With the permission of the House, I wish to share my time with Deputy Blaney.
Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2002 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome this Bill. It is not before time that an independent appeals mechanism for licensing is established. This is 20 years too late but it is here at last and it is very welcome. It is important that I record my appreciation of this new system. I hope it will work well and fairly. I have been concerned by the fact that when tonnage became a valuable asset the practice of selling or holding on to tonnage was concentrated in the hands of five or six agents. This did not work to the betterment of the fishing industry or of individual fishermen. I hope the new mechanism will put an end to that practice and that it will be replaced by a fairer and more equitable system. It was wrong that lawyers, accountants and fishing agents bought up tonnage at £200 or £300 per tonne, held on to it for a number of years and made a killing on it. That system was unfair and unjust. I hope the new licensing system will rectify the problem.
The main platforms of the Bill are the conservation issues agreed at he New York summit meeting in August 1995. Conservation is a key issue for the Irish fishing industry. There is much discussion in the European context about conservation, which is an important factor, and whether we like it or not, certain stocks are in danger. If we ignore the warning signals, in less than ten years some stocks will be wiped out. There was the case off Newfoundland where valuable fish stocks were wiped out, never to be replaced. In this regard we have an ongoing problem about the Irish Box which was not determined at the pre-Christmas talks in Brussels. If Europe is serious about conserving fish stocks the whole issue of the Irish Box must be looked at in terms of controlling and conserving what we have already.
Some 40 Spanish vessels are entitled to fish in the Irish Box. This Irish Box holds some of the key spawning grounds for various fish species and any interference would seriously damage the industry. Any encroachment or opening up of the Irish Box to the Spanish, Portuguese or French would be a disaster so far as the Irish fishing industry is concerned and would fly in the face of the notion of conservation both in Europe and internationally. I reiterate my concerns at any proposals on this issue. We must be careful to conserve and retain existing stocks. Having regard to the size of our quotas vis-à-vis the French and the Spanish, we have a very small slice of the cake but even that small slice will quickly diminish if there is encroachment into the Irish Box. It is not so much what is taken out in a given year but the damage that may be caused to the industry by depleting already endangered stocks.
I welcome the new scheme for the licensing and regularisation of inshore fishing vessels of 12 metres and under which is not before time. While there are some difficulties in this area, I also welcome the announcement by the Department of Communications, the Marine and Natural Resources of ongoing consultations with the small inshore fishermen who came from a poor starting position in that up to now they were not organised. In my area the Irish South and West Inshore Fishermen's Organisation was set up and has brought together fishermen from places such as Waterford, Cork and Kerry. It is working to streamline its claim in order that the regularisation will be fair and acceptable to all. It would be impossible to get a system which would keep everybody happy. One has to consider the traditional inshore fishermen with small 21-foot, 22-foot or 25 foot boats, some with outboard engines, who have traditionally fished for pollock and mackerel in small quantities. If the restriction is imposed that they cannot engage in the polyvalent sector, which is technically within the broad parameters set out by the Department, that would be very wrong. Given that some of these fishermen have small vessels, that they are restricted by the weather and that fishing is seasonal, I would like to see the widest interpretation of the scheme.
I met a man at the weekend who works five days a week with a bottling company. It is not a permanent job. At the weekends and during the long evenings, he fishes. He has four children and has built a new house. Last year when applying for a mortgage he was able to show that he earned €8,500 from fishing on a part-time basis. That was the key factor that enabled him to build his house and get a mortgage. It would be wrong if such a person who has come from a fishing background and who genuinely fishes on a part-time basis was excluded from the new scheme. People who have a record in fishing should be considered sympathetically.
