Ceann de sna nithe a cuireadh in úil go hana-luath dhom nuair a thógas suas an Roinn ná a bhféadfaí iascaireacht abhann do leathnú. Toisc go bhfuil an Saorstát suidhte chó hoiriúnach agus tá ar thaobh na hEoraipe den Atlantic agus go bhfuil a aibhne saor ó aon tsaghas salachair agus go bhfuilid féin agus a locha go hoiriúnach i gcóir breac agus bradán d'fhéadfaí a bhfad níos mó a dhéanamh den iascaireacht san ná mar a lomháltar a dhéanamh fé láthair.
Roinnt bhlian ó shoin tugadh iarracht ar luach iascaireacht ár n-abhann a dhéanamh amach agus fuarthas gur shroich sé suas le dhá mhilleón púnt sa mbliain. Sa tsuim seo áirimhítear an méid airgid a gheibheann tithe ósda, bóthair iarainn agus seirbhísí eile a bhaineas leo so, ó sna hiascairí a thagann d'aon ghnó go dtí an tír seo i gcóir iascaireachta. Sé tá im' aigne-se anois ná an dá mhilleón san do mhéadú más féidir é go dtí go mbeidh ceathair no cúig milleóin sa mbliain ann.
Le linn féachaint isteach i scéal an iascaigh intíre ceist ana-thábhachtach iseá caomhnadh an stuic do chimeád. De ghnáth ní shíolruíonn an bradán ach aon uair amháin. As na 10,000 nó 15,000 ubh a bheireann an bhinnseach, dintear amach ná tagann thar aon cheann amháin sa mhíle chun aoise fásta chun dul thar n-ais go dtí a n-abha féin ar aois a gceithre bliana chun síolrú.
I ngach tír shibhialta cuirtear i bhfeidhm le dlí go gcaomhnófar stuic an éisc a thugann cúrsaí de ghnáth ar fhioruiscí. Sa tSaorstát tá 24 Achtanna Páirliminte i bhfeidhm chun n-ár n-iascach do chaomhnadh. Sa tSaorstát, fé mar atá sé leagtha amach fé láthair, tá 21 ceanntar iascaigh agus i ngach ceanntar tá bórd cimeáduithe curtha i mbun ar a bhfuil dílsithe na comhachta is riachtanach chun caomhnadh do dhéanamh ar stoc an éisc sa cheanntar san.
Do socruíodh córú agus comhachta na mBórd Cimeáduithe seo sa bhliain 1848, 77 mbliana ó shoin, agus do leanadar san go dtí so gan puinn atharuithe do dhul ortha. Ag cur na n-Achtanna Iascaigh i bhfeidhm fuarthas amach nár mhór socrú do dhéanamh i gcóir teangmhaisí áirithe nar bhféidir a thabhairt fé ndeara sa bhliain 1848; na hatharuithe a thárluigh d'Údarás an tSaorstáit le reachtúchán do chur an tOireachtas i bhfeidhm fágaid gur gá atharuithe agus ceartuithe áirithe a dhéanamh ar an sean-reacht agus toisc an luíodú a tháinig i rith na 77 mblian ó 1848 ar an chomhacht cheannaigh atá in airgead ní mór ath-fhéachaint isteach a dhéanamh ar an gcothrom airgid ar a mbeidh na Bórdanna Cimeáduithe ag brath chun a ndualgaisí reachtúla do chó-líona go maith.
An Bille atá anois os bhur gcomhair tugann sé fé sna lochtaí so do leigheas agus fé chabhrú leis an obair tábhachtach san iascach fíor-uisce do chaomhnadh agus do shaothrú.
One of the matters to which my attention was drawn very soon after I took charge of the Department of Fisheries was the possibility of extending our river fisheries. Owing to the position of the Saorstát on the Atlantic border of Europe and owing to the freedom of our rivers from pollution and the suitability of the rivers and the lakes for salmon and trout, those ought to be of a great deal more value to the people of the country than they are at present allowed to be. Some years ago an attempt was made to estimate the value of the inland fisheries, and a sum of £2,000,000 annually was agreed upon as a fair estimate. In this estimate an account was taken of the revenue earned by hotels and railways and such persons by reason of people coming to this country especially for the purpose of fishing. It is my aim, and the aim of my Department, to increase that amount, and to make the inland fisheries of the country worth, if possible, £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 per annum. In considering the subject of inland fisheries, the preservation of our river stock is a matter of supreme importance.
Salmon spawn only once, as a general rule, and scientists estimate that the female salmon produces in spawning 1,000 eggs for each pound of its weight, so that a fifteen-pound salmon would produce 15,000 eggs. It is further estimated that only one out of every thousand of these eggs reaches maturity, and returns to its native river when four years' old, to spawn. That would seem to apply also,, and with certain modifications, to eels and sea-trout, as well as non-migratory fish, like brown trout, pike, and so on.
