First, I should like to thank the Senators who participated in the debate. I will try as best I can to comment on the points raised and answer the questions that were asked. I will be seeking the remaining Stages of the Bill today and perhaps we could deal with the more nitty-gritty aspects on Committee Stage.
Senator Kiely made a complaint that no specific measures were enshrined in the Bill zoning in on specific problems. This is not altogether true but in so far as it is true, and there are areas about which this could be said, the Senator will understand that this is basically enabling legislation. There are reasons for this and I am glad to note Senator McGonagles' praise for the speed with which I succeeded in getting the Bill to the House. Up to now the view has been that I have been very late in coming to the House. I presume Senator McGonagle — having given us a brief outline of his background which was informative and somewhat sentimental — realises the difficulty of drawing up a Bill of this type. It did cause serious drafting problems and would have been before the House long before now if we had not encountered these problems.
We are talking about a Bill which must get the blessing of our EEC partners. We are dealing with a situation which is totally different from that which my UK counterpart, Mr. Walker, had to deal with. He legislated for English fishing boats and obviously nobody else could interfere, intervene or get involved in that. I, in the same way, could legislate within 24 hours if I were concerned with Irish boats or boats flying the Irish flag, but my problem is somewhat more complicated in that I had to deal with boats flying the British flag in waters where the UK have fishing rights and which, together with the complication of our EEC membership, leads to an amalgam of factors requiring complicated legislation which had to be carefully drafted. I am glad that somebody has seen the difficulty and I compliment Senator McGonagle on that.
In relation to the specific matters raised by Senator Kiely, this is enabling legislation which will be followed very quickly by regulations dealing with what the Senator referred to as something that ought to be dealt with in the Bill. The advice, both from my Department and from the Attorney General's Office, was that it would be much more beneficial and safer to draft the Bill in this way. For example, if you got down to the nitty-gritty of suggesting a 75 per cent EEC crew membership as a requirement for a licence, you found that in trying to operate that ratio it was not sufficient. If this came to light quickly then you would be in the position where you would have to introduce amending legislation through both Houses of the Oireachtas and through the third element of our constitutional procedure, the Presidency, to get the amendment passed. If a regulation is found unworkable or inadequate you can redraft an amending regulation within a matter of 24 hours and have it effective immediately. That is the kind of flexibility which regulations give which legislation or having specific matters in the Bill do not give.
Senator Kiely suggested that licences were an effort to raise revenue. I assure the Senator and the House that there is no suggestion that the introduction of licences is a back door method of raising revenue; the licences will be free. The reason for introducing a licensing system is that while we all know that there is no great need in normal circumstances, for demanding that Irish boats be licensed, the problem is more complicated. We now have — which is the basis for this legislation — a threat of boats flying the British flag in waters where the UK have fishing rights. That is one side of the coin. You can put through a Bill, followed by regulations, to prohibit that kind of activity. As things stand, these people would have a perfect right to re-register here and fly the Irish flag. The end result of that would be somewhat more serious for us in that at present the Spanish boats flying the English flag at least have their catches deducted from the UK quotas in our waters. But if they registered here and flew the Irish flag they would then be fishing our quotas. As things stand there is nothing to stop them doing that. In order to have an omnibus cover to ensure that this can be blocked, we are now obliged to introduce the safety net of a licensing system. All it means is that it will give the Minister of the day the opportunity to scrutinise the application and grant or refuse to grant a licence, as the case may be. I hope that my successor will act in the way I would wish myself to act, that is at all times to protect the interests of Irish fishermen within the framework of a Common Fisheries Policy, which is an EEC measure. We must show some commitment there too. I am speaking here about third countries. You could not apply a licensing system to one category of Irish registered vessels without applying it to another. The end result of what I am saying is that all boats from now on — Irish boats included — must get licences.
The question was raised by Senator Kiely and others about the kind of restrictions which might be enshrined in that kind of licence. The Senator mentioned restricting Irish boats to fishing within the 12 mile limit. I could spend a long time assuring the House that there is no intention on my part or. I am sure, on the part of any future Minister, to impose such a restriction, as anyone who would do so would not be worthy of being Minister for Fisheries. God knows, we spent long enough fighting for what we have at the moment. We have a 200-mile limit with certain restrictions applying down to the 12-mile limit. We have a 12- to six-mile band, with more restrictions applying, and we have a six-mile exclusive limit, which means that only Irish registered boats can fish there. We are trying to encourage our industry to move out beyond the 12-mile limit and beyond the 50-mile limit into deeper waters where it has been established other member states and third countries find a very lucrative fishery. The sooner we, first of all, broaden our fishing base from the few species of fish we now concentrate on, together with literally extending our horizons and going further afield, the better, more lucrative and more expansive our industry will become in the future.