I wish to turn briefly to the issue of conservation. It has been brought to my attention that according to certain sources in the fishing industry there is a bias by Irish Naval Service vessels to over-police the Irish fishing fleet. Given that Haulbowline is in Cork harbour, the Irish Naval Service vessels find it much easier to target vessels off the south and west coast. I would like to be told this is an exaggeration, that it is untrue and unfair, but unfortunately statistics which have come to light in the past two or three years indicate that the number of Irish vessels being brought ashore for illegal fishing is substantial and that few, if any, of the Spanish fleet were brought in during the same period. If this is the case, I have been listening to incorrect information for the past decade or more because we have been hearing of the rape of good Irish waters by Spanish vessels with secret holds, undersize meshes and many other furtive activities in an effort to take high numbers of valuable fish stocks out of Irish waters. I am concerned about this area and would like equal treatment to be given to all. Our small Naval Service fleet should patrol the Irish Box and ensure that any foreign vessels over the 40 foot allowed under EU regulations and EU law would not be allowed fish.
It appears from information I have received that when the Spanish fleet returns to its ports in Spain there is little or no supervision by European officials to monitor the fish stocks coming ashore or the size of fish. This is a worrying development. Perhaps the Minister would look at this area and discuss it with the Minister for Defence in order to allay these fears which have been highlighted in the press and on local radio in west Cork and Kerry.
I welcome the provisions of this Bill. It is an excellent idea and is long overdue. I wish the Bill a speedy passage through the House.
I thank Deputy O'Donovan for sharing time with me.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. I am pleased at the introduction and establishment of an independent appeals process for sea fishing boat licensing. The Bill is particularly relevant to my own county of Donegal, a county with a large coastline which relies heavily on the fishing industry. In areas such as Greencastle, which is one of the largest white fishing fleets in Europe, a fishing port one of my predecessors, the late Neil T. Blaney, went to great lengths to develop into what it is today. The spirit of entire communities in Donegal is dependent on sustaining this industry and the jobs it creates.
The Bill which endeavours to ensure the management and conservation of straddling fish stocks falls short when it comes to safeguarding the fishing industry in Donegal and Ireland as a whole. The restrictions placed on fishing effort in part of ICES area VI – north of Donegal Bay and up the west coast of Scotland – mean that whitefish boats fishing in this area will be restricted to nine days per month out of port, which equates to about seven days actual fishing if time steaming to and from fishing grounds is taken into account. No boat can remain viable fishing seven to nine days per month. Fishing effort in ICES Area VII has not been restricted, so those boats large enough to migrate will have to move south and base themselves in Rosaveal, Castletownbere or Dunmore East as fishing seasons change. Smaller boats do not have crew accommodation suitable for living on board for more than a few days, so they will not be able to migrate and will be forced to exist on nine days' work per month. What boat owner will be able to retain crew if he can only offer nine days' work? These smaller boats will eventually be tied up permanently with the loss of three jobs per boat. No business could continue if its trading was reduced to 30% of its previous pattern, yet the Minister expects fishermen to adopt such a scenario with only 35 days' notice.
The effect on Donegal's indigenous shore based marine industry will be equally serious. As all the boats leave the area, much of the work they generate on shore will eventually move with them. There will be no dramatic immediate closures but jobs will gradually disappear and some small firms will be forced to close when they are not viable any more. These service industries will be the first to be affected. These tend to be small family run concerns. Members of the same family will be put out of work at once and social stress will occur as a result.
In the fish processing area, Donegal white fish processors will be deprived of their regular supply of locally caught fish and will be forced to absorb the extra transport costs as a result of buying fish in Scotland or Kerry. This will make them less competitive and further emphasise the peripheral nature of Donegal. Loss of competitiveness will eventually lead to job losses and company closures. The majority of white fish processors in Donegal are small family firms, so the social stress will be similar to that in the service industries.
In many areas the jobs attached to the fishing industry are the only jobs available, so retraining will not be much comfort to those being put out of work. Moving away from the area will be the only option for most of these people and this will lead to depopulation and further losses to businesses not directly involved in fishing.
The results of the EU Council meeting have been praised as a good result for Ireland and for fish stock conservation. Unfortunately, they will be a disaster for Donegal and will have no real effect on conservation.
Boats fishing with nets of 100 millimetre mesh size will be allowed nine days out of port in part of Area VI. This is the type of net, particularly when fitted with square mesh panels, which allows the smallest, most juvenile fish to escape to grow and breed. All small fish which get caught are dumped overboard and some survive. Larger mesh sizes would allow more juveniles to escape and decrease discards. This is the policy Irish boats wish to pursue.
