Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Threat to Connemara Fisheries.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

14 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Marine if his attention has been drawn to recent research which suggests that some of the most important fisheries in Connemara are under threat because of a high level of acidification which may be increasing as a result of afforestation in the area; if he intends to have any discussions with the Department of Energy or Coillte Teoranta with a view to tackling this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

(Limerick West): I am aware of a number of scientific studies which are under way at present into the extent and causes of acidification in our rivers and lakes and the effects of afforestation on fish stocks. I await with interest the presentation of final reports on these studies.

My Department have been in contact for some time with the Department of Energy regarding guidelines for forestry practice in relation to fisheries. These should be finalised soon.

Is the Minister not aware that at least one study has found that in a number of waterways in Connemara the level of acidification has been decribed as critical and that this has been attributed, to some extent, to the degree of afforestation in Connemara? Can the Minister state whether he has had discussions with his colleague, the Minister for Energy, about the afforestation programme in the Connemara area, the extent to which that programme may further acidify waters in that area and hence damage fisheries, tourism and all that goes with it?

(Limerick West): I am fully aware of certain evidence. I should also say that draft guidelines are being prepared by a working party under the auspices of the Forest Service of the Department of Energy. This working party was composed of representatvies of the Forest Service, Coillte Teoranta, the Irish Timber Growers Association, the Department of the Marine, the Fisheries Research Centre and the Central Fisheries Board. The guildeines set out precautionary measures to be taken by forestry undertakings in the major areas likely to cause problems for fisheries, such as ground preparation and drainage, fertilisation use of chemicals, such as weed killers, avoidance of shading, harvesting and road making. The guidelines set out more stringent requirements in relation to areas on the west coast where calcium levels are low and water sampling by the fisheries boards indicated that the pH and water hardness levels were already near those found to be stressful to fish life. We are taking the necessary precautions and investigations are taking place.

May I ask the Minister if any suggestions were made in the guidelines about the planting of deciduous trees in areas marginal to lakes and rivers? When similar problem arose in Canada they found that one way of reducing acidification was to plant deciduous trees near the waterways and coniferous trees further back. Has that suggestion been considered by the Minister or was it proposed in the guidelines which have issued?

(Limerick West): It has not been proposed in the guidelines which have issued, but it is under consideration.

May I ask the Minister if he or his Department have had any contact with either the Central Fisheries Board or the Western Regional Fisheries Board to address the specific problems which have arisen in a number of waterways in Connemara as a result of acidification? Secondly, is he aware that Connemara has been identified as the area for some of the most intensive afforestation by the Department of Energy and Coillte Teoranta? Is the Minister concerned that that intensive afforestation may damage the waterways in that area?

(Limerick West): Yes. The Central Fisheries Board were represented on the working party which was set up. As I have already indicated, the necessary precautions are being taken. When the report is issued the necessary measures will be put in place to ensure that the problem referred to by the Deputy will no longer occur.

Deputy Garland for a final question.

We are all agreed that coniferous plantations near waterways almost certainly cause this acidification problem. Will the Minister confirm if he made suitable representations to the Department of the Environment and/or Coillte Teoranta asking them to immediately stop any new forestry plantations until such time as the report is made available?

(Limerick West): My Department have made representations to Coillte Teoranta pointing out the relevance of not planning any more coniferous trees until such time as the report is made available. Of course, my Department would have no power to prevent any further planting taking place. That would be a matter for Coillte Teoranta. I have already pointed out on a number of occasions to both the Department of the Environment and Coillte Teoranta the problems which can arise and I can assure the Deputy that these are taken into consideration.