea because quite a small sliver of water was included in this proposal. It tended to be the smaller boats that were affected, but even those smaller boats can, in many cases, continue with the type of fishing they have done up to now and have 25 days at sea. Those that had over 200 mm mesh would, in effect, be able to change to a different mesh and thereby come under the 25 day rule.