Boats fishing with nets of mesh sizes from 16 to 31 millimetre will be allowed to fish in the same area for 23 days per month. This type of net is used by industrial fishing boats that fish for small fish with which to make fishmeal. They literally catch everything in their path and everything caught is retained on board.
How can these different rules for the same area be classed as conservation measures? The answer is that the majority of these industrial boats are Danish. It is funny that Denmark holds the current Presidency of the EU. The fishmeal they produce is used to feed livestock in the intensive farming industries of Denmark and Germany.
Boats fishing in Area VI East of the newly designated line created at the EU Fishery Council are subject to the effort limitation regime I already described. Boats fishing west of that line suffer no such effort restrictions. This line has been drawn to follow a 200 metre depth contour down the west coast of Scotland and Donegal. Outside that line is traditionally fished by the French and some Spanish. Approximately five Irish boats are capable of fishing in those deep waters as all the other boats are too small. France and Spain capitalise here and once again, science and conservation do not come into it.
The large cod, which these measures are supposed to protect, migrate into the Atlantic and then come back into shallower water to breed. French and Spanish trawlers will be allowed to catch them in the deep water before they reach the shallower spawning areas close to land. Where does conservation come into it?
Dramatic restrictions in the inner part of Area VI will only cause an increase in fishing effort in Area VII as the Donegal boats are forced south. This will put more strain on existing stock in that area and will eventually lead to effort restrictions being introduced in Area VII as well.
Bord Iascaigh Mhara is currently preparing data to indicate the number of boats in Donegal which will be affected. It is estimated that 30 to 40 boats will fall into the category. Some 18 of those boats will migrate south which will take 144 wage packets out of the county. Of those remaining, about 15 will go to the wall incurring 45 job losses.
The total number of white fish boats in Donegal is estimated at more than 200 vessels, most of which are under 10 metres in length and are exempt from the effort restriction regulations. However, these small boats will also be affected by the withdrawal of the larger boats to southern ports. Around the coast of Donegal, the small boats land small quantities of fish at irregular intervals as they are very weather dependent. The sale and transport of these fish by land is handled by the large selling agents, co-operatives, etc., and the market is dependent on the landings of the bigger boats to make things economically viable. To send ten boxes of ray from Inch Island to Grimsby or four boxes of white pollack from Malin Head to Dublin or six boxes of a megrim from Burtonport to Spain is obviously not economic.
The core transport, selling and accounting systems are dependent on the bulk of fish generated by the larger boats. If this bulk of fish falls below a critical mass, the transport system will be withdrawn as no transport company can run with almost empty lorries. Not only will the larger freight hauliers lose jobs but so too will many of the small single van operations which service the internal county transport network. Many of these small operators depend on moving fish to sustain their operations. Again, the small indigenous family run firm will suffer most.
The GIS may be able to give an indication of current job levels in ancillary industries in the county. In the immediate service industries, such as engineering repairs, net mending, etc., most of the jobs will be at risk within six to 12 months. The larger engineering, gear and electronics firms will survive but will start to cut staff within 12 months. Smaller processors will start to close within six months while larger firms will start to cut jobs within the same period. The product quality of Donegal fish will decline and selling agencies in the county will start to suffer.
The Donegal Task Force on Employment, set up to address the Fruit of the Loom crisis, rightly identified fishing as an indigenous industry which should be protected, nurtured and helped to develop. The marine resources sectoral working group also highlighted the added importance of the fishing industry to Donegal.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
The Deputy should conclude.
I call for a renegotiation of the conservation measures. It is well known in the House that Donegal is the unemployment black spot on this island. Fishing is an indigenous industry which is in danger in Donegal. All fishermen welcome conservation measures but these measures are not conservative. I again call for a renegotiation of the line drawn off the west coast of Donegal to the west coast of Scotland and to include the 200 metre contour—
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
The Deputy should conclude. He has gone over his time.
