Fishing Industry: Statements.

I warmly welcome this opportunity to address the House on the key issues affecting the fishing sector. It is fair to say that the industry has endured difficult times of late, which were brought to crisis level earlier this year by the impact of high fuel prices. Notwithstanding the considerable easing in oil costs, fishing is as vulnerable as other sectors of the economy to the impact of the present global financial and economic situation.

However, I am optimistic for the future of the fisheries sector because I firmly believe that the fundamentals of the industry remain sound. The demand for seafood continues to rise, albeit at a time when there are restrictions on supply. We must also realise that the reason for quota restrictions is to allow fish stocks to rebuild, thereby ensuring a sustainable supply of fish for future generations. Another reason for my optimism is the quality and character of the people involved in this sector. They are resilient and innovative and have proved their ability to adapt to change and make difficult choices for the betterment of their industry. These attributes are as important for the future development of the sector as any economic fundamentals.

I do not underestimate the nature of the challenge facing us at present. It is complex and will not be solved by a single magic bullet. Higher levels of co-operation will be required across the full spectrum of the fisheries sector, from catching to marketing and processing. We have to develop a shared understanding of the key market forces that impact on the sector and engage in more joined up thinking to identify and maximise new opportunities while consolidating current best practice.

We have entered an economic era which only some of us can claim to have previously experienced. Younger members of society have only known good economic times but we have triumphed over harsh economic climates before and we will do so again. I previously spoke about our good fortune in having already developed a strategic blueprint for the fisheries sector in the 21st century in the report of the seafood strategy review group, Steering a New Course, otherwise known as the Cawley report. This road map is more important now than ever because it puts us in a strong position in that we are already transforming the sector and delivering on a sustainable, profitable and self-reliant industry. I pay tribute to my predecessors who were involved in delivering this strategy and those in the industry who played a role in agreeing the joint position. It is imperative that we continue to implement the strategy's recommendations and get agreement from all stakeholders in this endeavour.

I turn to the quotas which underpin the fisheries sector. The poor state of many whitefish stocks targeted by the Irish fishing fleet is clearly reflected in the decreases in annual total allowable catch, TAG, the quota allocations that Ireland receives and the landings of the fishing fleet in the past decade. The levels of TAG and, ultimately, the quotas for Ireland are determined each year at the December meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council following negotiations with member states. The process for 2009 has begun in earnest with the publication of the Commission's proposals, which will be subject to detailed and protracted discussions in the coming weeks. In summary, the proposal as set out is bad news for many of our fleet's economically important stocks.

There is good news with regard to mackerel, in respect of which agreement was reached at the coastal states meeting in London on 30 and 31 October. The overall TAG for mackerel will increase by 33% from 456,000 tonnes in 2008 to 605,000 tonnes in 2009. This will result in the net Irish quota, after deductions for the payback for undeclared Scottish landings, going from approximately 45,000 tonnes to 62,000 tonnes. This significant increase is the reward for Irish fishermen adopting responsible fishing practices for the stock. In value terms, using an estimated price per tonne of €1,200 this results in an increase of over €20 million to the pelagic fishing sector in 2009, from €54 million to €74.4 million. Prices of up to €1,500 are being offered in Norway at present.

Notwithstanding the good news story on mackerel, I am concerned about the socio-economic impact of the cuts proposed for whitefish stocks. Coming as they do on top of possible effort restrictions as part of a new cod recovery plan, these cuts will make for testing times for fishermen. I assure the House that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I are actively engaged alongside our officials in delivering the best possible deal for Ireland. A lot of late nights and long days will be endured in the forthcoming negotiations before a final settlement is reached.

In February 2008, the former Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Browne, acted on a central recommendation from the Cawley report after receiving state aid approval by the European Commission by launching a scheme to permanently withdraw capacity from the whitefish sector of the Irish fishing fleet. The 2008 decommissioning scheme, which is administered by Bord lascaigh Mhara, complements the earlier successful 2005-06 decommissioning programme. To date, of the 57 vessels that were approved and offered decommissioning grants, 39 vessels have accepted and a further six have until 19 November to accept. The 39 vessels that are permanently exiting the whitefish fleet account for 6,332 gross tonnes. With an average size of 165 gross tonnes per vessel, these boats represent 57% of the overall target set for the scheme and are additional to the 27 whitefish boats already decommissioned in 2005-06.

Overall, a total of 72 whitefish fleet vessels of longer than 18 metres will have been decommissioned since 2005 at a total cost of €47.9 million. This represents 70% of the original gross tonnage target set out in the Cawley report. The result of this decommissioning will be a significant boost to the economics of the boats that remain in the fleet. This economic lift comes from the redistribution of the whitefish and prawn catch previously taken by the vessels being decommissioned, which is currently estimated at €22 million. Over the next five years, this will result in up to €110 million worth of additional catch opportunities for the remaining boats.

Decommissioning is primarily intended to benefit the owners and skippers who remain in the fleet rather than those who leave and I am confident they will see the benefit of this policy. The downwards shift in our whitefish fleet fishing capacity will help offset quota reductions and effort restrictions and will deliver an efficient, effective and viable fishing fleet capable of supporting a vibrant coastal community in the future.

The European Commission's proposals for a new cod recovery plan are of key importance to Irish fishermen. The current plan has been with us since 2004 and combines effort restrictions and quota reductions with technical measures and other management arrangements in an effort to improve and rebuild stock levels to support sustainable fisheries. Unfortunately, scientific assessments have shown that the measures adopted in 2004 have not yielded the desired results and cod stocks in the Irish Sea and off the north-west coast remain seriously over-exploited. The new proposals aim at strengthening the recovery plan for these cod stocks. In addition, the proposals include the Celtic Sea cod fishery for the first time.

The Celtic Sea has rich fishing grounds which allow us to harvest many of our whitefish quotas. The new management practices, in particular those which aim to reduce fishing efforts, will reduce the time a fishing vessel may spend at sea in the area. While Ireland has argued against effort restrictions in terms of limits on time at sea for the recovery of the Celtic Sea cod stock and considers that other means would deliver recovery of this stock, it appears likely that the Council will press ahead with the inclusion of the Celtic Sea cod fishery in the plan. On this basis we are seeking to tailor the plan for the Celtic Sea and, indeed, for the other fisheries in the Irish Sea and the north west to best suit the position of the Irish fleet and reduce as far as possible the negative impacts on the fleet generally. Last week, the Minister and I held discussions with industry representatives on issues and possible changes that would reduce the impacts for fleets not targeting cod. We will continue to liaise closely with the Federation of Irish Fishermen, FIF, during Council discussions on this important topic next week.

The months of October, November and December are of key importance to fisheries, not just because the December Fisheries Council sets the overall TACs and quotas for 2009 but because it is also the time when crucially important fisheries agreements with non-EU countries are negotiated and concluded. I refer to the multilateral coastal states agreements on the management arrangements for 2009 of blue whiting, Atlanto-Scandian herring and mackerel stocks in the north-east Atlantic. These negotiations between the European Community, Norway, Faroe Islands and Iceland were conducted over a two-week period in London and concluded on 31 October. Agreement was reached on new arrangements for mackerel, which resulted in a significant increase in quota for 2009. However, agreement could not be reached on blue whiting or Atlanto-Scandian herring and these have been referred to the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission negotiations being conducted in London this week. Some progress has been made.

Bilateral agreements remain to be negotiated for 2009. The most important of these is between the EU and Norway, which is conducted over two rounds. The first focused on mainly technical issues such as control and conservation measures and was held in Bergen, Norway, on 3-8 November. The second, which will focus the setting of TACs, access arrangements and the balancing of inter-party transfers, will be conducted in Brussels on 24-28 November.

In my opening remarks I referred to the impact that high fuel prices had on the Irish fleet. Recent developments in the global fuel market have resulted in cheaper fuel and a subsequent easing of the pressures on our fishermen. The crisis highlighted areas within our fleet that needed further attention. I am conscious that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, addressed this House in July and gave full details of the position at that time so I wish only to give a brief update on the emergency aid package.

