I wish to raise a matter which is becoming close to a national scandal, namely, drift netting off Irish waters. I have come across an extraordinary number of people who are concerned about this although I represent a constituency which is not near the sea, the sea fishing community or any vested interest group. However, I have been lobbied by many people; anglers, hoteliers and others in the tourism industry who say that what the Government is doing in allowing excessive drift netting of wild salmon is killing the tourism industry in certain areas and is also building up serious trouble for future generations.
What I cannot understand is that the Government has apparently yielded to certain small but strong vested interests and is allowing drift netting to continue on a scale which is completely unacceptable and is way above European norms. It is unfortunate that the Government has not taken the initiative and yielded to pressure from ordinary people to stop this habit which will shortly ruin our salmon industry and damage our tourism industry.
I have been told of many ugly incidents in which those who practise drift netting have behaved in an illegal and threatening fashion towards those who accidentally disturb their activities. I came across someone at lunchtime today who told me he had been sailing off the coast of Donegal when he was unexpectedly caught in drift netting and that he was pursued by some fishermen who were guarding the drift nets to protect their salmon catch. The industry as it is practised is somewhat murky and it must be tackled, not only in its legal activities but in its ancillary activities.
Salmon stocks are in steep decline, not only in Ireland but in Europe. We are all aware that if drift netting is allowed to continue, we will have very few wild salmon left in our rivers in the near future. Successive studies have shown this is the case. One of the extraordinary and stark revelations of recent years has been that the Government has commissioned successive studies to look at what can be done and has continuously ignored the scientific data and the conclusions of its own consultants. It did not like the conclusions so it simply ignored them. It also ignored our European partners who have taken action to curtail the salmon catches from drift netting. Within Europe we are undoubtedly, once again, the black sheep. We have behaved appallingly in allowing this to continue. It is vested interests which allow it to happen.
As the Minister of State is aware, the drift nets intercept salmon approaching our rivers. Statistics now show that 86% of freshwater salmon in Ireland are at risk. The latest information appears to indicate that if the Government does not take action, the Liffey will be devoid of salmon in a very few years, the Slaney probably has about ten years to go and the Boyne has about six years. This is a totally unacceptable situation which is only taken by the Government for short-term electoral reasons in order to defend one or two seats, not too distant from the constituency in Donegal of the Minister of State with responsibility for the marine. That is not the way to plan the long-term prosperity of the fishing and tourism industries on which we depend for prosperity and the spreading of money outside the areas we are discussing.
The Welsh and the British are already complaining that 10% to 12% of salmon stocks returning to British rivers have been caught in the drift nets. I suggest to the Minister of State that if he does not do something about it, he will face protests from our European colleagues who will eventually force him to take action.
In the short term, there may be some political gain for the Government in taking this appalling attitude to drift netting but in the long term the economy cannot afford such an injection into the pockets of one or two at the expense of so many.