—and release Donegal.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Connolly.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Unfortunately, I was not able to speak on the legislation when it was first introduced in the House because I was not in the country, so I am delighted to be able to contribute at this stage. I echo Deputy Blaney's regarding the effect of conservation measures that were agreed during the re-negotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy. The result will be that many fishing vessels, particularly in Donegal, will not be viable in the medium to long-term. I appeal to the Minister of State and the Department to re-negotiate these measures.
The main purpose of the Bill is twofold, as it proposes to establish an independent statutory appeals process for sea fishing boat licences and to give effect to an international UN agreement on the implications of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, relating to the conservation and management of straddling and migratory fish stocks. The Bill also strengthens fisheries enforcement measures, particularly in sections 21 and 22, giving increased powers to fishery protection officers and increasing the number of officers by order of the Minister. Members of the Garda, Naval Service and coastguard will become fishery protection officers upon the enactment of the legislation.
However, it is to our shame, as an island nation on the western periphery of Europe, that Ireland is the last country in the continent to enact the legislation. All the other European countries who are affected have done so, as has the European Union. We are dragging our feet in this area and for that reason I am anxious that the legislation should be passed. The Minister of State will have the support of Fine Gael on Second Stage, although we may propose minor amendments that can be discussed on Committee Stage.
I refer to the themes of the legislation, the first of which is the allocation of licences to fishing vessels and the appeals process that will be established. I welcome the proposed appointment of an independent appeals officer. This is a move towards a more transparent and positive system, which will be more accountable than systems in the past. Deputy McGinley's contribution to the debate was telling. He stated the Minister was all-powerful in regard to the allocation of licences. I have experienced the frustration of fishermen in my constituency and elsewhere about licensing decisions. They could not avail of an appeal mechanism and that was totally unacceptable. That is part of yesterday's world of politics. The setting up of an independent appeals process is a necessity and it is a welcome development.
A connected issue is the allocation of quotas to fishing boats through the licensing system. A suggestion has been put to me by interested parties in this area. It is proposed that the restructuring of the quota allocation procedure should be considered to allow industry representatives distribute part of the quota. Currently, Ireland is given a quota by the EU and that is re-allocated by the Department to various boats nationwide. I propose that when the quota is announced by the Union, a pilot scheme should be introduced under which a percentage of the quota would be allocated to industry representatives who could then divide it among its members. Industry representatives have a better understanding of the needs of fishermen because they are on the piers talking to fishermen, skippers and boat owners about what quotas they need and when they need them. If a system such as this was introduced the State would enjoy a greater economic return for the same overall quota.
There are times in the year when stocks are low and it is not suitable to trawl for certain types of fish. This means that surplus quota is available for certain species of fish at these times. If there was flexibility within the system to re-allocate the quotas between boats depending on which boat fished for which species, it would be more effective. The current blunt mechanism ensures many small boats have a relatively short time to catch as much as they can to fill their quotas. I ask the Minister and the Department to consider this proposal as it does not re-invent the wheel. The system is in place in other EU countries. There is three main industry representative bodies, which are the Irish Fishermen's Organisation, the South and West Fishermen's Organisation and the Killybegs Fishermen's Organisation.
During the re-negotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy those bodies demonstrated a great deal of unity and ability to bring forward organised proposals and take on their responsibilities in terms of conservation and the promotion of the industry generally. Most of the conservation initiatives, which address the concerns expressed by Deputy Blaney have been put forward by the industry itself. It has taken on a number of pilot projects to conserve stocks off the south east, south west and west coasts. The time has come for us, as policy makers, to engage industry representatives in a more pro-active way in the allocation of quotas. At a minimum, this should be attempted on a pilot basis because we can get better value per tonne of quota, particularly now that quotas are scarce following the disappointing results of the re-negotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy.
On the issue of conservation and management of fish stocks, the Minister will be given power under the legislation to create conservation areas. This principle should be carried forward into negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy because the fishing industry is keen on it. Everybody wants to put set aside areas in place that have been scientifically researched and proven to need conservation, whether it is for the purposes of breeding, spawning or fish growth, and that can be policed. I am glad under the relevant section serious punishment will be meted out to those who break the regulations relating to conservation areas. The section provides for fines of up to €500,000, which would be a significant penalty.