The preservation of the stock in rivers is effected in all civilised countries by laws, and in the Saorstát at present there are twenty-four Acts of Parliament directed to fishery preservation. Under that Code the country is divided into districts, and in the Saorstát, as at present defined, there are twenty-one such districts. In each district there is a Board of Conservators, vested with the necessary power for the protection of the rivers in their districts. The constitution and powers of these Boards of Conservators were fixed in 1848, seventy-seven years ago, and these have continued with practically no alteration up to the present. Experience in the working of fisheries, within the last few years, have shown that certain contingencies have arisen that could not have been foreseen seventy-seven years ago, and it is necessary now that these should be provided for. The changes, for instance, produced in the Judicature in the Saorstát have called for certain alterations and modifications in old statutes, and the decrease in the purchasing power of money during that period renders it necessary to review the financial basis from which these Boards of Conservators derive their incomes to enable them to carry out their statutory duties. The aim of this Bill is to remedy these defects, and thus to facilitate the work of preserving and developing the river fisheries.
Coming to the details of the Bill, Deputies will see that it is divided into four parts. The first part deals largely with the constitution and election of the Board of Conservators. It will be seen that it is proposed in Section 4 of the Bill to hold the new elections at the commencement of the next fishery year after the Bill becomes law. The object is to create uniformity in the triennial elections. At present the elections to the Board of Conservators are held in different years in different districts. Power is also sought to alter the number of conservators in the electoral divisions.
I may explain that each fishery district is divided into electoral divisions according to tidal and fresh water portions of the rivers. Usually there are two electoral divisions in each district, one the tidal estuary and one the fresh water. The number of conservators to be elected for each electoral division was fixed at the time mentioned, 1848, and there is no power under the existing law to change that. The power that we seek to change it is necessary, chiefly, because of the disappearance of the justices of the peace who, in many cases, were ex-officio members of the local Boards. At present, in order to be eligible for election to a Board of Conservators, one has to be resident in or have real property in the electoral division for which he is a candidate. We propose by Section 6 to extend that to the whole district. Thus, if a man is resident in an area, holding real property in the whole district, he is eligible for election in that electoral division in that district. At present the owner of a fishery of a Poor Law Valuation of £100 or over, is entitled to sit on a local Board ex-officio. We propose to extend that to bring in persons who hold fisheries the Poor Law Valuation of which is £50 or over. The proposed alteration in Section 8 as to the number of votes, is consequential upon the alteration of the second part of the Bill by which it is proposed to set up a new scale of licences for rods, nets, eel weirs, and so on.
We have a provision in the Bill that states when a man takes out a licence in one district, if he goes to another district, he has to pay a further 10/- in order to fish in that district, but that further 10/- will not be counted for a vote. Such person will not have a vote in that district. Neither will a person who takes out a fourteen-day short term licence. These persons are usually birds of passage and could not be expected to take as much interest in the welfare of the district as persons residing there. We also hope by that provision to reduce the number of proxy votes, a thing I consider very desirable. The existing statutes do not make any provision for a member of a Board who wishes to retire, or for the filling of casual vacancies. We remedy this by Section 9 (conservators may resign), and Section 11 (casual vacancies to be filled by co-option).
Part II is the most important part of the Bill—Finance. I have already dealt in general terms with the need for preserving river fisheries. It will be generally admitted that the position in most districts at present is very unsatisfactory. I am constantly receiving information about illegalities that are going on: illegal netting in rivers; fixed nets in estuaries; bombing, poisoning, ignoring of bye-laws; fishing without licences; fishing during the weekly and annual close season, and so on. The reason for this is that the rivers are not fully patrolled, even though in most districts the Gárda Síochána have given very great assistance indeed to the Boards' bailiffs. It is only fair to the Gárda Síochána that I should say I am constantly receiving voluntary tributes from the different Boards of Conservators to the Gárda Síochána for the very excellent work they have done. I might mention one specially—the Cork Board—which is a very live Board. In the Lee estuary this year there were 130 nets seized for illegal fishing. The capture of a big portion of that 130 was due to one sergeant of the Gárda Síochána, and all this was done outside his ordinary official duties. However, in spite of the help that the Gárda Síochána has given, the illegalities continue, and something must be done to meet the matter.
We feel that a better type of bailiff is needed. Those employed at present are for the most part unsuitable, but they are the best that the conservators can get for the funds at their disposal. In the year 1923 the total income of the Boards of Conservators of the Saorstát was £10,000. Of that £5,200 was spent on bailiffs and watchers. There were 340 of these employed. That worked out at something less that £16 per man per annum For that remuneration you will not get a very good type of bailiff. The job will not be so good that he will worry very much if he loses it.
The financial clauses of the Bill aim at remedying this by putting more funds at the disposal of the Boards and enabling them to appoint better and more bailiffs than they are able to do at present with the existing funds. The financial proposals fall under two heads (1) increase of the licence duties paid on rods, nets and eel weirs; (2) diverting the rate which is at present payable by private fisheries from the local authority to the Boards of Conservators. The sources of finance of the conservators at present are (1) licence duties; (2) the special fishery rate that I will refer to in a few minutes; (3) grant from my Department and contributions; (4) fines for fishery offences.
