I thank the Senator for tabling this Commencement matter. When he raised it previously in the Seanad, unfortunately I was not in a position to attend, for which I apologise. I am taking it on my own behalf for a change.
The value of angling in Ireland is well recognised. A number of developments in that regard have been recently progressed. The most comprehensive study of angling activity in Ireland, commissioned by Inland Fisheries Ireland, was carried out in 2013 by Tourism Development International. The study and subsequent updates demonstrate that the angling sector contributes €836 million to the economy every year and supports more than 11,000 Irish jobs, often in rural communities where alternative income earning and employment opportunities are not readily available. In 2015 Ireland attracted 163,000 overseas visitors who participated in angling, with a further 273,000 domestic anglers in the country.
Following on from the study, IFI has set out its national strategy for angling development. It is the first comprehensive national framework for the development of Ireland’s angling resource and aims to increase the economic contribution of angling from €836 million to €932 million annually and the number of jobs to more than 12,800 from a current base of some 11,000. The strategy is intended to deliver a wide-ranging set of investments, innovations and promotions in the coming years. This is to ensure Ireland's fish stocks and angling infrastructure will be protected and enhanced for their economic value and their recreational benefit to the communities and visitors they serve across Ireland. Effective and sustainable implementation of the strategy will ensure the stability of existing jobs and businesses reliant on angling and the creation of new jobs as the economic impact of angling grows.
The strategy will ensure the inland fisheries resource is protected and conserved in an environmentally sustainable manner for future generations to enjoy. Fundamentally, the strategy will strive to make angling an accessible and attractive pursuit for all and is the foremost statement of intent on the future of Ireland’s angling resource since the establishment of lFl in 2010.
The national strategy for angling development aims to develop the angling resource sustainably through balancing the economic, environmental, social and cultural aspects of any development in line with IFI’s responsibilities for the protection, management, conservation and development of Ireland’s inland fisheries and sea angling resources. IFI has embarked on its efforts to secure funding to underpin the strategy. My Department has earmarked €1.3 million for capital elements of the strategy. An additional allocation of capital funding was made to IFI in the budget announced last week, some of which may be used to fund capital elements of the strategy.
IFI also recently secured funding of €536,886 from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to develop key angling projects in rural areas as part of the Government's programme to support rural development. The package will deliver projects in counties Westmeath, Leitrim, Mayo, Tipperary, Roscommon, Galway, Donegal and Longford. It will invest in projects such as river bank restoration, a fishery recreation hub, access to coarse angling and fishing points which will allow for international match events and the upgrade of existing facilities for anglers with a disability and attractive, accessible lakeside and river bank walks.
As part of the development strategy, IFI has also established a new fund to support projects that will contribute to the delivery of an accessible and sustainable world class inland fisheries resource. The capital works fund was announced earlier this week and is aimed at funding capital improvement works, with grants available to all groups and individuals, including local development associations, Tidy Towns groups, angling clubs and others looking to improve access to angling. The strategy is an overarching policy initiative concentrating on the economic development of the entire angling sector. Economic research conducted as part of the strategy identified key strands of angling activity with the most potential for development to benefit local and peripheral communities. They include coarse angling, pike angling, bass and sea angling in Ireland, wild salmon and sea trout and wild brown trout.
On the separate issue of farmed trout raised by the Senator, proposals regarding the fish farm operations of lFl are a day-to-day operational matter for its board, but I have paid attention to it in the past few months. My Department had indicated to IFI the need for consultation with affected stakeholders prior to any action. I visited the fish farms to view operations in Roscrea and Cullion. I met members of the board of IFI and the chief executive officer to discuss the concerns of both IFI and the trout angling community. The board has deferred indefinitely its proposal to exit trout production. I am advised by IFI that the board also met a delegation from the main trout angling representative bodies to discuss lFl's proposals in that regard. All parties have recognised that there are significant economic, environmental and biological issues surrounding the current production facilities which need to be addressed. I am assured by IFI that the board is committed to developing a comprehensive strategy to meet current and future trout production needs, subject to securing any investment required. All parties have agreed to continue to work closely together to deliver the strategy. I am conscious of the concerns about the continuity of a supply of fish for lakes around the country and have asked IFl to advise me of the outcome of ongoing discussions with the angling representatives. However, the appropriate course of action is to await the outcome, including whether suggested production, management and funding models may emerge, rather than pre-empt the discussions taking place with stakeholders.