Ireland submitted a detailed, costed set of proposals to the European Commission on 12 September. In keeping with our previous stance on the matter, and supported by the Commission's policy document of 8 July, these proposals sought additional EU funding of €32 million to support the restructuring of the fishing fleet in line with the provisions of EU Regulation 744/2008, instituting a temporary specific action aiming to promote the restructuring of the European Community fishing fleets affected by the high fuel prices. We are actively pursuing the case at Council and Commission level.

The Irish plan was the subject of a lengthy bilateral meeting at official level with the European Commission in Brussels on 30 September. At that meeting the current situation of the Irish fishing industry was outlined to the Commission and it was made clear that the plan cannot be implemented unless the Commission secures and allocates the necessary funding to Ireland. I also raised the matter at the September Fisheries Council and pressed for Commission proposals to enable the implementation of the plan in Ireland at an early date. The Commission's stated position is for member states to re-engineer their fisheries operational programmes to give priority to the new measures catered for in the emergency package. This is not an option for Ireland as we have already committed €32 million of our total EFF allocation to the current decommissioning scheme which does not allow for any further flexibility with the remaining measures proposed. We will continue to push Ireland's case over the coming period with a view to the Commission bringing forward firm proposals to provide additional funds that will enable the full implementation of the plan.

Ireland's operational programme for fisheries which was the subject of much debate and correspondence. I am happy to say that the Commission formally adopted the Irish operational programme in its decision of 9 September. The first meeting of the monitoring committee for the operational programme will take place on 2 December. BIM will be the implementing body for the roll-out of the measures contained in the operational programme.

As one of the few indigenous industries, aquaculture is of major significance to the Irish economy due mainly to the contribution made by the sector in the creation of jobs and wealth. In recognition of this fact, €5 million has been made available in the 2009 Estimates for aquaculture development support. This continued support in times of financial restraint demonstrates the Government's commitment to the sector.

In the context of the Cawley report, Steering a New Course, the main objectives for the Irish aquaculture industry are the development and expansion of the sector within the context of clearly defined national planning policies, output targets, environmental standards and codes of best practice for production methods and fish health. Aquaculture is regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997. Licences, of which there are 700, are granted only following full consideration of the likely environmental effects of the proposed operations and are granted subject to specified terms and conditions. There is a substantial backlog in licence applications at present. This is due in large measure to the fact that many of the existing licences were granted for a period of ten years on foot of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997 and therefore fall due for renewal at present. In addition, many of the outstanding aquaculture licence applications are located in Natura 2000 sites.

The Department is working actively with the national parks and wildlife service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the European Commission to develop proposals acceptable to the European Commission to enable these aquaculture licences to be renewed in compliance with the habitats and birds directives. A sum of €1.4 million has been set aside in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Vote for 2009 to assist environmental compliance activities for aquaculture and sea fishing activities in Natura 2000 sites.

Looking to the medium to long-term priorities for fisheries, the review of the Common Fisheries Policy will be foremost in my and the officials' agenda. The Common Fisheries Policy is the fisheries policy of the European Union which was first put in place in 1983 and has been, subject to ten yearly reviews, the most recent in 2002 and the next formally provided for in 2012. It has been acknowledged across EU member states that further reform of the CFP is necessary. In this context, an approach similar to that for agriculture involving a health check of the policy is now planned.

The Commission's documents were published on 17 September with other member states, notably France, putting their own discussion papers forward for review and comment. The issue was also the subject of detailed discussions at an informal meeting of agriculture and fisheries Ministers on 29 September in Brussels. Ireland wants to influence the agenda and will continue to be active in our attempts to shape the direction of this review. We wish to provide for and promote the interests of our catching sectors, which are very important to the protection of the livelihoods of the coastal communities.

It is fair to say that the last reform of the CFP was instrumental in the introduction of measures that have resulted in significant improvements in the sustainable management of our fisheries. The new CFP must continue and build on the achievements made. It is clear to me that with respect to the debate on the future review on the CFP, we should instigate change only where it is clear that the change will bring about improvements to the current policy. Change for the sake of change is not a solution. I do not underestimate the challenges we face in this review process in the face of what is a negative opening assessment from the Commission of the current state of play. Full recognition of programmes such as Ireland's programme to right size the fleet and their impacts on the balance between catching capacity and fishing resources is not evident.

For Ireland, the priority is to have a strong, sustainable and profitable seafood industry that supports fishing activities and related economic activity in our coastal communities. These communities have traditionally been based on fishing activity and without a community-linked catching sector we believe that these communities will wither and die.

We are committed to the new review process and without doubt there is a need for the simplification of the policies but more importantly any new policy must engage and have the support of stakeholders on the ground. They must believe that it is fair and equitable and that the rules in place are equally applicable to all operators. I refer to a recurrent theme — we must have a level playing field on control. Therefore, we will not be supporting a policy for the fishing fleet that promotes internationalisation and the concentration of activity and the benefits in the hands of a small number of large companies. We believe that this is not in the best interests of our fishermen or of our fisheries. I refer to specific areas of key importance to Ireland, which will become part of the overall review.

In respect of access to the 12-mile nautical zone, Ireland's position has consistently been that opening up access is not an option. Indeed we are of the opinion that the coastal limits should be extended further with preferential access for the coastal state to support the local coastal communities which are dependent on fishing. However, we must recognise that this would be a considerable challenge to deliver. We feel strongly that resources for fleet management measures should be targeted at member states who are willing to reduce fleet size. In this regard, we are strongly of the view that the Commission must make available additional EU funds to support the introduction of the emergency fuel package for countries such as Ireland which has already used up its EFF allocation on decommissioning of fishing vessels. Regarding fisheries management, we are in full agreement with the need to simplify the decision making process and, while welcoming the earlier provision of scientific data for TACs and quotas, we feel strongly that we need to be able to move towards incentives for fishermen and real time decision making to reduce and eliminate discarding of fish.

With regard to the debate on allocating fishing opportunities, I want to be blunt. Ireland is completely opposed to the concept of market-based individual transferable quotas as we believe it would result in the economic and social destruction of small Irish coastal communities. We are not convinced at present that there is any other equitable and workable system other than the present TAC and quota system. We do not support the establishment of a European fleet that would have open access to all waters, where fishing rights can be purchased and all links to the traditional coastal communities are severed. It is our position that quotas and their management must be retained under national competence. Undoubtedly, this is a major issue for all of Europe and we are committed to working closely with stakeholders, our member state colleagues and the Commission to strengthen the current policy for the betterment of fisheries as a whole.

I started this address by saying I am optimistic but I am also realistic. I acknowledge that the fishing sector is undergoing change, some of which is enforced by factors over which we do not have full control. However, most of the change is generated from within, to deliver an industry that can sustain the impacts of unknown global forces. Collectively we are delivering an industry that is market-focused, efficient and effective. The Irish fishing sector of the future will be environmentally sustainable, will be profitable and flexible in its ability to face future challenges. Time stands still for no man or industry. I was taken by the headline in the most recent Marine Times, “Golden Opportunity to Effect Change?” We are at those crossroads now. My optimism for the future is based on the real collective efforts being undertaken to deliver on a joint vision for the future of the Irish fishing industry in particular.

I have visited a number of areas which I hope to deal with when replying to the debate. I am sure Members will raise points to which I will need to respond.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am pleased we have this opportunity to bring to the House the important issue of the Irish fishing industry. I listened with interest earlier to some of the comments made on the Order of Business in regard to this debate and other matters. From a political perspective, since we joined the European Union in 1973, our fishing industry has been very much a poor relation. Not surprisingly, there is a sense of despair, pessimism, doubt and disillusionment in our fishing and coastal communities, towns and villages. It was sadly significant that a large "No" vote in the Lisbon treaty referendum held last June was recorded in our coastal communities. The people of those regions felt, rightly or wrongly, that the European project not only has been of no benefit but also has negatively impacted on our fishing industry. They decided they had had enough and came out in record numbers to vote "No". I was disappointed with that decision by those people but it was a strong signal by our fishing communities and the men and women involved in the fishing industry that the Irish Government and the European Union had let them down and they had had enough. It is something all political parties which have shared power to some degree since 1973 must acknowledge. The Irish fishing industry has gone from bad to worse. Therefore, we certainly need a new beginning.