The statute of 1848 which created the Boards of Conservators laid down the maximum licence duty which the Boards could levy on the various forms of implements for fishing. That maximum duty has now been levied for over 50 years and most people will admit that the purchasing value of money 50 years ago and to-day would justify an increase now in these maximum duties. It was found after a time that the funds of the Boards were insufficient to carry out effectively the important duties entrusted to them, and it became necessary 25 years ago to make State grants. The amount of these varies from year to year according to the requirements, but the average paid out in this way for the last five years was £3,700 per annum. The Bill proposes to double the licence duties on salmon rods and eel weirs and increase the duty on drift nets proportionate to their catching area. In some districts the salmon drift net which is used extends to about 1,500 yards. The present duty on such a net is only £3. The same duty is exacted for a salmon drift net of only 130 or 150 yards. We feel that a net of 1,500 yards should be made to pay more than the shorter net of a less catchment area. The Bill provides for that.
For the first 400 yards we propose £4 for the drift net and 5/- for every 200 yards after that. So that a net of two thousand yards under this arrangement will pay £6, whereas at present it pays £3. A net of 1,600 yards will pay £5 10s., and so on. I am also increasing the duty on the drift net from £3 to £4, and on the snap net from £1 10s. to £2 10s. It is not proposed to alter the duty payable on other forms of engines, such as bag nets, stake nets or weirs and cribs. The reason for that is that since the maximum duties were originally fixed the duty on these has already been doubled, whereas the duty on the ones I now propose to change have not been touched since 1848.
I alluded a minute ago to the special fishery arrangement which is at present one of the sources of finance; that is the fixed rate of 10 per cent. payable on private fishery rights. A private fishery right is valued in the ordinary way for poor law purposes. It pays its full rate the same as any other property to the local authority. In addition to that, it pays ten per cent. of the rate to the Board of Conservators. By a clause in the Act of 1848, in which this provision was made, a person liable to pay that rate could deduct any licence duties that he paid. In this way the rate was, to a great extent, dodged, because the person who was liable for the rate bought a sufficient number of licences for his employees to avoid paying any rate at all, or only a rate of a negligible amount. In the year 1923 the yield of that rate was only £924 for all districts. The Local Government Act of 1898 provided that a county district could levy a rate not exceeding a halfpenny in the £ on the rateable value of the district to be paid over to the Board of Conservators for the district. This was actually never enforced, through indifference on the part of the local councils, and it was never pressed by the Boards of Conservators because it carried with it certain provisions which would practically swamp the Boards with local representatives.
The proposal in the Bill is to abolish for a period of ten years this special fishery rate of 10 per cent. and to give power to the Boards of Conservators to levy such a rate each year as will be necessary for them to carry on their duties. The private fisheries thus rated by the Conservators will be free from any rating by the local authorities. The total valuation of the fisheries in the Saorstát at present is only a very negligible amount in comparison with the valuation of the whole Saorstát. The amount is £18,884, whereas the total rateable valuation of the Saorstát is something over £11,000,000. Therefore, the loss of revenue which will be sustained by diverting the proceeds of this rate from the local authorities to the Boards of Conservators will be negligible. Going with that I have a provision, in order to ensure that an adequate rate is struck to meet the requirements of the Board in each district, that the central authority will be empowered to supervise and approve of such rates as the Boards may propose to levy in the year, while if there is default on the part of any Board to strike a rate, it may be fixed by the central authority. If a Board tries to get away without striking a rate at all, I am asking for power to strike a rate myself. At any rate, I will supervise, because my intention is that this provision will not let private fisheries off any lighter than they would get off if they were still liable to pay rates to the local authority. That means there would be no less rates on the fisheries under this provision than if they were under the local authority. As a whole, the loss of revenue makes very little difference to the local authorities. There are a few cases where it will. These are special cases, such as Galway and Ballina, where there are very valuable fisheries, and where, if the rates were taken away, an unfair burden might be thrown on the other ratepayers. In the Bill provision is made to meet that. Where the taking of the rates for the Boards of Conservators means an increase of more than 1d. in the £ in the local rate, my Department will meet out of grants anything more than 1d. in the £. The best way to illustrate that will be to give an example. If you take an urban district where the Poor-Law Valuation is £120,000; that there is in that urban district a private fishery valued at £1,000; and that the poundage is 15/- in the £, the rates derivable on £120,000 would be £90,000, and from the £1,000 fishery rate £750. £750 on a total rate of £120,000 works out at 1½d. in the £. What would happen there is that the first 1d. in the £ would fall on the local people, and the amount over 1d.—that is the halfpenny—would be contributed by my Department to the local authority. That means that £250 would be paid by my Department to the local authority.