Is é an cuspóir is mó atáthar ag iarraidh a chomhlíonadh i mBille an Iascaigh Mhara, 1952, dóthain éisc a sholáthar do mhuintir na tíre seo le hÉireannaigh atá faoi láthair ina gcónaí gan obair a chur ag treabhadh na dtonn i mbáid dár gcuid féin.
Cuireadh i gcoinne an Bhille seo an lá cheana ag cruinniú ar imeallbhórd an Oirthir gur "comhdhaonnachas" é. Má sea, is é an cineál comhdhaonnachais é ar baineadh brabach as go minic cheana abhus le theacht i gcabhair ar dhaoine nach rabh riar a gcáis iontu féin. Ina theannta sin ba shuarach an mhaise dhúinn sa tír seo atá ina hoileán muna ndéanfaimís tréan-iarracht len-ár ndíol féin den bheatha seo a sholáthar as farraige atá níos comhgaraí dúinn ná mar atá sí do go leor eile atá á saothrú faoin ár súile.
Is é an dara cuspóir go mbeidh slí mhaireachtála níos fearr le fáil ag níos mó iascairí ná mar atá fostaithe sa tionscal faoi láthair.
Is iad an dá chuspóir sin bunchloch an Bhille agus cúis a mholta agam don tSeanad.
Before dealing with the provisions of the Bill, I think it would be helpful if I were to make a few general comments on the present position of the sea-fishing industry, the progressive decline in which over the past few years must give ground for serious concern. Senators may recall that during the 1914-18 war period all landings of fish by Irish boats were of high market value owing to the scarcity of food supplies generally, and those men who had been fortunate enough to obtain the power-driven vessels which were just then being gradually introduced reaped substantial gains. In 1920 came a sudden and radical change in the whole position. The British fishing fleets had by then been released from war service, fully reconditioned and re-equipped, and were again landing large supplies of fish for their home and export markets.
The demand for our catches in Great Britain and in the home market in this country rapidly declined and prices slumped hopelessly. This development applied mainly to white fish (i.e. flat fish and round fish other than herring and mackerel) but, unfortunately, it synchronised with a series of lean years as regards the shoaling of herring and mackerel. Distrust and disappointment were manifested all round the coastline; persons could not readily be found to undertake responsibilities as sureties for the making of loans for boats and gear. In an effort to rehabilitate the industry, the Sea Fisheries Association was set up in 1931, and a scheme was introduced whereby, instead of providing boats and gear by means of loans to the fishermen, this would be done by the Association on the basis of hire-purchase.
This system, together with its complementary marketing service, revived hope within the industry, but again there was an unfortunate setback. The majority of the fishermen, recalling their former flourishing export trade in pickled mackerel and pickled herring, continued so to base their hopes, but as regards mackerel they found themselves faced with the position that the United States of America, their traditional market, was undergoing serious changes in that the taste for pickled mackerel had largely changed to packaged quick-frozen fillets and, furthermore, that the landings of mackerel by the American fishing fleet had been stepped up very considerably to meet home requirements. A contracting demand for pickled herring was simultaneously experienced because of the policy of self-sufficiency adopted in Germany, Poland and other parts of eastern Europe which had been traditional outlets for our product.
The situation in these respects not having materially altered, it became clear that it is upon the production of white fish that the future of the industry must mainly depend and that when the herring and mackerel again come our way in quantity, we may have, in the main, to rely on the home market for their disposal and to employ improved methods of distribution. A secure home market was regarded as the first objective when in 1938 it was arranged under the Trade Agreement concluded in that year with Great Britain that imports of white fish would thenceforward be subjected to quantitative restriction. This automatically stimulated home landings and, with the persistent efforts of the Sea Fisheries Association in providing, repairing and equipping fishing boats, the advent of hostilities in 1939 found the Irish fishing fleet in reasonably good order and able to avail of the opportunities arising from war-time conditions.
The withdrawal of foreign trawlers from the distant fishing grounds previously frequented by them, resulted in a greater movement of fish into our coastal waters well within the reach of our inshore boats. At the close of hostilities in 1945, annual landings of white fish by inshore boats had increased from about 57,450 cwt. in 1938 to over 150,000 cwt. The number of boats engaged in 1945 was 3,472 as compared with 2,639 in 1938; and whole-time and part-time fishermen numbered 1,886 and 8,191, respectively, as compared with 1,463 and 5,888, respectively, in 1938. About 40,000 cwt. of white fish were exported in 1945, while imports of fish in that year were of negligible proportions.
There has, however, been a serious progressive decline in the landings of white fish from 1949 onwards, while the catches of herring and mackerel have also fallen away considerably, and as a consequence we are obliged to import fish in increasing quantities. All this is despite the fact that every effort has been made by the Sea Fisheries Association in the past few years to refit the industry with efficient craft and that the number of motor boats in commission has been increased.