It is appropriate we are having this discussion at a time when the Minister, his officials and colleagues are commencing a review of the Common Fisheries Policy. I appreciate it will be a tough one. There are no easy options or choices available to the Minister of State. At the core of our negotiations must be the need to rebuild the Irish fishing industry and, as the Minister of State said, take note of the fact that Irish coastal communities, towns and villages have been very dependent on the fishing industry. Therefore, we cannot let them fade away.

There are many issues we can discuss now, whether it be the Cawley report or fuel prices, but the bottom line is that we need to plan for the future. An opportunity is presented by this review to mark a new beginning for the industry. As we are debating the fishing industry in the House, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is debating the future of the milk quota regime in Europe. The introduction of the milk quota regime in 1983 was significant. It stabilised prices and rebuilt, albeit with difficulty, the dairy industry not only in Ireland but throughout Europe. Now a new way forward is being charted for the dairy industry. Let us hope that something similar can be done for the fishing industry, which is a great natural and historical industry, and that the review can be built on solid foundations. The agreements this country entered into as part of our joining of the then European Economic Community in 1973 resulted in the fishing industry being severely disadvantaged. We have been paying a heavy penalty since then and we certainly need a new beginning.

While many crises have faced the industry, I will deal with some of the current issues which the Minister of State attempted to address in his contribution. I acknowledge that his contribution was, as he said, optimistic and realistic. Fuel prices have played a major role in making the life of our fishermen more difficult during the past 12 months. The statistics I have to hand suggest that the cost of a ten-day fishing trip has increased from €7,000 to €17,000 during the past four years. The European Commission suggests that marine fuel prices have increased by 240% since 2004. Such fuel increases have placed a huge financial burden on those in the industry. It is a cliché to say that something must be done about this. For an industry which is already at the end of its tether in regard to its financial parameters, to see fuel prices increasing by 240% is a massive financial burden. We are advised that 75% of a trawler's turnover is spent on fuel. That makes the possibility of earning some degree of profit almost impossible. I acknowledge that during the past month or two since those figures were compiled there has been some roll back on fuel prices, but fuel costs still pose a significant difficulty for the industry.

The Cawley report is seen as being of almost biblical importance. Admittedly, it does chart some way forward. We have debated the report in the House previously and there is general political support for it. However, moving from the compilation and production of the report to its full implementation has proved to be difficult. The progress to date on that has been modest to a certain degree. As it is the blueprint we have set out and agreed, it is important the Government puts the necessary plans and expenditure in place to implement its recommendations as soon as possible. While we acknowledge the necessity for the report, its recommendations signify the raising of the white flag because we are almost suggesting and putting in official print the fact that the industry will have to shrink in size and fewer numbers will remain in it. It is only through a reduction in the numbers in the industry that some people will make a financial living from it. If that is to be the case, so be it. Government assistance obviously is required.

The Minister of State mentioned the new economic dispensation. I acknowledge the distressing state of Government finances and that the taxpayer is being put to the pin of his or her collar, but funding will be required if the Cawley report is to be implemented in full. There is little point in partially implementing that report because its recommendations are presented as an avenue forward. Financial assistance will have to be given by way of State aid. This has been discussed not only at national level but also at European level and has received approval. We now need hard cash to make it attractive for those people who wish to leave the industry. It is disappointing that many people will see no other option but to take the opt outs available to them. However, if at least this measure results in a much reduced number of people in the industry with the possibility of earning a decent income, that is something we must welcome. However, it can only happen if the necessary financial support measures are put in place.

I wish to refer briefly to a few other matters, one being the need to ensure our industry will not be disadvantaged relative to our competitors within the European Union as a result of the Commission decision to permit state aid in certain circumstances. This caused deep upset to our fishing communities in the run-up to the Lisbon treaty referendum. That decision should not have been part of that debate but, inevitably, it became part of it. Our fishing communities genuinely feel their competitors across the European Union are in receipt of various state aids and state advantages which they do not have receive. Our industry is now in a severe crisis. That matter needs to be tackled.

The Minister of State mentioned the increased of consumption of fish owing to it being a healthy food, in which there is scope for further growth. There is still a difficulty with the branding and marketing of Irish fish. We could do considerably more in these areas to improve consumption, demand, price and profit for the Irish fishing industry. We will obviously return to this debate and will concentrate more fully on the review, which is the core of the work of the Minister of State. We need to aspire not just to allow the industry to continue but to develop it to its maximum potential. We need to ensure the maximum number of people will have a prospect of remaining in the industry. Apart from agriculture and forestry, it is our oldest industry and our coastal communities are highly dependent on it.

What has happened since 1973 has been tragic. Admittedly it is now history. We cannot rewrite history and we will not leave the European Union. Even at this very late stage we must acknowledge that policies pursued over our 35 years' membership of the European Union have been very unfriendly to our fishing communities. We must give some commitment to redress the balance and ensure survival of our fishing industry into the future.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to the House. I do not want to go through the history of the fishing industry and the raw deal we got in 1973 where we ended up with 4% of the quotas with in excess of 20% of the coastal waters. For every 1 tonne of fish caught by Irish vessels over the years 20 tonnes were taken out of Irish waters by other EU vessels. That is historical and I cannot blame the Minister of State. We need to move on.

I have been calling for this debate for some time and I am glad we are having it today. The one good omen coming through is the 30% increase in mackerel quota in the pelagic sector, which I welcome. The mackerel quota for 2008 was divided as follows. The 23 ring-fenced super-trawlers, the RSWs, got 42,000 tonnes, the polyvalent fleet got 7,000 tonnes within which is included boats that were jigging gillnet and other over 65 ft vessels also. The proposed 16,000-tonne increase in the mackerel quota for Ireland in 2009 is welcome and I urge that at least 50% of this should be provided to the polyvalent fleet, which supplies four processing factories in Rossaveal, Dingle, Baltimore and Castletownbere, employing more than 300 people. It is a reasonable demand that they should seek 8,000 tonnes of the increased quota.

In one sense I must be mindful of the Cawley report, but in another sense I must mindful that in the past ten years nine processing factories in the south and west of the country have closed. One part of the policy is to promote jobs in onshore processing. If there is not an increase in the mackerel quota to the polyvalent sector, other factories will close. Recently a factory in south Wexford closed owing to lack of supplies. While I am not being in any way disparaging, of the 23 RSW super-trawlers with their 42,000 tonnes quota, 70% is landed in Norway or possibly Scotland. As the Minister of State pointed out, Norwegians are offering higher prices for fish. However, we must be mindful that it is a long trip to Norway if we are trying to secure jobs onshore.

The majority of the 23 super-trawlers that land their mackerel abroad have been ring-fenced and have not been affected by decommissioning etc. through the years. The polyvalent fleet that has a small mackerel quota has landed up to 90% of its fish in this country. In addition, the herring quota in the Celtic Sea, traditionally fished by the polyvalent fleet, has been reduced to approximately 5,500 tonnes in 2009 from more than 20,000 tonnes ten years ago. This will cause great financial hardship within the polyvalent sector and, without the increase in the mackerel allocation, would make the four factories that employ more than 300 people unsustainable in the future.

All the pain of decommissioning has been in the polyvalent sector. In the Castletownbere co-operative, for example, a fleet with 65 trawlers employed 325 men five years ago. After the last round of decommissioning only 30 trawlers are left employing 150. There has been a loss of 175 jobs and 35 vessels. That is critical. We can talk about decommissioning and we needed to go down that road. Even having taken out the number of boats decommissioned, which were almost exclusively in the polyvalent sector, there was a view that there would be extra quota for the remaining boats and that it would be sustainable for the fishermen and their families. However, that is not what is emerging, which is of great concern.

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority views its role as taking over from what the Department and possibly the Naval Service were doing up to now. I believe there is over-policing. I am not saying this because of the day that is in it. If there was the same pro rata policing in certain areas of Limerick or Dublin we would not have the crimes that are being committed at the moment. That matter should be addressed. There are too many of these officers. In many instances when I am down in Castletownbere there are more of them around than there are fishermen. They will certainly outnumber the number of trawlers the way we are going.

