While I agree with Senator Lenihan in welcoming this Bill I have certain reservations in regard to some of what he had to say. We rarely get an opportunity in this House or anywhere else to discuss the sea fishing industry. Consequently, when a measure such as this comes before the House it is worth our while to take the opportunity to have a look at the whole situation.
It always intrigues me that sea fishing should be lumped together with agriculture in one Department. When one compares the amount of assistance, either financial or technical, given to sea fishing with the great amount of technological, financial and educational assistance given to agriculture, the fishing industry generally compares unfavourably with its colleague. That cannot be attributed to the present Parliamentary Secretary who has been in his job for a relatively short time. He brought to it a deep personal knowledge of the problems of the sea fishing industry. He has done a great deal in his short time to help the industry. He has had consultations with those engaged in it. He is to be congratulated. His work has been noted and respected by those involved in the day to day activities of the industry.
The sea fishing industry suffers from the lack of a meaningful development programme. Of all our scarce nature resources, this is the one which has been given the least attention and has had the least amount of investment and investigation. There is a vast untapped wealth off our shores. Successive Administrations over the past 50 years must be condemned for having done so little to develop our fishing industry. When one looks at the size of the industry today, our geographic location and the amount we are harvesting from the sea in any one year in comparison with the catches being landed—often fished from our waters—at continental ports by continental boats, it is frustrating.
The sea fishing industry has a very high employment content. On any of the boats going to sea from Irish ports today there are at least six aboard, not to mention those employed ashore either at the landing port or at the various stages of marketing. There are also large numbers employed in the construction industry. Consequently, we can see the high spin-off effect in the industry as far as employment is concerned. This again is a reason more attention should be paid to it.
I would like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary details of plans for further educational courses. Considerable progress has been made in recent years providing proper training for young men going into the industry in order to make maximum use of the technological aids now available. This is a very important aspect of the industry. We should be prepared to devote quite an amount of money in this area. Any money invested educating young men entering the sea fishing industry, will be repaid to us a hundredfold.
I have been interested for the past three or four years, at constituent level, in the problems of some of the people in this industry. I often feel that there is an attitude in part of Bord Iascaigh Mhara which is not conducive to consultation between those engaged on a day to day basis in fishing and those engaged on a day to day long term basis in planning fishing policy and in the administration of the activities of the board. Members and officials of Bord Iascaigh Mhara would be far better served if they sat around a table with the people who are involved in the industry and listened to their problems and their ideas. Their ideas on the proper development of the sea fishing industry are very often farsighted. These ideas concern not just their own port and its environs but the whole country. I got the impression—I hope wrongly—that occasionally there is a rather paternalistic attitude adopted by certain people in Bord Iascaigh Mhara who seem to feel that they know what is best for the people who are fishing and that, if the people who are fishing do not agree with that, then that is their hard luck. I do not think that is in any way helpful to the proper development of the industry.
One hears many complaints about the use of our waters by foreign vessels. There are varying views on how best this can be dealt with from listening to fishermen in County Dublin, and from my own personal experience in the Irish Sea, I know at times the Irish Sea can look like O'Connell Street on Christmas Eve at nightime—it can be full of lights, boats, people and movement. On certain occasions if half of those are Irish, that is as high as it would be.
The Parliamentary Secretary gave a good deal of time and attention recently visiting our ports in an effort to encourage the fishermen to engage in the exercise of conserving our herring stock. He asked them to desist from fishing at certain times of the year.
I can tell the Parliamentary Secretary there is a certain feeling among fishermen that, while they respected the idea that conservation was necessary, they felt it was ironic they should be asked to conserve when they felt, rightly or wrongly, that those who are at the present time fishing their waters illegally would continue to do so, irrespective of any voluntary or indeed mandatory efforts at conservation. While every effort is being made in this connection further attention should be paid to it. It is not just a question of the harvest being taken from the seas by foreign vessels but the fact that they are using fishing methods which cause permanent and irreparable damage to the seabed and to the fishing stock. This means that when Irish boats revisit that area the seabed and the stocks there have been permanently damaged.