The enforcement measures are welcome. However, if regulations are not enforced even-handedly across Europe, fishermen here will continue to be aggrieved. There are two essential issues in relation to enforcement. No fisherman has a problem with tough enforcement measures if fishermen in Spain, France, Britain and the North Sea are subject to the same regulations. As long as there is a common standard across Europe, Irish fishermen will accept the regulations. However, they will not accept tougher enforcement with two or three fisheries officers waiting when they come into the pier if their counterparts in Spain do not also have that type of regulation. Many accusations have been made. It is up to the Department to verify whether they are true. If they are, the issue needs to be addressed at EU level.
Enforcement within Irish waters, over which we have more control, should also be even-handed. Deputy O'Donovan mentioned the concern among fishermen operating off the southern and western coasts that they are being subjected to tighter regulation and enforcement than their counterparts on the north-western and eastern coasts, simply because of the geographical location of Haulbowline in Cork Harbour. I do not know whether this is true. However, I have seen charts depicting the number of inspections and boardings of fishing vessels. These charts show a density of inspections along the southern and western coasts. I would like to think that is because of the extra Spanish fishing vessels in the Irish box which are likely to come from the south. However, I have also heard that before Christmas two fishing vessels were boarded within a mile of each other by two different naval vessels within three or four hours. That is not likely to happen off the north-western coast. The Naval Service is doing a very good job with the resources it has – it has eight ships, four or five of which are at sea at any one time, and there are 140,000 square miles of sea, 11% of European waters, that it must monitor. It is a massive job for a small navy and it is doing a good job. However, it is necessary that the Department ensures that inspections and clusters of inspections are spread evenly between foreign vessels and Irish vessels. We do not expect special treatment for Irish vessels. They should be treated in the same way as foreign vessels, and vessels off the southern coast should be treated similarly to those off the northern and western coasts.
This Bill has received an almost universal welcome. I welcome it for its establishment of a statutory and independent appeals process for sea fishing boat licensing. In particular, I welcome its belated recognition of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea agreement adopted in 1995 regarding the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. Global fisheries resources are now under severe pressure and nature is sending out clear signals that unsustainable fishing practices cannot continue. In total 11 of the world's major fishing areas are in serious decline. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation the international fishing fleet is twice as large as fish stocks can support.
We also know that the longer we wait to deal with unsustainable fishing the more intractable the problem will become. Fishing is the life blood of many of our coastal regions and fishing traditions are deeply entrenched around our coasts. Everyone agrees that conservation is a good thing, but there is always pressure to find more ways of exploiting the ever dwindling resources. With every year the Government puts off difficult choices, more young people enter fisheries that are already being over-exploited. For every year problems are ignored, dependency on a diminishing resource becomes more entrenched and harder to address. Unsustainable fishing must be addressed urgently to ensure that fish resources are conserved and allowed to rebuild. Whether we like it or not, reducing fishing capacity must be part of that, whether through sponsoring active retirement packages or by promoting the industry's self-rationalisation.
There is no doubt that reduction of fishing capacity is difficult to carry out. However, foreign trawlers should not be given a licence to operate freely in our waters as this operates to the detriment of local fishermen. If fishing continues to exceed the productive capacity of the resource, the resource will decline or collapse. In that event, individuals and communities who depend on the resource will suddenly find themselves with few prospects and little hope for the future. Reality will hit hard and can no longer be ignored. Addressing over-capacity in a meaningful way before it is too late can shape a bright future for commercial fishing. Responsible fishing must mean putting the needs of fish stocks ahead of the immediate needs of the fishermen. Common sense tells us that without fish there can be no fishing and hence no livelihood for fishermen, their families and communities. The challenge, as custodian of the resource, is to help balance the harvesting capacity of the fishing industry with the health and abundance of fish stocks.
