I welcome the opportunity to speak on the committee's report on the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017. I wish to reassure the House that both l, as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the Government recognise the value and importance of maintaining vibrant rural, island and coastal communities. That was the motivation for the Action Plan for Rural Development, Realising our Rural Potential, which was launched in January 2017 as a whole-of-Government strategy aimed at delivering real change for people living and working in rural Ireland. More recently, the Government Chief Whip and Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the islands, Deputy Kyne, has been asked to assist with the formulation of a national islands policy. To that end, the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, has already established an interdepartmental committee to identify the key stakeholders and to prepare a consultation paper to provide a framework for the development of the policy.
As regards the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill, it is already a matter of record that the Government is opposed to this Bill due to its incompatibility with existing EU legislation, namely, the Common Fisheries Policy regulations. The current sea-fishing boat licensing legislation and procedures already allow residents of Ireland's offshore islands to enter the fishing fleet in the same manner as any other applicant. The European Union regulation does not allow for a scheme of sea-fishing licences for individuals separated from the commercial sea-fishing boat, as proposed in the Bill.
In April this year I wrote to the committee Chairman and to Deputy Martin Kenny to advise them of the Government's reasoned response to a request for a money message for this Private Members' Bill. For the benefit of those present in the Chamber, I will read the letter into the record:
On the 2 nd April 2019 the Government approved a reasoned response to the request for a money message in relation to the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017.
The reasoned response (copy attached) sets out why a money message should not be issued for this legislation and includes:
1. The Bill is not compatible with existing EU legislation, namely the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) regulation and related regulations.
2. The recent Policy Directive 1/2019 introduces restrictions on the trawling activities by fishing vessels over 18 m in length overall inside Ireland’s six nautical mile limit and is expected to improve fishing opportunities for smaller vessels.
3. As outlined in my letter to you on the 31 st January 2019, improvements have been made in the communication of quota availability to the inshore sector.
A further recent development in terms of small scale fishing activities is the launch of the Inshore Fisheries Strategy which was developed by the National Inshore Fisheries Forum in partnership with my Department, BIM, the [Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority] SFPA and the Marine Institute. I hope that the implementation of the Strategy will lead to further sustainable development of the small scale inshore sector and in this context I have asked BIM to work closely with the [National Inshore Fisheries Forum] NIFF to deliver the objectives set out in the strategy.
Finally, I continue to encourage any inshore fishermen and fisherwomen, islanders or otherwise, to work through their Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum to develop, advance or influence policies they feel can contribute to their inshore fisheries communities.
Yours sincerely, etc.
The reasoned response was laid before the Houses so I will not read that into the record now. In a previous letter on 31 January 2019, I advised Deputy Martin Kenny of policy developments of relevance to the rationale being used for this Bill. I will also read this letter into the record:
I am writing to you in relation to policy developments concerning fisheries management and particularly how these address issues which the Private Members Bill, "Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill 2017" appears to have been influenced by. On 21 December 2018 I announced the outcome of a review on trawling activities by fishing vessels inside Ireland's six nautical mile limit which has culminated in the decision to restrict trawling activity by vessels over 18 metres in length overall within this zone.
By way of background, in April 2018, I launched a public consultation on the issue of trawling activities inside the six nautical mile limit. This consultation followed initial analysis of [this] issue by both the Marine Institute and BIM and also preliminary feedback from the fishing producer organisations. The consultation document put forward three potential options in light of the initial analysis. There was a wide diversity of views expressed in the [approximately] 900 submissions received and all of the submissions are available on the Department's website.
The BIM analysis highlighted that the exclusion of trawlers over 18 metres in length would likely lead to a reduction of 2.6% (€5.5 million) of their overall landings. [I make that observation in the context of the point made by Deputy Pringle about increasing the quota from under 1% even to 1.5%. This initiative is getting to 2.6%.] This small proportion of landings being foregone by larger vessels will provide opportunities to smaller inshore and island fishermen which would represent a potential increase of 62% in the value of their landings. I recognise of course that this potential figure may not be fully realised by the smaller vessels but the percentage gains for those vessels that will take up these opportunities will be significant. Additionally, the increase in availability of sprat and herring to smaller vessels would represent a diversification opportunity as these species are found in bays and coastal areas during the winter.
The Marine Institute report identified that trawling by large vessels can have a more detrimental impact on the environment than smaller trawls. Coastal waters provide nursery grounds for a number of commercial fish species and mixed species trawls can capture higher proportions of smaller fish inshore. Thus the new measures will provide additional protection for [those] nurseries. The National Inshore Fisheries Forum (NIFF) made a submission on the proposals during the public consultation process. The NIFF is the representative body for the inshore fleet and is supported by a network of Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums (RIFF). Island groups are among the multiple stakeholders represented on the ... forums, including at national level. The [national] submission by the fisheries forum] was in favour of the option which has been approved to exclude vessels over 18 metres using trawls.
I believe that a compelling case for excluding trawling by large vessels in coastal waters inside six nautical miles has been made. I am of the view that there are enough opportunities for vessels over 18 metres outside of the six nautical mile zone. For just over 1% of these vessels, sprat constitutes a high proportion of the value of their landings. For this reason over 18 metre vessels will continue to be allowed to trawl for sprat only inside [the] six nautical miles until 2022. This phased process addresses the transitional period required by [those] vessels to adapt and I have asked BIM to work with the vessel owners and others toward a smooth transition. A total allowable catch of up to 2,000 tonnes, reflecting a reduction on recent years, will be permitted for these vessels during 2020, reducing to 1,000 tonnes in 2021. All trawling activity by vessels over 18 metres inside the six nautical mile limit will end from the beginning of 2022.
l am convinced these measures will provide for further sustainable development of the small scale inshore sector which the Government committed to in [its] "Programme for a Partnership Government".