There will be no charge for the licence. It cannot be seen as a revenue-raising device. While the Minister of the day has powers to apply restrictions, I have no intention of applying any such restrictions either in geographical terms, in regional terms in the case of area or in the case of species of fish. Salmon was mentioned by Senator Kiely, Senator Loughrey and by Senator McGonagle. This has been a very live issue, as Members are aware, particularly in the past few weeks. Senator McGonagle and Senator Loughrey made the point that we must save ourselves from ourselves. That is in the context of overall conservation and it does not apply only to salmon. In the case of salmon, for traditional reasons, this is brought to attention very starkly at certain times of the year. We come up against this salmon problem annually. As Senator McGonagle mentioned, that is justified protectionism without being narrow-minded about it or doing it from a self-indulgent point of view. It is the sensible, logical thing to do. If you eat all your seed potatoes today, you will not have any crop next year. That is what is happening at the moment. We are dipping increasingly into the seed potato category so far as fish are concerned.
As Senators probably know, I spent the last two days in Brussels in what turned out to be an abortive attempt to come to some arrangement for quotas and other matters for the current year within the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy. One of the matters discussed, on which we hope agreement will be forthcoming in a fortnight's time when we go back to Brussels, is a "mackerel box", which is in the English Channel and extends to the south-east of this country. The reason for that suggestion is based on scientific data made available by ICES, the agency which establishes scientific facts about the availability of stock, whether it is on the increase or diminishing, the age of fish, the distribution patterns and so on. These are the people on whom we are dependent for scientific data on which we can base policy. This box has been suggested by the Commission as a result of scientific data available. The suggestion was made simply for the reason that 90 per cent of catches there in recent years are of juvenile mackerel. There is a market for this kind of fish, but it is bordering on criminal for any country or any group of fishermen to indulge in the catching of juvenile fish of any kind. That affects us directly, because we are talking about western stock mackerel, and we are all west of Scotland in the Atlantic. The North Sea is a different kettle of fish, if Senators will excuse the pun. It has a direct effect on our future stocks. We hope, as a member state, to phase this agreement in relation to the total prohibition on fishing in that so-called "mackerel box". There are pressures to narrow it off somewhat from the French but, as they say in other places, sin scéal eile. That is the kind of self-discipline being engaged in within the framework of the EEC and we hope we will get that through.
We have a very serious problem in relation to the conservation of salmon. While Senator Kiely said that we must conserve our salmon stock, he also said that the Naval Service had to do their job, which is not a very nice job at times. It is not easy for them because of the opposition, the traditions and the emotive aspect involved. I detected some curious ambivalence in relation to what happened a few weeks ago. I will not name colleagues in the other House, but there is that curious ambivalence in relation to, on the one hand, the need for conservation and, on the other hand, the kind of shut-eye approach to people who are in breach of the law. Somebody said the law is an ass. The law may not be workable to the extent that we would like it to be. There may be anomalies there in relation to the kind of nets and so on, but this House is a party to laying down certain regulations in relation to the kind of nets to be used. The Seanad is directly involved, as is the Dáil. It was the Houses of the Oireachtas who laid down the regulations. If citizens insist on breaking laws agreed to by the majority through the democratic methods of these Houses, if there are people prepared to defy these regulations, then the State has a duty to take action and to ensure that the laws are upheld. That is what the Naval Service did on that occasion and will continue to do in relation to that specific problem until such time as the regulations are changed. I would not in any circumstances be prepared to condone breaches of regulations to which I am party as a Member of either House of the Oireachtas. I hope that no Member of this House would have an attitude different from that.
The Naval Service have been maligned. They have been accused of overreaction and I have heard fairly strong statements made about their activities. The Dáil was suspended over a stance on this. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Naval Service for the way they operate a very difficult remit under very difficult circumstances. I would like to thank them publicly, not for the first time, and the officials of my own Department in the protection service who also have a very difficult job to do. Two figures bear out what I have said previously, that we must save ourselves from ourselves. Eight short years ago the total salmon catch in this country amounted to about 2,200-odd tonnes. Last year that was 900 tonnes. These two figures are a damning indictment of all of us that we allow the destruction of the only major wild salmon fishery left in the west of Europe to take place before our eyes. We have a duty to ensure the survival of that fishery, not only for the time being; we owe it to our children and to our children's children that that resource is not depleted to a stage where it just dies away. It has been put to me that we are not the only culprits, and of course we are not. Because of the migratory nature of this species, people like the Faroese, Greenlanders and Canadians are also involved. My predecessor and I have been very forceful in our EEC activity in trying to get the Faroese and the Green-landers in particular to take account of the condition of the salmon stock and to get them to introduce somewhat restrictive regulations on their activity and not only for their own sake; much of the benefit will rub off on us because we are talking about the same stock. Let us be fair about it: they have taken note and taken action. The Faroese today are operating under the strict control of ICES officials who are out there overseeing the salmon fishery in the Faroes. In relation to Canada, only yesterday I raised this matter at the Council of Ministers in Brussels where negotiations for an international salmon convention have been finalised and agreed, and we now await the ratification of the provisions of that agreement. Canada will play a very important role in this international convention. I understand from the reply I got that there is high expectation that the provisions will be ratified by all countries, including Canada, before very long. The Commission of the EEC see no great difficulty at the moment in having ratification put forward.