Our territorial waters, amounting to more than 20% of EU waters are dominated by Spanish vessels which seek to enlarge their quotas in spite of diminishing stocks. Adoption of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea agreement will enable EU countries, including Ireland, to deal effectively with issues like straddling or highly migratory fish stocks and the growing problem of use of flags of convenience, pirate fishing and wasteful and destructive fishing practices. Unchecked, these irresponsible activities undermine progress on conservation and fleet reduction. It is galling for Governments to have to restrict their own fishermen only to see fish stocks exploited by rogue elements. Conservation must be the number one priority for fishermen and commitment to conservation and responsible fishing practices. Conservation is in everybody's best interests to ensure the strength of our fisheries in the years to come. Responsible fishing has a major role to play. According to the UN FAO, some 30 million tonnes of the world's total fish catch is lost because of improper handling, discards and dumping. In the EU a discard level in excess of 70% is not uncommon. This level of discard of juvenile fish is a major cause for concern and seriously undermines the ultimate aim of sustainable fish stock. This is a formula for accelerating the decline in fish stocks. In the interests of the future of the fishing industry, this matter should be addressed urgently. The future of the industry will be seriously threatened if the level of discard remains at 70%.
One of the major pluses of the Bill is that authorities will be given the power to board and search fishing boats under all flags to enforce quotas. Foreign ships have endeavoured to play ducks and drakes with fishery patrol vessels in the past. As it is vital that a high level of enforcement is maintained, it is important that the power to search all ships is granted and that the appropriate penalties specified in this Bill are applied across the board. Conservation must be the byword for the fishing industry's future and this Bill makes a valuable contribution in that regard. More responsible fishing means less waste, which in turn means maximum quality and value. By making the most of the fish we catch, we can make a major contribution to our conservation goals. I welcome the independent statutory process established in this Bill. It will be viewed as transparent, independent and impartial and should enjoy the confidence of the industry.
I welcome this Bill, which achieves a worthy balance between the establishment of a licensing mechanism for sea fishing boats and an appeals procedure on the one hand, and protocols for conservation and diminishing fish stocks on the other hand.
I thank the Deputies who contributed to the Second Stage debate on this Bill on all three days when it was discussed in the House. The wide-ranging, constructive and informative comments made about the fishing industry show the importance attached to it by Deputies. I thank them for their ideas and suggestions and I assure them that they will be considered on Committee Stage.
As I said when I introduced this Bill, this legislation is needed to implement the commitment in the programme for Government to establish an independent statutory appeals process for the licensing of sea fishing boats. It also enables Ireland to ratify and take part in the EU and international implementation of the 1995 United Nations agreement concerning the conservation and management of vulnerable and valuable straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. It will ensure that we have sustainable fishing and strengthen some existing sea fisheries enforcement legislation, in the interests of greater enforcement efforts and deterring illegal fishing.
The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources' website was mentioned by a number of Deputies, who welcomed the fact that information on the licensing of sea fishing boats will be available on-line. I hope it will play a key role in achieving a fully transparent licensing and appeals system, as envisaged in the Bill. I assure the House that all concerned will work to enhance the value of the website for all sectors of the Department related to fisheries and, of course, for the public.
A number of Deputies mentioned licensing decisions and asked who may appeal, and when, under this Bill. The clear intention is that only licensing decisions made on or after a definitive future date will be allowed to be appealed. Earlier decisions will not be allowed to be re-opened. Following further examination of the Bill in that regard, I will propose a technical amendment to section 4 on Committee Stage, to put the matter beyond doubt. It is proposed that licensing decisions made one month after the Bill becomes law will be open to appeal as it is intended that the statutory appeals officer will be in place by then. As a corollary, the proposed amendment will also make it clear that a licensing decision which is appealed will be suspended until the appeal is decided on or withdrawn.
The fees that will be charged for appeals were mentioned by many speakers. They are dealt with by ministerial regulations under section 15 of the Bill and are as follows: €380.90 will be payable by an appellant who is the licence applicant or licensee concerned and €152.37 will be payable by any other appellant. An additional €76.18 will be payable by those who request an oral hearing.