My officials have advised that a further key issue which emerged during consideration of the Bill related to communication about the opportunities which ... exist for inshore and island fishers to exploit quota-controlled stocks. I understand that this has also been addressed through the provision of figures on quota availability and fleet policies to the Inshore Fisheries Forums. The National Inshore Fisheries Forum has a representative [on] the Quota Management Advisory Committee and I continue to encourage inshore groups to seek updates through the Inshore Fisheries Forums so that the messages about quota availability continue to be disseminated throughout the industry.
In relation to the Island Fisheries (Heritage Licence) Bill itself and the Joint Committee Report on the matter, it is worth noting that the restrictions on trawling by vessels over 18 m will benefit all coastal inshore fishers, whether island-based or not. This is, I believe, in the same spirit as the Joint Committee's suggestion to extend the concept of a heritage licence beyond just islanders. Another important issue I feel needs to be addressed is the concept of a specific licence being envisaged to assign quota opportunities. This is not the current practice for quota management and the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 already provides regulatory tools in the form of notices and authorisations which are actively used to manage opportunities to take up quota across the fleet at present. Introducing an additional licence for this purpose may prove counter-productive to adaptive quota management and transferring opportunities between eligible fishing vessels.
I trust from the foregoing that it can be seen that many of the issues which gave rise to the aforementioned Private Members Bill have been addressed. You may wish to reflect on whether or not to continue with the legislative process in view of these developments.
Is mise, etc.
I am a firm believer in getting stakeholders involved in the development of measures that will affect their sector. It is for this reason that I regularly meet industry representatives from the various sectors my Department works with, including the fishing industry. The NIFF and regional inshore fisheries forums were established to develop and facilitate implementation of policies and initiatives relating to the sustainable management of those fisheries. The regional forum members include inshore fishermen, environmental interests, marine leisure, marine tourism and other marine stakeholders, including islander interests. In February of this year I was very pleased to launch the first industry-led strategy for the inshore sector. The Strategy for the Irish Inshore Fisheries Sector 2019-2023 sets out a vision for the future of the inshore sector, that it "will have a prosperous and sustainable future delivered through a united industry with a strong and influential voice." Key issues to be addressed through the strategy include enhancing business skills across the sector, sustainable management of fish stocks as well as attracting and retaining talent, all with a view to maximising the potential of the inshore sector to support Ireland's coastal communities.
Inshore fishing boats currently make up more than 80% of the fishing fleet and support an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 jobs. This economic activity is vitally important to the coastal communities around Ireland, including the island communities from which these boats operate. The national and regional forums are supporting initiatives that seek to protect the collective interests of the inshore sector in Ireland including on our islands. The NIFF has been effective in its participation on the quota management advisory committee, advocating on behalf of all small-scale fishers to influence how Ireland's uptake of quota is achieved.
One of the recommendations in the joint committee's detailed scrutiny report is to extend the notional licence to others in coastal communities experiencing disadvantage. The existing system is established in national legislation and reflects EU requirements under the Common Fisheries Policy for each member state to licence all commercial sea-fishing boats, small scale or otherwise, and to maintain its fleet within certain limits. The licence system proposed in the Bill would apply to "small scale coastal fishing", a narrow subset of fishing that can only be undertaken in vessels of less than 12 m overall length and which must not use towed gear. Small-scale coastal fishing is commercial sea fishing and is regulated in that context. There are also quota available for a number of relevant species to licensed fishermen using smaller fishing boats. Communication on the availability of these opportunities has been improved and the NIFF is now involved in the quota management advisory committee, which makes recommendations to me on the uptake of the State's fishing opportunities. I stress that the existing legislation in this area provides an independent licensing process for sea-fishing boats and contributes to managing Ireland's fishing fleet within EU rules. The existing legislation and procedures are available and apply to islanders.
If the Bill progressed and licences were issued to individuals to operate in parallel to the existing system, to walk onto various vessels and bring mobile, separate entitlements, this would present a significant challenge to Ireland in demonstrating compliance with various Common Fisheries Policy regulations. Article 16 of the Common Fisheries Policy regulation explicitly requires Ireland as a member state to manage its fishing opportunities in the context of allocations to vessels flying its flag. This is a serious responsibility for Ireland to manage carefully and responsibly, particularly in the interests of achieving maximum sustainable yields for the stocks under quota management. I also believe it would impact on the principle, which has been part of the Common Fisheries Policy since its foundation here of quotas being a State rather than a private asset.
That is a point worth reflecting upon.
The Government cannot support this Bill because it is not compatible with the Common Fisheries Policy regulations. This Bill is well intentioned. I appreciate Deputy Kenny's initiative has focused a debate on a sector that was long excluded from broad fishing consultation. The development of the National Inland Fisheries Forum, NIFF, and the regional fora, and the exclusion of people outside of the inshore sector now for large boats are all positives.
The Government is committed to implementing meaningful and supportive policies that accurately reflect the needs of island communities. I have set out the improvements in communication and engagement when it comes to fishing quotas and the significant policy changes that demonstrate that this Government is responsive to those needs and to the needs of the communities.