It seems to be generally accepted that the main factor accounting for the decline in landings is the reduced catches per unit of fishing time obtainable by our fishermen on the inshore grounds, where a shortage of almost all the better classes of fish has become evident, due, it is believed, to the intensive fishing by deep-sea vessels from other countries operating around our coasts, although outside our exclusive fishery limits. I do not think that the efforts of the part-time fishermen and the close inshore man who returns to his home each night will be able to give us sufficient fish to satisfy present and prospective consumer demands. In consequence, there must be put into commission bigger boats of greater range capable of exploiting the deep-sea waters now outside the scope of our fishing fleet. The activities of such boats will be complementary to the activities of the inshore fishermen, whose interests will be safeguarded by the board. That point has been carefully considered in framing the Bill, and it is confidently expected that the new board, which will succeed the existing association, will be able so to arrange matters that the landings of the larger boats will be entirely supplemental to those made by inshore boats in providing a more regular and varied supply for the consumer than can be made available at present. I will now explain the main provisions and objects of the Bill.
Part I contains the usual routine provisions and does not, I think, call for any comment at this stage. In Part II we arrive at some of the chief points of the Bill. With a view to securing the best possible use of fish supplies, it is proposed that the fishing authority should have power to regulate the landing, handling, processing and sale of catches. In that connection, the gutting of certain kinds of fish on board ship might, for example, have to be enforced and arrangements made to conserve fish waste or fish gluts for meal manufacture. The home market will be reserved to Irish fishermen by the enactment of an obligation to license all vessels exceeding 35 feet in length and the licence could operate to exclude large type boats from certain fishing grounds which are regularly worked by the smaller type of inshore craft but which would be liable to be over-fished by large type boats. Fishing would be confined to boats in full Irish ownership but boats not fully Irish owned which are already registered here will be exempted from this provision. Landings of fish by boats owned by wholesalers or retailers of fish will have to be disposed of on the directions of the new board to be set up under Part III so that the landings of inshore fishermen may not be placed at a disadvantage. It is envisaged that the board will engage directly in fishing deep-sea waters to supplement the efforts of the inshore fishermen.
The new board to be set up under Part III will operate generally on the lines of the existing association but will have to meet increased responsibilities. Apart from taking over the existing functions of the association, they will be charged with the responsibility of operating large type motor vessels and of dealing with landings made by boats owned by fish merchants.
Among other special duties will be the development of markets, relieving fish gluts, introduction of improved methods of marketing, freezing and processing fish, exploratory or experimental work with new types of boats and equipment, and investigation of new fishing grounds. It will consist of a chairman and five other directors, all on a part-time basis, and not more than three of them shall be civil servants. The members will all be nominated by the Minister and paid such fees as may be approved by the Minister for Finance. It is envisaged that it will have to meet as frequently as once a week. Under Part IV of the Bill the present association would be replaced by "An Comhlachas Iascaigh Mhara," the composition of which, regulation of its procedure, etc., are provided for in the Second Schedule.
The aim in establishing this association is to give the fishermen and the other interests in the fishing industry a voice in its development. The functions of the new body would be to recommend schemes of development to the new board and to make representations on matters generally appertaining to the improvement of the industry. Membership of the association would be open to any person engaged in sea-fishing or in the distributive fish trade. It would be controlled by a committee of eight persons, including a chairman, elected triennially by the members. The fishermen would have four representatives, the wholesale fresh fish trade and the retail fish trade one representative each, and the other sections of the distributive fish trade two representatives. No remuneration would be paid to the members of the committee, but necessary expenses arising from the functioning of the association would be paid by the board subject to the prior approval of the board for the expenditure.
The sale by auction of fresh fish is prohibited except under licence under Part VI of the Bill. It corresponds substantially to Part III of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1931, which, however, was never brought into force as it was apprehended that the specific ineligibility under one of its provisions for grant of licence to persons employed, engaged or otherwise concerned in the sea-fishing industry would have had undesirable repercussions for the fishermen. All the wholesalers on the Dublin market have interests other than auctioneering. Some of them own or have shares in boats and retail shops, while many of them smoke and otherwise cure large quantities of fish for the home and export markets. It is generally recognised that they must be in the curing business so that they may be in a position to buy at a fair price any fish sent to them for sale and left on their hands unsold.
That system cannot, I think, be changed without serious loss to the fishermen, and accordingly the restrictive clause in question is removed in Part VI of the present Bill. This Part, like Part III of the 1931 Act, provides that it may be applied by Order to any particular area, but an exception is made in the case of persons who auction fresh fish, such as herrings and mackerel, at the place of landing, as such persons were never regarded as auctioneers in the ordinary sense. Licences will be issued on such conditions as the fishery authority may consider expedient or necessary. Persons already licensed under the Auctioneers and House Agents Act, 1947, will be exempt from payment of such fee as may be prescribed. Power is given to revoke a fish sales licence where the holder is convicted of any breach of the provisions of the Bill, or any of the Fisheries Acts, or is convicted of an offence involving fraud, dishonesty or breach of trust.
Finally, I would like to say that since I took over office, I have endeavoured to acquaint myself fully of the views of those engaged in the different branches of the sea-fishing industry, and have found that the general consensus of opinion is that special measures are essential to the prosperity, if not, indeed, the eventual survival of the inshore fishing industry in the conditions with which it is faced to-day, and may expect to meet in the future. The present Bill gives all suggestions and proposals made to me the fullest consideration.