I bring this Bill before Seanad Éireann in the course of the promised overhaul of the fisheries statutes following on the consolidation of those enactments in 1959.
As the provisions of the Bill are necessarily of a miscellaneous character, an explanatory memorandum has been circulated indicating their effect section by section. The amendments and new provisions are arranged in the same order as the relevant subjects are dealt with in the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959, which is referred to throughout the Bill as the Principal Act. For convenience of consideration, I propose to refer to a few of the main categories into which the more important sections of the Bill may be grouped.
One category consists of provisions revising the administrative or enforcement machinery of the law relating to both inland fisheries and sea fisheries. Of particular significance on the inland fisheries side are Sections 5, 6 and 7— which prepare the way for reform of the procedure governing the elections to the Boards of Conservators—and Sections 3, 13 and 33—which are designed to make more flexible and more effective the long-standing provisions for making fishery bye-laws. It will, I feel sure, be generally agreed that it is in the interest of the preservation of our fisheries that the machinery for making bye-laws should lend itself to taking speedy action where the circumstances require, always with the proviso that, where restrictions are sought to be continued for an extended period, the views of all interested parties can be obtained through a public inquiry. On the sea fisheries side Section 19 revises the definition of "Irish sea-fishing boat" for the purposes of the provisions relating to our exclusive fishery limits and imposes the additional requirement of registration of boats exceeding 35 feet over all in length under the Mercantile Marine Act, 1955.
Sections in another category are concerned with relaxing statutory restrictions which, in the light of experience or the growth of knowledge, have become unnecessary. Among these are Sections 11 and 12 by means of which provisions originally intended for the protection of salmon fisheries may be relaxed in the interest of development of eel fishing, subject always to conditions imposing adequate safeguards. One of the repeals to be effected by Section 37 abolishes the statutory annual close season for eels in recognition of the conclusion reached in recent years that eels do not spawn in Irish waters nor indeed elsewhere in Europe.
A further category of sections in the Bill is concerned with tightening up certain regulatory or penal provisions; included is Section 32 which undertakes a rationalisation and general upward revision of penalties. Present day poaching of salmon and trout waters can lay no claim to comparison with the activities of the quasi-romantic poacher image of the past. Poisoning, dynamiting and large scale netting of resting pools in rivers, if allowed to go unchecked, could do lasting damage to our fish stocks; they must be repressed with the utmost rigour of the law, and that is the purpose of particular sections in the measure before the House. Under Section 16 the maximum penalty for poisoning or dynamiting is being increased to £100 or 6 months imprisonment or both if convicted summarily or £500 or 2 years imprisonment or both if convicted on indictment; in either case, the Court will be debarred from applying the Probation of Offenders Act. The strengthened definition of "deleterious matter" contained in Section 2 will apply not only in relation to poisonous matter used for the deliberate destruction of fish but also to harmful effluents which can cause grave damage to fisheries. Penalties on a similar scale apply to the offence, created by Section 24, of using a boat or vehicle as an aid to commission of another offence. As regards forfeiture, while a boat will stand forfeited as an automatic statutory consequence of conviction, a vehicle will be liable to forfeiture only by Court order after conviction on indictment.
Also in the "tightening up" category are Sections 14, 15, 25 and 28 which will serve to strengthen the control by the conservators over the disposal of salmon or trout illegally caught. I need hardly say that effective control over dealings in salmon will go a long way towards solving the problem of poaching. I should like to point out that the powers being taken in Sections 25 and 28 for the purpose of keeping a check on purchases by hotels and other catering establishments are in the nature of minimum precautions. Rather than propose more detailed regulation which might impose burdensome duties on the tourist and catering business, I would, in the first instance, ask for the co-operation of all concerned in making these provisions effective.
The final category to which I propose to refer consists of two sections —29 and 35—which are entirely new provisions required to keep pace with developments affecting the seas around our shores. Section 29 will make it possible to take action, if necessary, to prevent the growth to a dangerous extent of the practice of large scale drift netting for salmon such as has been experienced elsewhere in recent years. The controls envisaged are designed to operate selectively so that allowance can be made for traditional drift net fishing: it is not intended— I should like to emphasise this—to interfere with long-established drift netting for salmon as carried on by our fishermen in certain areas. Section 35 is an enabling provision in general terms and is required for the purpose of implementing conservation measures which cannot be specified in advance but may be recommended under the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention of 1959 which is to supersede a somewhat less satisfactory Convention of 1946. Orders made under Sections 29 and 35 will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and be subject to resolution of annulment.
In this Bill it has been possible to deal with the more urgent of the many matters under consideration for reform of legislation dealing with fisheries. On the inland fisheries side in particular I have been pressed to undertake many reforms and I have been obliged to select those meriting first priority. It will, I believe, be of advantage, before tackling further reforms, to have some experience of how the present measures work out.
Finally, I should like to acknowledge the considerable assistance and advice received from the various bodies interested in fishery development and conservation throughout the country. I look forward to a constructive debate and shall be glad to furnish any further information that may be required regarding this measure which I confidently recommend to the House.