Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Fishing Vessel Licences.

Alan M. Dukes


3 Mr. Dukes asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources if exceptions have been made to the application of the Merchant Shipping Register Regulations, 1997 (SI 294), particularly in relation to Paragraph 9.2(b) thereof; if so, when such exceptions were made; the reason in each case for making such an exception; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16973/01]

Regulation 9(2)(b) of the Merchant Shipping (Registry, Lettering and Numbering of Fishing Boats) Regulations, 1997, provides for the allocation to vessels of distinguishing letters and a number. This is part of the registration process. In practice, the allocation is made by the local registrar for a port of registry on receipt of an application for registration on the fishing boat register of a vessel licensed under section 222B of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act, 1959. The distinguishing letters and number are allocated before the vessel is finally entered on the fishing boat register.

In several cases it has not been possible to finally complete the registration process pending resolution of outstanding matters. Primarily, the delays have arisen because of unresolved issues under negotiation with the EU Commission. These relate to the overall capacity objectives of the Irish pelagic segment and outstanding applications for safety capacity credits. Issues to be finalised with some individual vessel owners in relation to delivery of replacement capacity have also contributed to delays in the final registration process. My Department is working to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.

Is it not the case that when the identification letters and numbers are issued it is the presumption, and the accepted practice elsewhere, that the vessel already has a fishing licence? Why are there cases where that practice has not been followed? What is the reason that issue of identification letters and numbers has proceeded in advance of the issue of a fishing licence? Can the Minister tell us why there are unresolved issues with regard to the capacity of the pelagic segment in relation to safety capacity credits and replacement capacity? Why has it not been made clear that identification letters and numbers cannot be issued until all of those issues have been resolved and the fishing licences issued?

The normal practice is that registration is carried out before the boat is entered on the fishing boat register. It is not unusual for a long time to elapse before the boat is placed on the register due to a whole series of negotiations which normally take place. The difficulties causing the delay in the outstanding cases have to do with the overall capacity objectives of the Irish pelagic segment where we are clearly at over capacity in terms of the positionvis-à-vis the EU Commission. There are also issues whereby boat sizes have been increased and there is discussion with the Commission and the owners involved as to the amount of safety tonnage that can be provided for that increase. We have an ongoing discussion with the owners and with the Commission and this is not abnormal. It happens in cases going back over the years. Negotiations are ongoing with both sides with a view to finalising the licences for those boats. In the meantime they are operating on temporary licences.

The Minister began by saying the registration letters and numbers are issued, on application to the relevant authority, on the basis that the vessel is licensed as a fishing vessel. That is the clear intent of the regulations. They set out that a vessel to which a fishing licence has been granted may be registered and issued with identification letters and numbers. If it is the case that a practice has grown up whereby these identification letters and numbers are issued in advance of the issue of a fishing licence, I put it to the Minister that it is a breach of the clear intent of the regulations. Does the Minister feel it is causing confusion and a good deal of suspicion that this can arise? What does he intend to do to bring the practice into conformity with the regulations?

The allocation is made by the local registrar for a port of registry on receipt of an application. The distinguishing letters and numbers are therefore allocated before the vessel is finally entered on to the fishing boat register. Negotiations then take place on the licence as that is normal practice. I am not aware that it is in breach of regulations but I will be happy to check it out. From the time I came into the Department, and for much longer before, that has been standard practice. I will clarify for the Deputy if departmental practice is outside the normal regulations.

Can the Minister make his findings available to the House?

We have spent our six minutes on this question and have run out of time.

Time flies when one is having fun.

I want to answer that question.

Question Time has been curtailed by virtue of the vote and we have to move on.

If we had the same flexibility as with the shipping registry regulations there would be no problem.