I propose to take Questions Nos 358, 363, 364, 366 and 367 together.
I would also draw the Deputies’ attention to the response to question number 486 of 27 May last which addressed comprehensively many of the relevant issues.
The scientific advice for eels, which underpinned Ireland’s Eel Management Plan (EMP) under the EU Eel regulation (1100/2007), and the comprehensive scientific assessment of eel stocks nationally, referred to in the response of 27 May, were compiled by Ireland’s statutorily independent Standing Scientific Committee on Eels. This independent committee comprises scientists from the Marine Institute, Inland Fisheries Ireland, ESB, the Loughs Agency and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Bio-Sciences Institute (AFBI) Northern Ireland.
I can advise that the overall requirement and objective is to provide, with high probability, a long-term 40% escapement to the sea of the biomass of silver eel, relative to pristine conditions (i.e. if the stock had been completely free of man-made influences including commercial fishing).
In 2011, the status of the European Eel in Ireland was defined by the United Nations as critically endangered. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advice is that the eel stock continues to decline and urgent action is needed. ICES advice is that all anthropogenic mortality (e.g. recreational and commercial fishing, hydropower, pollution) should be reduced to as close to zero as possible until there is clear evidence that both recruitment and the adult stock are increasing. In 2011, glass eel recruitment fell to 5% of their 1960-1979 level in the Atlantic region and less than 1% in the North Sea area, and showed no sign of recovery.
In 2012, as required by the EU, a review of the management of Eel in Ireland, including a scientific review by the independent Scientific Committee, was undertaken. This process included a robust public consultation during which many issues were raised and considered. Full details of the outputs of the public consultation are available on the IFI website.
While I recognise fully the difficulty facing eel fishermen, the review of scientific and management advice and inputs from the public consultation informed a decision to continue with the cessation of the commercial eel fishery and closure of the market for the period from 2012 to 2015. Ireland’s EMP will again be fully reviewed in 2015 from both scientific and management perspectives.
With regard to the Waterford region, I am advised that a survey of eel stocks was carried out in the Waterford estuary in 2009 and 2011 as part of surveys of transitional or estuarine waters under Ireland’s EMP. I am also advised by IFI that telemetry eel tagging studies undertaken in 2012, 2013 and continuing this year will assist in giving a clearer indication of the movement habits of eels in estuaries and improve population density estimates.
The very significant decline in the stock dictated that closure of the fishery be applied for conservation reasons under the Fisheries Acts and there is no property right attaching to public eel licences and consequently the issue of compensation is not relevant or appropriate. Given that context, the Deputies will appreciate that in the current national economic circumstances it is unlikely that funding will be available to the Government to provide for compensation payments.