Control of the operations of the Naval Service was raised by a number of Deputies, who mentioned that there is a perception that it does not operate in an even-handed manner. I receive many telephone calls, particularly from Deputy Coveney's part of the country, to tell me that the Naval Service is over-active. I did not realise that so many fishermen in County Cork have my mobile telephone number to complain about such activities.
The Minister of State should not have given it to me.
Statistics that are received as a result of checks in the Department do not support this view. The pattern of sightings and boardings has remained consistent in recent years. The Naval Service is extremely conscious of maintaining an even-handed approach to boarding and inspecting vessels. The targeting of vessels is not a factor unless the Naval Service is asked to do so by a specific fishery or fishery control, particularly in relation to a closed cod or hake box. The statistics show that more than half of the Naval Service's inspections relate to non-Irish vessels. Deputy Coveney asked me to raise the issue of enforcement with the EU. It was decided at a Council meeting last December to review enforcement across the EU to ensure a level playing field. Inspectors from the Commission may get involved in the process with, or independent of, national enforcement officials. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is actively pursuing the matter at EU level. The number of new licences issued annually was also raised, and I can inform the House that about 200 new licences are issued each year.
Deputy Coveney also raised the interesting possibility of the quota being allocated by fishermen. Such an idea is worthy of consideration. Farmers are involved directly in the allocation of quotas for milk, grain and many other things. Deputy Coveney's suggestion will be carefully considered in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. I hope to arrange a meeting between the Deputy and senior officials in the Department, Mr. Cecil Beamish and Ms Josephine Kelly, to discuss and tease out the matter further.
That would be very helpful.
One might have concerns about policing of the quota by fishermen, but it is an interesting idea. I will ask officials of my Department to discuss it with Deputy Coveney as soon as possible.
I was heartened by the many speakers who highlighted the ongoing need to conserve fish stocks and to ensure there is sustainable fishing activity. The Government and the fishing industry, with the international competent authorities, continue to work together to ensure that appropriate conservation measures are put in place to safeguard future fish stocks, not only in Irish waters but also in other waters of particular interest to Irish people. We can ensure the survival of the fishing industry and the coastal communities that depend on the industry through sustainable fishing. Over-fishing by those involved in the fishing industry is unfair and threatens the future opportunities of others. Given that the rules must be enforced for the public good, I welcome the support of Deputies for the Bill's provisions that strengthen and control our enforcement arrangements and back up conservation and recovery plans. I would like to say to Deputies who mentioned new species that my Department, BIM and the Marine Institute are actively exploring the scope for sustainable new sources of fish to be caught by Irish fishermen, particularly in deep seas. Competition in this area will be very intense.
A number of Deputies mentioned the small, unlicensed and unregistered inshore fleet and that regulations are about to be introduced. I mentioned in my speech introducing Second Stage that extensive consultation is under way on the Minister's outline proposals for the regularisation of small, unlicensed and unregistered inshore fishing boats. The Minister will carefully consider the outcome of the consultation process. Concerns have been expressed about conservation and sustainable fishing. Many licensed fishermen are worried about the best share-out of available fishing resources. All these matters will be examined before the scheme is finalised. There will be no requirement to acquire replacement tonnage. The current arrangements for sea fishing boat licensing are set out in my Department's document of June 2002 and are the subject of an expert review that will be completed by 30 June 2003. A key factor in the deliberations and the basis of the main report is the awaited clarification of decisions of the EU Common Fisheries Policy late last year, notably regarding the permitted overall size, composition and capacity of the Irish sea fishing fleet.
I thank Deputies for their contribution to the debate, particularly the spokespersons from the various political parties. I look forward to Committee Stage and am sure that, as Deputy Coveney and others have said, the Opposition will table amendments which the Government will consider seriously. I thank Deputies for dealing quickly with Second Stage and thank the officials involved. I look forward to completing passage of the Bill as quickly as possible. It is important legislation which was committed to in the programme for Government. It is a further part of new legislation procedures which will be implemented by my Department in coming months.