The proposals in the Bill constitute a further chapter in the comprehensive package of legislation dealing with sea and inland fisheries development and conservation. They are welcome in so far as they go and should make a contribution towards the protection and conservation of one of our most important national resources.
I welcome the Minster of State to the House who today has responsibility for fisheries. Doubtless his friends, the snap net fishermen, whom he represents, are pleased that he is in charge and, perhaps, he would take the opportunity to extend their season as it is an issue they have complained of for a number of years. I had the opportunity to visit the snap net fishermen with the Minister and they are making a big contribution to the economic development of their area.
Any extension of fishing time may be granted in respect of such fishermen, or for professional fishermen who, at this time of year, coming up to the close of the salmon season, are seeking extensions. Keeping in mind the conservation requirements, the Minister would be wise to grant a temporary extension, in so far as it is possible to do so, to some of the key fishing areas such as the Feale and the Cashan in County Kerry, and Dunbeg and Ennistymon in County Clare. The people in these areas are traditional drift net salmon fishermen and derive limited income from their activities. They would benefit enormously from short extensions to the officially declared closure times to enable them supplement their incomes at a time of crisis in the industry.
Many of the coastal communities suffer from a fragile socio-economic base. The decline which has taken place in fishing activity, especially along the western sea board, has had an impact on the benefits which would have accrued from the development of the industry. This decline has been exacerbated by the decline in income generally in many other areas. In this respect the coastal communities have suffered more than anybody else from falling population and declining incomes.
This legislation must be viewed against a background of a structural crisis in the fishing industry in the EU. The over capacity of the fishing fleet has been noted by the EU, given the fleet reduction requirements stipulated for the future. In addition, there are debt levels in the industry, the Spanish and Portuguese fleets will increasingly be coming to fish our waters and the EFTA enlargement, together with the proposed EU enlargement, will probably bring Norway and other fishing countries into the equation.
These developments will create further competition for a declining species, because almost all of the traditional species that have been fished here are under stock pressures. Given this, illegal activities, which have been described both in this House and the other House such as the behaviour of some boats, which operate with illegal holds and so on, must be stamped out. This illegal activity, which has gone on for far too long must be brought to an end and whatever powers the Minister requires to achieve this must be provided by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
It is unacceptable that conduct which has taken place, especially by Spanish boats fishing in Irish waters, should be entertained. The necessity for vigilance by the Minister and the Department is obvious and further measures must be taken, if required, to put an end to illegal activities which are damaging fish stocks, putting the livelihood of those depending on fishing at risk and creating a climate where an industry which could make a more significant contribution will not be in a position to do so. So many matters are covered in this legislation that an easy guide to the Fisheries Acts is required which could be divided into two sections dealing with sea and inland fisheries. The Department of the Marine might avail of the opportunity to publish such a guide giving a breakdown of the laws and regulations governing commercial and inland fishing.
I do not agree with the procedure adopted in this Bill whereby a combination of legislation attempts to deal with totally unrelated issues. Legislation dealing with commercial sea fisheries should be compiled under one guide. I am not suggesting that a consolidation effort must be undertaken now but, looking through the Bill, one can see such diverse matters as eels, shellfish and boats with illegal holds are being dealt with together.
A guide to fisheries legislation is needed to distinguish between the development of sea and inland fisheries, and to explain the fact that certain legislation has been repealed. I found it almost impossible to find what legislation had been repealed and which remained on the Statute Book. The situation is confusing and needs to be explained to the public.
Some of the areas affected by this legislation have a very fragile socio-economic fabric. For that reason I welcome the recent Pesca initiative of the European Union which enables coastal communities suffering from population decline and falling incomes from fishing to seek EU and State funding to develop alternative sources of income. I raise this in the context of developing some of the natural oyster and mussel beds which have been allowed to fall into decay. Apart from the artificial cultivation of fish, such as salmon farming, more attention and funds need to be directed towards helping local community co-operatives and individual fishermen to develop shellfish cultivation. Such action is needed, particularly in areas of traditional shellfish cultivation which have declined through lack of use and sedimentation. Many coastal areas could exploit such opportunities thus creating extra employment for seasonal fishermen in addition to increasing the economic potential of such areas.
Perhaps in his reply the Minister could indicate how the 250 million ECUs provided for under the Pesca initiative will be spent over the coming three to four years. Could he also explain how fishery co-operatives can avail of EU funding for the development of important ancillary aspects of the fishing industry which are in decline?
Development work must be undertaken in fishing harbours which, apart from the five major ones, are in a pretty run-down state. The bulk of small landing places are also in a dilapidated state. The fishing industry cannot be developed without the infrastructure to enable it to thrive. Current EU and State funding is inadequate to deal with this situation and unless some meaningful investment is made, especially in small and medium sized harbours, it will be difficult to restore confidence in the fishing communities that the Government is genuinely aware of their difficulties. It must be made clear that there is a genuine wish to do something positive and worthwhile to help such communities to develop their fishing business and make a living.
I have found the personnel of sea fishery co-operatives to be capable, energetic and innovative. If they see real commitment on the part of Government, they are prepared to invest their share as well. They are more than willing to sit down with the Department and work out the necessary development programmes.
The Minister of State should talk to the county enterprise boards which are familiar with the necessity for development in various isolated coastal communities. He should work out a programme where the co-operatives, the Department and the European Union could carry out an in-depth study in localities where people's livelihood is threatened by a decline in fishing and by falling populations. A way must be found to carry out the proper infrastructural developments required to halt this decline.
I welcome the work that has already been done by the Marine Research Institute in identifying new species. Because of the decline in traditional fish stocks, further efforts are needed to seek out and develop new fishing activities. The disappearance of sea trout, brown trout and rainbow trout stocks has caused deep and widespread concern. Fishery records dating back to before the Famine show that sea trout stocks have inexplicably disappeared on numerous occasions. The stocks disappeared long before the artificial cultivation of salmon here or in Norway. The disappearance of sea trout stocks in the 1940s was blamed on small mesh nets for herring fishing although, even then, it was obvious that that was not the cause.
The central and regional fisheries boards have recently undertaken research in the Dunbeg River in County Clare where no salmon farming takes place. Despite this, the boards found that sea trout stocks were heavily infested with sea lice. I wish to find out from the Department, maybe at a later stage, the result of that research work and whether it can now be certified that in areas where there are no sea cages, sea trout are heavily infested with sea lice and that this does not support the case being made by people opposed to sea farming that this is the cause of the disappearing sea trout.
I welcome the proposals to deal with and tighten up the unauthorised movement of shellfish. In Galway Bay, which is vitally important for oyster fishermen in Galway and north Clare, shellfish were seriously threatened by an outbreak of bonomia, which was imported by indiscriminate fishermen bringing stock from areas affected by that disease and almost put the Galway Bay and north Clare oyster fishing business into a state of decline and ruin. Unauthorised movement of shellfish must be tightened up and I will support the Minister in any action he can take. I would like him to take action against those who were responsible for introducing this disease, which came from France and devastated the French oyster fisheries.
This Bill is welcome and is a further chapter in the legislation on fisheries which is vital to the long term development and conservation of our fishing industry. I hope it will be successful in curtailing the illegal activities which are taking place. I also hope it will be a sign to all those involved in the Irish fishing business that we in this House care about how this industry prospers and develops in future, that we have a vital interest in seeing that it does so and that we will do what we can to ensure this. I hope the Government will do likewise.