The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, spoke enthusiastically about the aquaculture and mariculture sector. Based on my experience to date, I do not share the optimism of the Minister of State. I am very pessimistic about the future of that sector. The mussel industry was supposed to develop and expand — it was once planned to reach 30,000 tonnes. However, that industry is contracting. The new science on toxin levels may be an area for another Minister. While we are leading lights in Europe, the way we are going, not only will we close down mussel harvesting and the factories involved, but it will also affect oysters and other types of fish. I have heard of serious concern not necessarily just from those involved in the mussel industry, but also from the Irish Shellfish Association. I compliment BIM on the work it has done in promoting fish and our fish exports. For decades I have advocated that we should have onshore processing in all these areas to create jobs ashore and have added value when we export these products. BIM is spending considerable money promoting this and opening markets. However, much of that is being curtailed.

One example occurred in my own neck of the woods. Bantry Bay Seafoods spent approximately €5 million building up a market in America and promoting its product in 700 outlets. In one incident, information outside its remit was volunteered to the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, on what was happening in this country. The exports complied with the strictest Irish and European standards but as I found in consultation with the FDA, it was mesmerised in that we, as a small country of approximately 4 million, have the Food Safety Authority of Ireland — which is meant to be the leading light in food safety — and another body delegated to work in that area, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA. The United States has a population of 300 million and it has the FDA alone. It could not understand why we have two bodies monitoring the same area. There seemed to be a conflict of interest and in that instance it was like two bulls fighting over a heifer going to dairy to see who would be the leading light.

They have destroyed an export market that took seven years to set up. Never again, while grass grows or water flows, will the United States have any interest in the import of Irish seafood, be it mussels, oysters, clams or other types of fish. We have done significant damage to our reputation over recent years.

I know there are not many speakers on this issue but I beg the Acting Chairman's indulgence as I complete a number of points. I emphasise what Senator Bradford has said in that the anger in coastal communities was set out in the result of the vote on the Lisbon treaty, which was severe and acute. In Castletownbere, more than 90% voted against the treaty. Schull and Baltimore are coastal areas in my constituency which were very angry about their deal from Europe. We are talking about renegotiating and so on but I am glad the Minister of State indicated in his speech that the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, may be renegotiated in some form or other.

We need a better deal for Irish fishermen and we must protect those who are left. They have gone through the toughest four years that Irish fishermen of any sense have gone through. We mentioned the question of fuel costs and we are still awaiting the famous package we hope to get from Europe in the form of emergency aid that will support the Irish fishing industry. Whether the trawlermen are in Killybegs, the west, south or Wexford, they and I cannot share the optimism referred to by the Minister of State.

There is an overlap of agencies and fishermen are overpoliced. For almost 50% of the time, most boats are tied up and the price of fish is not increasing in the way it should. I am concerned about the future of the industry, particularly with regard to quotas. The industry has contracted considerably and if a further decommissioning package were introduced, another 25% of the fleet would look to participate in it. That is sad. I mentioned one example of the Castletownbere fishing co-op in the south but I could have mentioned Union Hall fishermen's co-op or other areas seeing the same contraction. I am always up for the fight and like to be optimistic but my degree of pessimism has not waned.

I am concerned about future issues, be they the Cawley report or whatever, but we must support jobs. A mackerel quota is now coming on track. It is good news in that for the first time we are getting extra quota rather than a reduction. A fair share should be allocated among the polyvalent sector to support factories in the south. There are four left and we have lost nine, as one in Wexford closed last year. That is an acid test and if that goal is not achieved over the next two to three months, we will return with more pessimism and another sob story. I would like to be more optimistic but what I have seen in the past 12 months does not give me much cause for it.

When the Leader was in the House, he indicated we will have a later opportunity for questions and answers and the Minister of State may answer some of the questions I raised. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to come back and raise some more questions towards the end of the debate.

We have given the Senator some latitude and he may get more from whomever is in the Chair at that time.

Senator O'Donovan is correct. He has raised a significant number of issues related to the fishing industry in this country. I grew up in west Cork, not far from the sea, but with the way life was at the time, I did not have much of a connection with what was happening in our ports. I had little interest in what was going on. Over the past 20 years we have often heard that, to some degree, we sold out our fishing industry to the European Union and we do not get the maximum from our fishing fleet because of the way we negotiated the Common Fisheries Policy over recent years.

If one is not particularly interested in this issue — if one is not a fisherman, does not own a fishing enterprise or is not a politician — one is not inclined to take much notice. We have done untold damage to the potential we could have had from fishing over recent years. It is time to call a halt to this.

I was very interested in what Senator O'Donovan said about the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, which has probably done more harm to the fishing industry than any individual enterprise in this country. This view is not a case of making political capital. There was a story in The Irish Skipper which described a number of fishing boats pulling into Dingle Harbour. When the Irish fishing vessels arrived, seven State individuals — five sea fisheries protection officers and two gardaí — went towards them to count practically every fish brought in on those vessels. At the same time three Spanish boats pulled into Dingle, with each boat unloading two articulated truck loads of fish while the officers were standing on the quay. The editor of The Irish Skipper approached the officials and asked if they were going to check the Spanish boats. To quote the editor, he was told: “Fuck off and mind your own business.” That is the quote from our officials when asked if they were going to check the Spanish boats. At the same time those officials checked every fish coming from the Irish boxes. Every fisherman around the country will indicate they must radio ahead with the number of fish on their boats. If they do not follow procedure to the letter, they are fined and penalised through the courts. We are destroying our own fishing industry.

What happens when boats from our European partners come into Irish waters? The Irish Naval Service cannot check if such boats are fishing illegally in Irish waters as all it can do is check the boats' log books. Naval Service personnel cannot open the boxes. When many of these boats go back to Spain, France or Belgium, there is nobody to check them to see if they are fishing illegally in European waters. I am sure officials in the Department are well aware of this accusation.

For example, the equivalent sea fisheries protection officers in Spain are on strike currently, as they have been over the past two years. None of them works after 3 p.m., so the best action for a fisherman to take if he wants to hoodwink the Spanish Government and European Union on the amount of fish being brought in is to return to port later than 3 p.m.

This can be contrasted with Ireland and the way our agencies deal with our fishing boats. It is quite clear they want to destroy our own industry and there is no equal treatment for foreign vessels in our waters. Although EUROSTAT has indicated €2 billion of fish is being brought in from foreign vessels in Irish waters, it does not know this for sure. The Minister has made an evangelical attack on the fishing industry, implying that all fishermen are somehow criminals in this country because they are landing mackerel in Scotland, abusing quotas or landing fish that are too small. There will always be a percentage of abuse in that regard, but the Minister should beware that he does not destroy the industry. Rather, he should seek fairness across the European Union.

When this matter arose I decided I should talk to fishermen to find out what happens. They say that when the Irish Naval Service — boards a fishing vessel, it seldom asks the crew to haul in its nets. The only navy that consistently asks fishermen to haul in their nets is the Royal Navy. In so doing, they check the size of the nets and examine them for modifications. Some countries have a reputation for taking fish of all species and sizes out of the sea. The Naval Service does not ask fishermen to haul in their nets. I believe the same is true of navies in most European countries.

Officials who represent us in Europe need to be more militant at discussions on the Common Fisheries Policy. To some extent we have been soft on the issue because we did not want to upset our European neighbours as we were getting so much from the Common Agricultural Policy. There is a perceived trade-off between agriculture and fisheries. All the talk about quotas and protecting fish is bunkum if we do not watch quotas or are not genuine about conservation measures. It is very nice to put things down on paper and to have a policy but the reality is that the Naval Service cannot check the boxes to see what fish they contain. Fishing boats are going back to French, Belgian and Spanish ports without any real checks as to what they contain. The decision has been made that those fishing fleets are making a major contribution to both the economic——

The Deputy's time has almost concluded. He has less than one minute remaining.

It is a pity I cannot say more. If we are going to fight, we need to seek greater fairness from the European Union, otherwise we are selling out our fishing fleet to no great benefit for the people of Ireland.

Senator Twomey used a word that is unparliamentary and I would appreciate if he would withdraw it.

I will withdraw it but that is the word actually used. It is disgraceful that such a word was directed at what appeared to be private citizens making inquiries.

The Senator will withdraw that word.

I will withdraw it absolutely. I am sorry.