I have often been on the Irish Sea in summertime and seen so many Englishmen, Frenchmen, Dutchmen and Germans in our waters that one begins to get an inferiority complex about the whole situation. To see the position at sea first hand is to realise the vast amount of wealth that is there for our taking but which, apparently, is much appreciated by others who come so far and spend so much money in order to harvest our catch.
I agree with those who emphasised the need to concentrate even more on the processing side of the industry than we have been doing. There is a vast export potential here, which has not been exploited so far by anyone in this country. Some friends of mine visited a port not very far away from the Parliamentary Secretary's home town. In the hotel there one morning they dined very well on a particular type of marinated fish. They were delighted to get it and assumed that it had been marinated locally. Imagine their surprise to discover that the fish they were eating had been caught in a port in south-west Cork. It had been taken by the driver of a refrigerated truck to Holland, where it had been marinated and brought back by him. He did this as a favour to the local people so that they could have it available for their guests in the hotels. Was there ever a more ludicrous situation than that?
I was surprised to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that in their early years the Bord Iascaigh Mhara actively engaged in a number of aspects of the industry, including the purchasing, processing and marketing of fish, but as the years went by it gradually became clear that some of their activities were no longer necessary and that they should concentrate more on advisory activities.
I have a piece of free advice for the board. I do not know how good it is and I do not know how much heed they will pay to it, but I will give it anyway. It would be a damn good thing for the fishing industry and for the housewives if they got involved in the marketing of the product. I have seen the situation where the fishermen in Skerries have got a nett £1 per box for fish caught. They get £2 for the box, but it costs £1 to send it from Skerries to the Dublin Market, 20 miles away. By the time carriage, ice, the cost of the box, and auctioneers' fees and other costs are paid for, the total cost per box is £1. At certain times the gross price paid for a box of fish is £2 but the nett price back to the trawler is £1 and the nett price to the housewife for that box of fish would probably be £10, £11 or more.
There is something very wrong there. It does not take any brilliant economist to work out what it is. I have as much time as the next for private enterprise but a certain small group are operating as middlemen in this industry and the profits they are making are extravagant in the extreme. There is a situation where neither the fishermen nor the person who buys fish for consumption is benefiting. The people who benefit are a small, powerful group who are able to artificially fix the price of fish offered on the Dublin market. Consequently that operates to the detriment of the producer and to the detriment of the general public. This is wrong. It is something that the board or some other arm of the administration involved should interest themselves in.
I recall a situation where a small group of fishermen tried to go against this and tried to export their fish directly. There was such an embargo placed on them and they met with so many difficulties that they were driven out of the market and driven out by the same small group of middlemen, who are making very little contribution towards the development of the sea fishing industry or to the benefit of the general public.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether the additional moneys which will be raised by the passing of this Bill will be available for granting of loans or towards the cost of purchasing second-hand boats. Very often young men who are fishing from small boats and who want to go a step further are not prepared to bear the considerable cost—often of the order of £150,000 or £160,000 —involved in the purchase of a completely new modern trawler. They feel that instead they would like to purchase a larger and better second-hand boat. This would give them some experience of the bigger boat before they took the final step of getting a new one. I understand that of late the board have indicated they have not the money available to provide loans for the purchase of second-hand vessels. If that is so it is a very retrograde step and not one designed to help the industry.
The other question, which was briefly touched on by Senator Lenihan when he referred to the EEC Regional Fund relates to assistance which might be made available from EEC sources. I understand there is assistance available from FEOGA at present and that in the last year Denmark received a considerable amount of capital assistance for the extension of existing port facilities. I do not believe that we benefited in the same way from FEOGA. I should like to think every effort is being made to ensure that we receive all possible financial assistance from FEOGA and any other available EEC sources.
