I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to have this opportunity to present the Inland Fisheries Bill 2009 for consideration by the House. The main purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the restructuring of the inland fisheries sector through the establishment of a new national inland fisheries body, which will be known as inland fisheries Ireland. This body will replace the existing central and seven regional fisheries boards established in 1980. The status quo is no longer valid almost 30 years after the design of the current structures was put in place. Too much has changed in the intervening years, such as our understanding of the environment, the complex interplay of habitats and species, ecological biodiversity and the status of our inland fisheries stocks. Equally, too much is set to change to allow the continuation of the existing regime without modification.
The restructuring now proposed is in line with the programme of rationalisation of State bodies generally announced by the Minister for Finance last year during his budget day address. By way of background, freshwater lakes cover approximately 2% of the area of the State. There are also in the region of 13,840 km of main channel rivers. These freshwater systems are inhabited by a variety of fish species. They include game species such as salmon, sea and brown trout, as well as coarse species such as pike and bream.
The State's role in the inland fisheries resource is concerned with the protection, management and development of freshwater fisheries throughout Ireland, including the management and surveillance of stocks listed in the habitats directive. In addition, the remit covers certain activities at sea, including protection of salmon and sea trout, and the support of sea angling.
It is widely acknowledged that the inland fisheries resource, across all species, is under serious threat from environmental factors, including pollution, habitat degradation, water quality factors and over exploitation. The Government has faced up to hard decisions in recent times in the interest of conserving our salmon stocks, including closing the commercial mixed stock salmon fishery, the creation of a salmon hardship fund at a cost of €30 million to provide relief to those affected by the closure of the mixed stock fishery, the unequivocal adoption of scientific advice in the management of the salmon fishery and measures to protect our stocks of European eel. There is more to do, however, so it is imperative to put the right structures in place now, which will ensure the conservation and sustainable exploitation of our inland fisheries resource in the future.
While the Department has overall policy responsibility for the conservation, management, regulation and development of the inland fisheries resource, it is assisted in its mission by the central and regional fisheries boards. Other agencies such as the Marine Institute, the Loughs Agency, An Bord lascaigh Mhara and the ESB also play an important role in the sector.
In cognisance of the growing obligations on Ireland under European law and, in particular, responsibilities under the habitats directive and water framework directive, the Government has decided that inland fisheries Ireland should manage and report on its operations on the basis of the river basin districts established for the implementation of the water framework directive. This directive sets a framework for the comprehensive management of water resources in the EU, within a common approach and with common objectives, principles and basic measures.
Aligning the management of inland fisheries Ireland in this way will enable an integrated ecosystem approach to be adopted, which will be fully co-ordinated with the structures already in place for the implementation of the water framework directive for environmental and habitat protection across all animal species.
It will also better enable those matters to be dealt with on a co-ordinated North-South basis and will be beneficial in terms of implementing future EU-sponsored measures in the sector. Between them, the central and regional fisheries boards are made up of over 150 board members, with each of the regional boards having up to 23 members per board. Such numbers are unwieldy by any standard and can lead to divergent interests and competing aims between different stakeholders.
As we have seen in other areas, there is a need at board level for a high-level focus on corporate governance and strategic issues. This is best achieved by putting in place a small, focused board in State bodies. Accordingly, it is proposed that the board of inland fisheries Ireland will consist of nine members. This does not mean there will be no role for existing board members who have a genuine interest in inland fisheries and wish to make a legitimate contribution to the future development of the resource.
The Bill requires inland fisheries Ireland to establish a national inland fisheries forum, which will provide stakeholder input into policy formulation. It is envisaged that there will be representation across the spectrum of stakeholders on this forum.
I am aware that stakeholders have been championing the establishment of regional advisory committees effectively replicating the existing regime. Stakeholder involvement is vital at a local level. However, it needs to be properly structured and channelled to ensure that the input from diverse and sometimes competing stakeholders can be utilised to best effect. Such mechanisms should be operated by inland fisheries Ireland through the national inland fisheries forum. I would expect the new body to put in place local advisory structures, which will ensure that the expertise and goodwill that exists in the regions will not be lost.
As part of its remit, the national inland fisheries forum will replace the national salmon commission in providing advice on the management of the national salmon resource, while extending its competencies to other species also.
Following on from the approach adopted in the Broadcasting Act, I have made provision for the involvement of the Oireachtas joint committee in the appointment of some of the members to inland fisheries Ireland. This continues a positive practice in the appointment of persons to State bodies and I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the House as part of this process.
Following the resolution of the rod licence dispute in the late 1980s, eight fisheries co-operative societies were established. The principal function of those societies was to participate in the development of trout and coarse fisheries by raising funds through the issue of share certificates and making grants available for the development of trout and coarse fisheries for the benefit of the public. Their performance has varied considerably and, while recognising the huge commitment and effort on the part of the existing membership, it has proved difficult to improve the societies' accountability.
In considering options for the rationalisation of the sector, it will be more beneficial for the co-operative societies to cease and for resources currently deployed through them to be used as a basis for a grant scheme for local development groups. Such a scheme will be developed and operated by Inland Fisheries Ireland.
There are more than 400 staff currently employed by the fisheries boards. The staffing needs of the new structure will be met through existing resources and, in keeping with the Government's commitment to optimise the use of resources, there will be no increase in the overall staff numbers in the inland fisheries service.