I do not think there can be any argument among Members that the Irish fishing has been treated as a Cinderella industry that has rarely lived up to its potential and that its important role in sustaining coastal and island communities has never been fully realised. Much of the reason can be attributed to the nature of the agreement when this country entered the then European Economic Community in 1972. That agreement was favourable to agriculture in general but unfavourable to the marine and fishing in particular. The fishing industry in Ireland has failed to recover from those unsuccessful negotiations. The Irish fishing fleet is a small proportion of the fleet that fishes in Irish waters. France and Spain have far larger fishing fleets in Irish waters. The 36-year period since our accession to what is now the European Union has seen gross over-fishing and the potential that exists for the Irish fishing industry has been undermined further.

Other mistakes have also been made along the way. A strategic decision made in the past 15 to 20 years not to support small and medium sized boats and instead to put taxpayers' money into the type of vessels that were nothing less than vacuum cleaners sent out a very bad message on the long-term viability of Irish fisheries. Those in charge of fisheries policy then made a crude attempt based on the maximisation of income and trying to acquire the largest amount of fish in the quickest possible time. Those two major errors still haunt the Irish fishing industry, and we need an alternative in terms of the strangely unrealised potential for an island nation in terms of our fishing industry.

My father is from an island in Donegal and fishing is very much part of that culture and life. I have received representations since coming to this House in response to recent Government policy calling for an exemption for island fishermen in particular because of their reliance on the industry. I can understand the reason such requests are made and I have some sympathy for that approach, but we live in a climate where there has been an over-abundance of fishing in the past decade. In addition, the scientific evidence indicates that to create a semi-viable industry in the near future means the type of drip-feed fishing that has seen fleets tied up for large proportions of the year and people being unable to make a sustainable living as a result.

Even within the confines of both European Union and national fishing policy there is potential for the fishing industry. The most obvious example is mariculture in terms of the different types of food that can be harnessed from the sea. Efforts have been made in recent years to develop that side of the fishing industry. We have significant problems in terms of the white fish industry and the sustainability of salmon in inland and coastal waters. Conservation is the prime focus of protecting the industry in the future. That said, there should not be any difficulty in a European Union context in re-evaluating where we are and stating that the fishing resources within Irish waters are a natural resource which should be used largely for the benefit of the Irish people and those involved in our fishing industry. In an era when conservation has to be key, a higher proportion of the effect of conservation measures should be felt by those countries that fish most and whose vessels and fleets are the ones inflicting the most damage in terms of over-fishing in Irish waters.

It is a challenge for the Government to face up to that responsibility and to say to partners in the European Union that these waters cannot be fished as they are and that access to them cannot be as open as it has been. If we are really serious about the principles behind conservation we must ensure that vessels fishing are of a specific scale, that they use meshes of a specific size, that the nets are only used to a specific depth and that only certain species can be taken out of the water. It is clear that all of those policies have been breached on a wide scale in the past 20 years at least. Until we get that kind of consistency at a European level, the type of pain being felt by Irish fishermen and coastal communities will not go away.

I hope all Members of this House will send a message to the Government, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and to the Ministers concerned that there is a need for a new approach and to do things differently. We must challenge our partner Governments in the European Union because Irish waters have sustained too much damage and the price has been paid disproportionately by our coastal communities and our fishing industry. Irish waters do not exist to sustain fishing industries and those involved in them in other member states of the European Union. Until we get the balance right we will not be able to bridge the gap in meeting the conservation needs of Irish waters and the world's oceans in general. I look forward to the Government being able to meet that challenge and to its achieving sufficient support from the House to do so.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss matters relating to the fishing industry and thank the Leader for providing that opportunity. For too long our fishing industry has been sidelined in order to benefit other sectors of the economy. Fishermen have paid a high price and it is to their credit that we have a fishing industry. The Government has shown no vision or interest in this sector and that must change.

I am pleased our party leader, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, a former Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, has shown imagination in this area. He is the only party leader to have committed a full-time, Front Bench spokesperson to this area. By doing so, the Labour Party is making a statement of intent. It is the objective of the party to support in every way the development of our sea fisheries and aquaculture industry. It is our strongly held belief that there is great potential for growth in this area.

Ireland could easily be described as one big coastal community because nobody lives more than two hours from the sea. It is part of the Irish psyche. We are all familiar with the sea-fishing industry and know how vital it is to the areas where it provides a critical source of year-round employment at sea and on shore.

It is known and widely accepted that the industry has been facing many challenges due to the decline of many commercial fish stocks. It is a sector in which a new restructuring and development strategy is required, as the Labour Party recognises and as the industry would agree. The Cawley report states: "The stark reality is that decisive and radical action is now called for at national and EU level to safeguard the seafood industry, the fish stocks and the future of coastal communities."

The Labour Party welcomed the findings of the Cawley report. It believes it sets out a vision for a sustainable, profitable and self-reliant industry that will maximise its long-term contribution to coastal communities based on fish stocks restored to sustainable levels in the context of a healthy and diverse marine environment. The Labour Party believes the Cawley report is the road map. However, the party is less enamoured of the Government's commitment to the industry. So far, there has been a failure on its part to follow through on the findings of the report, one of many reports on which it has failed to follow through.

The Cawley report, which is the Government's so-called blueprint for the future of the fishing industry, advocated a Government buy-out of 40% of the existing fleet through a decommissioning scheme. The report called for funding of €66 million for this scheme. In last year's budget, the Government allocated just €21 million therefor. This is a measly allocation and exemplifies the Government's lack of commitment to the industry.

Boats less than 18 ft. in length have been excluded from the decommissioning scheme, despite the fact that they are often older and in poorer condition than the larger ones. Surely some scheme should be established for these boats and others that are similarly disadvantaged.

The Irish seafood industry generates annual revenue of over €700 million and provides direct employment for nearly 12,000 people. It is the backbone of Ireland's rural and coastal communities. The Government gives itself a pat on the back and believes it is doing great things for the industry by allocating it a paltry €21 million and devoting to it only six sentences in a Budget Statement. This is not good enough because the industry is on its knees.

What is required is a co-ordinated approach to dealing with the industry. We need a cohesive approach, both within the industry and between the industry and the State, if we are to address effectively the industry's deep-seated problems and its undoubted potential.

While I welcome the merging of responsibility for seafood with responsibility for the rest of the food industry, there remains a total lack of joined-up thinking and responsibility at Government level. At present, responsibility for marine matters seems to fall between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the one hand and the Department of Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources on the other, with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Transport, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism also involved at some level. There was an astonishing exchange in the Dáil last year in which the then Tánaiste, Deputy Brian Cowen, in the absence of the then Taoiseach, was asked which Minister was responsible for certain fisheries legislation. He did not know until some helpful colleague told him it was the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan. If a senior member of the Government does not know who is responsible, it does not say much for our chances.

I urge that we follow the lead of the European Union in this matter. Last year, it launched an integrated maritime policy that links up all the various areas of the marine industry — for example, fishing, tourism, shipping, seafood, marine research and transport. It should be noted that the ocean economy currently contributes €3 billion per annum to Ireland's GNP when one takes account of income from fishing, aquaculture, food processing, shipping, tourism, IT and financial and other services. Nevertheless, it is a relatively underdeveloped sector of the Irish economy. Danish productivity is four times higher and that of the Netherlands, which has a significantly smaller coastline than ours, is five times higher. Ireland is simply not at the races in this regard. The fragmented and disorganised manner in which this Government deals with the marine industry must be changed.

The cost of fuel is an important issue for fishermen. Oil prices have been falling and the difficulties have been alleviated somewhat as a consequence, but it is by no means a fact that prices will remain at their present level. Some claim the price of oil may eventually reach €400 per barrel; I shudder to think of the consequences. The Government must be more proactive on this matter and must show some leadership thereon at EU level.

There is a total lack of traceability in the fishing industry. The Government is making little or no effort to implement a traceability policy. Irish people who go to a supermarket or restaurant to buy fish are more likely to receive fish imported from outside the European Union than fish caught by Irish fishermen in Irish waters.

Much good work has been carried out in recent years on food traceability, particularly regarding meat and meat products, which we acknowledge, but the fishing industry has been ignored. The Irish would buy Irish fish every time if only they were allowed to make an informed choice. We must implement a fish traceability policy urgently so Irish people will know what they are eating.

There are many structural problems in the fishing industry and there appears to be no political commitment from the Government. It is the forgotten industry. There is potential for growth but the industry needs concrete support from Government. Lip service will not suffice. The Government's failure to implement fully the Cawley report's recommendations is a symptom of the disregard for the industry and the thousands of people who rely thereon.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, for listening. He has engaged with some of my comments and I hope we can have a meaningful debate on the issues that arise.