I will give the Parliamentary Secretary an example. An extension was built to the harbour in Skerries over two years ago. The cost was £120,000 and it took 30 years to have it built. I was intrigued listening to Senator Lenihan today. He was involved in the building of that pier about ten years before it was built and about 20 years after the agitation for the building started. I was a little taken aback when he spoke about the neglect in providing capital for the building and extension of piers because it was something he was involved in for a long time. However, this extension was built. Of course, by the time it was built it was hopelessly out of date. When it came into existence it was for fishing fleets which in present day terms are valued at more than £1 million.
There are 20 boats there. Some are worth far more than £100,000 and some worth less, but they are together worth something in the region of £1 million. The fishermen in Skerries are agitating for a further extension of the harbour, but apparently Bord Iascaigh Mhara have inadequate funds. The local authority agreed to provide 50 per cent of the capital cost. While I understand there may be the possibility of assistance from FEOGA in relation to staff projects I understand from a colleague of mine in the county council that no council scheme has yet been submitted to FEOGA for such a project. That does not appear to me to be the best way of tackling it. I would have thought that at the earliest possible date all capital works of that nature deemed to be important should be put forward for consideration. We should utilise not only financial assistance available from the EEC but also technical assistance.
I believe—and this was evident to some extent from the remarks of Senator Lenihan—that over the years we have concentrated too much on too few ports. It was decided, I think, that five major ports were to be designated as major ports for the development of all types of facilities. The implementation of that plan has meant that other ports have not received as much assistance as they might have done if the cake had been divided more evenly. It is ridiculous that a port like Skerries and other similar ports should be left without facilities for repairs and storage. As I said, there are £1 million worth of boats in that port, and apart from an ice plant there are no backup facilities there at present. If a boat suffers a major breakdown in that port the nearest boatyard it can go to is some ten or 12 miles away by sea. That boatyard is not always in a position to cater for trawlers, and if that yard is not free then the trawlers must travel some 20 miles to the Liffey dockyard.
I am taking Skerries as an example because it is the port I know best, but in my travelling around the coastline I have come across a number of other ports in the same position. Major breakdowns take place because all the facilities are concentrated in a few ports. The main boats operating out of these smaller ports are left in a most disadvantaged position.
There is another matter which has shocked me and to which Bord Iascaigh Mhara ought to devote attention. They are the lending agency with a financial interest in the boats involved. I have seen boats tied up at quay sides for anything from two days to two months waiting for parts, usually engine parts, to arrive from foreign countries. We must consider the loss of earnings involved in this as well as the direct loss to the board, because for so long as that boat is tied up it is not earning its share for Bord Iascaigh Mhara and they are not getting their repayments.
It seems to me therefore that the board should consider building in Dublin a central store from which spare parts could be readily distributed to other parts of the country, or alternatively they should ensure that imported spare parts are distributed to the ports in question. I have seen fishermen get off their boat, tie it up, go down to Dublin Airport and take a plane to England. There they collected a part at the factory and brought it back home. They did this because it was quicker than ordering it through the normal channels. That is no way for a State board to deal with those to whom they advanced money.
These are some of the criticisms one comes across meeting the people involved in the operation of the industry. It would be unfair to say that the fishermen generally are despondent about their industry. There is a great amount of confidence among the Irish fishing fraternity. There is a belief that the wealth that lies in our waters is really unexplored at present. The young men who are being trained and who are being provided with expensive trawlers have paid back, often in a far shorter length of time than was necessary, the money advanced to them. In so doing, they have provided a great amount of additional employment and wealth in their areas.
No money advanced for the development or the promotion of this industry will go astray. Our fisheries are probably our greatest natural resource so far not properly developed.
It could provide much more employment, often in areas of high unemployment, if it were developed to its full potential. Its export earning potential knows no bounds. That potential would be even higher if the processing industry was developed to the level that some of us would like to see. Any money allocated to the fishing industry is money well spent. I am confident that so long as the present Parliamentary Secretary remains in his position, with his deep personal knowledge and interest in the industry, every effort will be made to bring about a meaningful development of the fishing industry.