Senator Loughrey mentioned the monofilament net. It has its advantages in its capacity to catch fish, in daylight without being detected by the salmon. It has its disadvantages too. It can be damaging to the stock. There is no point in killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. It is going to scoop up everything in sight and it has a damaging effect even on other fish that swim through its meshes. I have been told by fishermen other than salmon fishermen that on many occasions where mono-filament net is being used extensively — I will not name any area — umpteen cases of fish other than salmon are caught in their nets with the fins torn off and so on. The only explanation for that is that they have passed through the mono-filament net, not being able to see it in the water in daylight.
The regulation is there in relation to mono-filament. Anybody using it is breaking the law and will be treated as a law-breaker. There is no point in being ambivalent about it. We in this House are responsible for seeing that our regulations are observed. I would like to tell Senator Loughrey that about a month ago I put a public notice in the newspapers declaring my intention to ban the sale of monofilament net. There are certain procedures through which one must go. As far as I can recall, there is a period in which one must await submissions. I think 27 July is the final date for the receipt of submissions on this issue. After that the submissions will be scrutinised to see what case has been made for the abolition or retention of monofilament net. We are doing that for the simple reason that there are anomalies in the present situation. People have said to me, rightly, both privately and publicly, "You are prepared to allow this for sale and the Minister for Finance is prepared to collect VAT on its sale, but the minute you put a few corks and rope on it you are deemed to be acting illegally. The owner can be brought to court". That is not unique, but that is not to say that it is not anomalous.
It is not just a question of being able to ban the sale of monofilament net, because it is being used for other types of fishing quite legally and it is very effective. We must jump certain fences when we come to them, having established the public reaction to the proposal to ban the sale of monofilament net.
Processing has been mentioned as an area of interest and great benefit to the industry. I am going outside the limits of the Bill, but these matters were raised in the debate. I would crave your indulgence, Sir, so that I can reply to them. We have a natural resource of great potential in out fisheries. We are taking steps elsewhere through this Bill and at EEC level to try to protect that resource as far as we can within EEC regulations. This industry lacks the commitment necessary to bring it up to the standard obtaining elsewhere in the EEC. We now find ourselves, having been a party to the CFP, in the position when our industry is not in the same league as fishing industries in other EEC countries. One area where this is most evident is in the processing of fish. That is not to say we do not have the nucleus of a good processing industry.
There are 17 processing units attached to Killybegs Harbour. It is a joy to go around there and see what is happening. In many cases we are talking about primary processing. It is a head and tail business. It means whole fish are transported abroad when we could have greater added value by having secondary processing. One of the problems we have had is that we did not give sufficient thought to selling fish as a commercial venture. We had a simple view of fish — it was caught in the sea and eaten. It was not looked upon as a worthwhile commercial product with job creation potential.
We must start at the consumer end and establish what the consumer wants. We must provide that fish as and when the consumer wants it. In the last fortnight we set up a committee in the Department to deal with marketing. The first meeting was held last Monday week. Such a committee was badly needed. All interested parties are involved in the committee and I hope we will be in a position to improve marketing in the near future. Members will realise that this is tied in closely with processing.
Mention has been made of the level of fines and the fact that they are too low. There was provision for a fine of £100,000 on conviction plus confiscation of catch and gear for a first offence. That was increased to £200,000 at the behest of the Opposition in the Dáil. People have asked why it is not £½ million. We must be seen to be reasonable. There is no point in providing for fines if they will not be applied. We are talking about maximum fines, which are rarely applied by the courts. It would make bad law and bring the legislation into disrepute if we had an outlandish level of maximum fine and only had 5 per cent of it imposed. It is better to keep it at a reasonable level and hope it will deter people from breaking the law.
In relation to third countries, this Bill prohibits the fishing, landing and transshipment of fish. I have been advised that in order to batten down on the activities of potential intruders these three areas must be covered. We could provide for a prohibition of fishing but if an intruder evaded the protection vessels they could land and trans-ship. That is why the prohibition includes fishing, landing and trans-shipment.
I think I have covered all the points raised but if there are any further details Senators wish to have clarified I will do so on Committee Stage.