I wish to share two minutes of my time with Senator Mary White.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, to the House. I wish him well in the current negotiations, which are very important to us. We were successful this time last year in very difficult circumstances but we are obviously in more straitened circumstances now. I wish the Minister of State well in renegotiating the Common Fisheries Policy, in which the Irish do not have any great pride, as other Senators stated. This contrasts with farmers' support for the Common Agriculture Policy and their sense of ownership thereof. Fishermen hold the direct opposite view to farmers in respect of the Common Fisheries Policy, yet the fishing industry is still very important to the country.

The fishing industry is worth €700 million to the economy and it employs 11,000 people. It is particularly important in remote, peripheral areas such as the south west and the north west, in which there is no alternative employment. Very few industries are locating in towns such as Castletownbere or Dingle. Much of the tourism appeal of such areas is based on the fishing industry, the piers and the excitement of landing fish.

I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, is present because nobody has done more than him to promote healthy living and the concept of Ireland as a country with healthy food. As spokesperson on food and horticulture in the Seanad, I am aware of his great work in promoting country markets. My one disappointment — I depend on my better half for this information because she goes to her fair share of country markets — is that while there is now an increasing variety of home-produced foods, the amount of fish available is disappointingly small. At some country markets there is no fish. Where there is fish, the variety is very limited and it is usually sold out by mid-morning. I would like the Minister of State to ascertain the problem in this regard, bearing in mind that there is no shortage of fish. Is there a shortage of initiative? Is it because of the nature of the product and its perishability?

We have succeeded in promoting the idea that Irish beef is premier in the world. We have not succeeded in getting across the same idea in respect of our fish products. I referred before to the notion that Norway is the home of fish. There are Norski fishbars around the world but there is no such image of Ireland, an island nation, being a producer of a good fish product. We have the name for whiskey, Guinness and beef but what is wrong with our fish? There is something wrong in the promotions line.

I notice lately that many pubs and restaurants in the city are making much more use of the wide variety of our native shellfish. It is quite common now to see oysters available in pubs and oyster bars and a person can have mussels or smoked salmon for lunch. The situation is improving all the time. This increase is important and we must build on it. None the less, when our own cafeteria serves fish, nine times out of ten it will be cod and one can eat cod only so many days a week. Cod is of very little value to the Irish economy because a great deal of it is Norwegian sourced.

The one major breakthrough, as mentioned by Senators O'Donovan and Bradford and others, is the big increase we got in the quota for mackerel in the current year. This is important and was a great achievement by the Department and the Minister. As the Minister of State acknowledged in his speech, much of it is down to the good responsible fishing practices of the Irish fleet. Mackerel is making significant prices on the market at present and is a very valuable contributor to the overall economy. However, as Senator O'Donovan said, it is of value principally to the main trawlers, the very big operators. It is of very little value to operators such as Ó Catháin Éisc in Dingle which lands catches from smaller vessels. Of these additional mackerel to be caught, 75% will be landed in Scotland or Norway. If we could get more of that quota for the smaller mixed vessels, it could be landed in Dingle, Castletownbere, Waterford, Galway, etc. and would be of benefit to the overall economy. I understand that representatives of the four ports involved are seeking a meeting with the Minister and I am sure he will oblige them by discussing this point. Ó Catháin Éisc employs 80 people in Dingle and is the biggest industry in town. I am advised that if it does not get additional fish, it will not be able to sustain such levels of employment.

I have some brief Kerry-based issues. In Cromane last year there was a danger to the continuing industry of mussel farming because of the special area of conservation, SAC, designation. That has been resolved pro tempore. There are equal worries now in Kenmare, around the Kenmare river and Killmackillogue that because other areas are being sectioned off as SACs, there will be a detrimental effect on agriculture in the area. I have raised the issue of Fenit before. Fishermen there who fish for oysters and lobster in season are obliged to take out separate licences for two boats. This is ridiculous because they can fish for both species off the same boat in different seasons. I ask the Minister of State to examine this.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent. I take this opportunity to talk about the special protection area, SPA, and special area of conservation, SAC, designation threat to Wexford Harbour. The mussel industry in Wexford Harbour has spanned three centuries and today exports up to 20 tonnes of live mussels to the Continent, providing much needed revenue for Wexford and the south-east region. Investment in the fleet since 2001 has been approximately €30 million and total employment, between boats and onshore activity, involves more than 150 people.

The greatest threat today is the introduction of the SAC designation to the largest bottom-culture mussel industry in Ireland and the British Isles. If an SAC is placed on the lucrative mussel seed grounds just outside Wexford Harbour, this, together with the Wicklow bed SAC, will be a major threat to the mussel seed supply. The introduction of a special area of conservation prevents any vessel entering and gathering the much valued local mussel seed which is the lifeblood for the continued prosperity of the industry. Without access to this seed, the industry will die and the investment of €300 million will be lost to Wexford and the State. This threatened designation will produce a loss of up to €20 million in revenue for Wexford town, which will in turn have a considerable impact on restaurants, pubs, hardware merchants, engineering suppliers, etc and will be a threat to the local economy. It will result in the curtailment of urban and rural renewal.

I take this opportunity to wish well the senior members of the Department of the Marine, the Secretary General, Mr. Cecil Beamish, and Ms Josephine Kelly, who will be working on behalf of all the areas in Ireland affected by the threats of SAC and SPA designation. I dare to be unconventional and perhaps break protocol by saying that I hope and am sure they will wear the green jersey for us in Brussels.

I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent. I grew up in Skerries, the Minister of State's part of the world, and spent my summers there way back in the 1940s. I saw the importance of the fishing industry then but when I go there now I realise things have changed. Clearly, there is a threat to traditional fishing. I am glad the Minister of State is in the position he is because if anything can be done, he has some chance of doing it.

Later in life when I opened a supermarket in Finglas, I ran foul of the wholesalers by claiming that we bought directly from the fishermen in Howth. There was a fishermen's co-operative there and it was a wonderful way of ensuring we got fish to our customers that was caught within the previous 24 hours. We were not able to do that in the long term because of restrictions and restraints on trade. The wholesalers threatened to sue me because they claimed there was a suggestion that the fish they supplied would not be as fresh as the fish we bought directly from the co-op in Howth.

I am concerned to be told that at present only one of the traditional fishing boats goes out from Howth with the fleet, fishing on that basis. We have heard much talk about the change in the market. The other boats are now fishing for razor fish and other fish that were not traditionally fished. For reasons of taste and health, fish and seafood are products that offer great opportunities in the future. They will not necessarily be the lowest cost products one can buy but I believe they have a future and we must work to ensure we succeed.

I was in Ballyvaughan last Saturday and went to a lovely restaurant called Monks. I was impressed to go into that restaurant at lunchtime to discover that my wife and I were the only Irish people there. This was in the middle of the Burren, the place was packed and everybody was eating fish. There clearly is a need and demand for it. People will beat a path to the door of somebody who offers something unique and it is obvious there are opportunities throughout the country to do this. On one occasion I was the prime visitor for the Galway oyster festival. That is the type of marketing that offers opportunities for fresh fish in Ireland and puts it on our plates and on our agenda. This is threatened by the quotas that are to be introduced.

In the matter of spiralling costs, fishermen argue they should be allowed to catch more fish than is permitted under the current quotas and they call for an end to the obligation whereby they must throw away fish banned under current rules. This could be replaced by a rule on how many days a vessel can spend at sea.

However, the possibility of raising quotas must be questioned. We must fish less to nurture fish stocks back to their former productivity and give them a chance to recover. There are fewer boats now but this does not mean that fishermen are heading for extinction. Today's boats are more capable, have better engines, hull designs, nets and electronic gadgets that lead them straight to the fish. A rule of thumb says that there is a 2% technology creep per year. I love that term. Even if fish stocks were stable, Europe would be required to scrap many boats every year to maintain a sustainable industry. The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, provided details of the decommissioning scheme.

On Monday last, the European Commission proposed a 25% reduction in overall fishing in Europe and an increase in cod fishing in the Celtic Sea where cod stocks are considered to be sufficiently strong to support higher quotas. However, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that cod stocks in the Irish Sea are now considered "to be in a state of collapse" and are expected to decline further in 2008.

Ireland's fishing fleet should operate in an environmentally sustainable manner. To this end, a long-term strategy needs to be developed to achieve a profitable and sustainable future. Raising fishing quotas would reduce the small chance we have of securing a sustainable fishing industry. There are no easy solutions to the challenge we face.

Thousands of Irish fishermen argue that their livelihoods are under threat as a result of the increasing cost of diesel and have called for fuel prices to be addressed, perhaps by means of subsidy. While I sympathise with the hardships experienced by fishermen, sympathy must be balanced with a detached consideration of the state of the sea's fishing stocks. Since 2004, there has been a 240% hike in the price of fuel, which now accounts for approximately 60% of fishermen's costs. However, the use of fuel subsidies must be questioned because fleets around the world are using more fuel as they contend with falling fish stocks. The availability of fewer fish is the reason more fuel is used per tonne of catch. Today's boats burn in excess of four times more fuel than previously to catch one tonne of fish, despite having much more efficient engines.

Fishermen want subsidies to cut the price of marine diesel by 40% or more. Marine diesel is already effectively subsidised as it is tax free. Many experts argue that more subsidies would reduce the already slim chance of Europe ever having a sustainable fishing industry. The European Commission reports that an incredible 88% of EU stocks are over-fished compared to a global average of 25%. With the development of industrialised fisheries in the decades since 1950, the resource base has rapidly declined to less than 10% of its original size. While these figures are dull and boring, it is worthwhile to place them on record.

The road haulage sector, agriculture and those involved in transport seek compensation for increased fuel prices. The fishing industry argues that it is unique in this regard as it cannot hike up the price of fish to combat higher operating costs. We must, however, consider the experience of other countries. Canada's eastern cod fishery in Newfoundland closed nearly two decades ago and has not recovered, and its fish stocks may never fully recover. A great world resource was lost due to over-fishing. In the event that some aid is considered for fishermen, leadership will be required to link it with measures, including policing, to make fisheries sustainable and productive for future generations. We must do all in our power, however small, to protect this great resource. We face a challenge for which there are no easy solutions. Moreover, resolving the problems faced by the fisheries sector is a matter not only for Ireland but also for others.

On the new safety recommendations for fishing boats, an inquiry into the sinking of the Père Charles fishing boat with the loss of five lives off Hook Head in January 2007 recommended that marine authorities should establish port training courses to spread a culture of safety throughout the fishing fleet. The report states that such courses should include education on the dangers associated with carrying out structural modifications to fishing vessels. While all fishing vessels are now subject to stability tests, the report recommends that the Department of Transport should carry out full reassessments of survey requirements on fishing boats to ensure sufficient personnel are on board to enforce safety regulations. I would welcome an explanation of how far these measures should go. The Government should take up these essential recommendations as they could save lives. It is important that we learn the lesson of the tragedy of the Père Charles accident and other recent tragedies on our coasts.

Two other recent incidents draw attention to the need for more safety regulation. On 19 January this year, a fire broke out on board the 33-metre, United Kingdom registered fishing vessel, Shark. Initial attempts by the 15 crew to fight the fire were hampered by a loss of fire fighting water when electrical supplies were burnt through. In addition, the emergency fire pump was defective. While the captain tried to starve the fire of oxygen, he was hampered by faulty ventilation isolating valves and had to stuff rags around the ventilation terminals. The fire was extinguished when the Irish naval vessel, LE Eithne, arrived on the scene and transferred a fire party.

Four days later, Royalist, a 36-metre, United Kingdom registered fishing vessel carrying 18 crew, was about to shoot her nets approximately 290 km off Dingle when she was hit by a large wave which caused her to heel. The vessel was beginning to right herself when she was hit by a second wave, forcing the crew to abandon ship. The crew of a French vessel heard Royalist’s distress message and immediately cut nets and went to the stricken vessel, rescuing all 18 of the Royalist crew before it sank. I raise these incidents because more stringent training requirements are needed. I ask the Minister of State for his views.

This debate on the fishing industry is timely. Fisheries are one of the few natural resources available to this island. Generations of families have earned a livelihood from fishing at sea. County Donegal, with its extensive coastline, is not an exception and has many fine fishing ports, notably at Killybegs and Burtonport. Fishing activity also takes place at Arranmore Island, Magheroarty, Port na Blagh, Fanad, Downings and other areas. The fishing industry has always been vitally important to the economy of County Donegal.

This debate offers Senators an opportunity to learn, in generic terms, about the difficulties facing the fishing industry. These date back many years and are, as the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, noted, primarily a consequence of increased fuel costs. I welcome the findings of the Cawley report on the seafood industry, a sector which generates income in excess of €700 million and provides employment for a large number of people. I also welcome the Department's role in developing the fishing industry because it is important to give confidence to the families and communities who depend on it.

Many of those living in fishing ports such as Killybegs have noted a sharp decline in the number of fishermen since the 1980s and 1990s. This reduction has arisen as a result of quota restrictions and the high costs associated with going out to sea. The Government must recognise the impact this has had on many families, not only those with members at sea but also those working in fishing ports and the factories surrounding them.

During my time working in a fish processing factory for a year after graduation, I noticed that the stock caught at sea was taken ashore and exported without the use of secondary processing. Processing activity generally involved whole-packing fish. We should consider ways of adding value to the fish stock harvested from the sea, particularly given the depletion in fisheries. For example, some of the jobs involved in packaging and exporting whole fish need to be diversified.

The role of drift net and draft net salmon fisherman is one of the most important issues to have emerged in recent years in fishing communities along the coast of County Donegal. I am referring in particular to the drift net hardship scheme which many fishermen availed of. However, other fishermen did not take up the scheme, predominantly because they wanted to continue to fish. There are fishermen on Arranmore Island who did not take up the salmon hardship scheme as a result of the decommissioning, because they believed it was their only livelihood and they did not want it taken away. There are fishermen on Inishbofin in County Donegal who equally did not take up the salmon hardship scheme. Those fishermen have come together, formed a group and made representations to the effect that the islands should be exempt from that scheme. I am not sure how realistic scientifically that is, but it should be looked at. I call today for the Department to look at the proposals put forward by the fishermen of Arranmore and Inishbofin and, if there is scope, to allow them to remain at sea for salmon fishing. However, if the Department is of the view that there is no scope for allowing them to remain at sea in the short term, they should be told this quickly, so that they may plan for the future and avail of the hardship scheme that I hope will be available to them.

The initial compensation scheme was available to the fishermen individually. Then there was a generic scheme which was made available to the communities they represented. It is important that the hardship scheme should be now rolled out to the areas affected so that tangible benefits may be seen on the ground in those places that have experienced decommissioning, namely the areas that have lost employment as a result of the cessation of the salmon fishing.

Another issue is draft net fishing on the River Foyle in County Donegal. A large number of fishermen have approached me about the way the Loughs Agency has handled the decommissioning package on the River Foyle. I understand some 40 fishermen availed of the decommissioning package. A further ten on the southern side of the River Foyle remain fishing, but about 15 fishermen were refused licences on the river. Most of these are elderly pensioners, some of whom may be ill and unable to fish, requiring the assistance of senior helpers fishing on their behalf for a short number of years. I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Kitt, to inform the Department that this is a very serious issue. Fishermen feel wronged. Men who have fished there since the 1920s and 1930s are now being refused licences because of technical clauses drawn up by the Loughs Agency. The decommissioning scheme on the River Foyle has been supported by both Irish and British Governments. I call for the concerns and views expressed by the fishermen concerned to be investigated. I can make the details available to the relevant Minister because those families believe they have been wronged. Given that the Irish Government has put money into the scheme, that matter should be investigated because the families are not getting answers from the Loughs Agency, which is established in and working out of the city of Derry. They deserve answers, regardless of whether their view is right, because they are citizens of this Republic. Those are the two key issues I wanted to raise, the salmon fishermen in the Republic and the draft fishermen on the River Foyle.

I am responding on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, who has been greatly heartened by the level of informed debate generated in this Chamber and has noted the contributions made. He wanted to address the topic of harbours, which has been repeatedly referred to in this House. The Minister of State's earlier contribution and most of the subsequent inputs by Members of the House focused on the fishing industry and in particular the catching sector. The success of the fishing fleet is significantly impacted upon by the infrastructure that supports it.

I want to refer in particular to the six fishery harbour centres for which the Department has management and developmental responsibility. These centres are located at Howth, Dunmore East, Castletownbere, Ros an Mhíl, Killybegs and Daingean Uí Chúis. In addition, the Department provides significant capital funding for the smaller fishery harbours under the control of local authorities throughout the country. While the primary activity at the fishery harbour centres is associated with the fishing industry, the business profiles of the harbours differ greatly. Killybegs, as well as being Ireland's premier fishing port, has significant potential for commercial traffic and is currently being utilised as a base for vessels servicing the offshore oil and gas industry. A €50 million development has been completed at Killybegs and this year the Department commissioned the Killybegs Fishery Harbour Centre marketing strategy which was launched in April with a view to leveraging this investment and providing extra employment in the area.

Ros an Mhíl, in addition to fishing related activity, is the primary point of departure to the Aran Islands and facilitates the transportation of in excess of 200,000 passengers per annum. Howth has significant leisure activity which runs in parallel to the fishing industry. Dingle Fishery Harbour Centre, in addition to providing valuable support to the fishing industry, plays a pivotal role in the marine leisure and tourism industries.

The Department is of course mindful of the ever-changing environment in which the fishery harbour centres operate, and the need to develop and manage each of them in a businesslike and commercial manner. With this in mind it has set about compiling a five-year business plan for each of the fishery harbour centres. The Minister of State hopes to be in a position to launch these plans formally in the near future and is confident that these, together with initiatives such as the Killybegs Fishery Harbour Centre marketing strategy, will form the blueprint for the continued success and future strategic development of the fishery harbour centres.

In addition to the management and operation of the six fishery harbour centres, the Department provides significant capital investment for the development of both these centres and other fishing harbours throughout the country. In line with our commitment published in the agreed Programme for Government 2007-2012, the Department has allocated in excess of €23 million in funding in 2008 for the development of the country's fishery harbour infrastructure.

Castletownbere alone has been allocated more than €8 million this year for the continued development of the harbour. Development at Greencastle continues, with the construction of the breakwater well under way and an allocation of €3.6 million from the Department in 2008. This project deserves special mention as it highlights the positive benefits of co-operation between various stakeholders. The harbour is owned by Donegal County Council but the infrastructural development work is being carried out by the Department's engineering staff. Funding is being provided jointly between this Department, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Donegal County Council, with the Department of the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, being the main financial contributor at 75%.

It is important to illustrate some of the positive actions being taken to improve the infrastructure used by the fishing fleet in support of the wider delivery of much needed jobs in our diverse coastal communities. In all, the Department has this year allocated funding for 69 different projects at 45 different locations and will, in 2009, continue with a programme to provide safe and modern harbour and aquaculture landing facilities for all our fishermen.

I refer to the whole issue of administrative sanctions which was dealt with comprehensively by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, in his addresses to both Houses of the Oireachtas in July. I will now summarise the situation. The possibility of introducing administrative sanctions was comprehensively considered, including an examination of practices in other member states, at the time of the passage through the Oireachtas of the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill. The position taken by the Minister at the time was based on the legal advice from the Attorney General. The Minister, Deputy Smith, and the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, gave a commitment to the Federation of Irish Fishermen to ask the Attorney General to examine the issue further and consider if any new developments could support the introduction of a regime of administrative sanctions for fisheries offences here.

The Minister, Deputy Smith, subsequently wrote to the Attorney General seeking a review of the situation. The Attorney General replied in unequivocal terms to the effect that there have been no new developments which require a change and furthermore, for constitutional reasons, the State is obliged to choose the criminal sanctions option rather than the administrative sanctions option. The Minister and I, as responsible legislators, have to accept the advice of the Attorney General on this matter. The advice from successive Attorneys General has been consistent.

An issue which has been the subject of much public debate is discards, or the dumping overboard of unwanted or over quota fish from a fishing vessel. This is a complex global problem and is a feature of many fisheries, particularly those that involve a mix of species, for example, cod, haddock and whiting. In a mixed fishery, one species may be the target of fishing activity, but other species, which are unwanted, for which the vessel has no quota, or for which the quota has been already been exhausted, may be caught accidentally in the fishing gear. Quota species taken in excess of quota, or for which a vessel has no quota, may not legally be landed. This can result in the unwanted fish being discarded. Discarding can also occur for economic reasons when smaller, less valuable fish are dumped in favour of larger, more marketable ones, a practice known as high-grading. In other cases the fish captured are less than the minimum landing size for that species. Most of the fish discarded do not survive.

This problem is being addressed at a European level through measures regulating fishing gear, such as adjusting net mesh sizes or requiring acoustic devices to be attached to fishing gear. The Marine Institute and BIM continue to be active in trying to improve the existing data on discards and develop ways of reducing their impact. The level of Ireland's concern in this matter can be evidenced by the development of a proposal to help address discards in the nephrops fisheries around Ireland. This proposal has been presented to the European Commission and the other main players involved in this fishery.

Compliance with the EU habitats and birds directives has also been a significant issue for the Department in recent times. I do not intend to dwell too much on what is a hugely complex subject. The European Court of Justice issued a judgment on 13 December 2007 against Ireland in regard to non-compliance with the birds and habitats directives. A working group was established including officials from this Department, the national parks and wildlife service, the Marine Institute and BIM to develop a time bound plan that will enable Ireland to achieve compliance with the directives.

Fishing activity in Natura 2000 sites can pose a risk to the conservation status of these sites which are protected by the habitats and birds directives. Managing the risk posed by fishing activities, in combination with other industrial or recreational activities, is a significant task. The directives outline procedures for assessing and managing risk in Natura sites involving the collection of baseline data to establish conservation status. The baseline data required for the designated areas must first be collected and then an appropriate assessment carried out on the area based on this data.

The process of collection of baseline data to establish the conservation objectives and status of Natura sites is under way but has not yet been completed, and €1.46 million has been set aside in 2009 specifically to support this process. The work of the working group is continuing, and as recently as Tuesday, 11 November a meeting took place to further the aim of having a process in place which is sufficiently robust to meet the requirements of the European Commission, in particular the environment directorate general.

I refer to the question of finances and the 2009 budget as it pertains to the seafood sector. The budget provided grant aid support of €118 million for the seafood industry for 2009. In this era of financial restraint, this a substantial investment and demonstrates the Government's ongoing commitment to the sector. There are reductions in the budgets of the Marine Institute, BIM and the SFPA, as part of a prudent realignment and rationalisation of the public sector. This does not disguise the fact that the seafood processing sector has in fact doubled its budget, which is recognised by Dr. Noel Cawley in his report, Steering A New Course, as a growth area.

I previously referred to €1.46 million which has been set aside specifically to support compliance of fisheries and aquaculture activities in Natura 2000 sites. A further €5 million has been made available for aquaculture development support. In addition, funding has been provided to enable the successful completion of the current decommissioning of fishing vessels scheme. I referred earlier to the fishery harbour and coastal infrastructure programme, which has been allocated €17 million in 2009. This ensures that there is substantial scope for further improving facilities for fisheries activities operating out of Irish harbours. The budget allocated to this programme will be used to continue the development of infrastructure for fisheries and aquaculture landing places around the coast.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, also announced in the budget that the promotion and marketing of seafood will be transferred from BIM to Bord Bia, offering the prospect of synergies and opportunities that will result from the integration of seafood marketing and promotion with food marketing. BIM will, however, retain its pivotal role in driving the Cawley report on the development of the seafood industry.

As in any other economic activity there are a myriad of factors impacting on the broader seafood sector at any given time. The Minister of State's opportunity to address this House has allowed him to touch on some of these, and he hopes that the Senators find themselves better informed for this session. Since taking this brief, the Minister of State has consistently stated his firm belief that this is not a sunset industry; quite the contrary, there are always new opportunities presenting themselves and new horizons to be achieved. The Minister of State's prime role is to ensure that the environment exists to enable the maximisation of our potential. To do this he will continue in his efforts, in a co-operative framework, taking account of the needs and views of all stakeholders to develop measures and policies which will have the best long-term beneficial results for this sector.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.