The motion is that the Fisheries Bill, 1923, be read a second time.
FISHERIES BILL, 1923.—SECOND STAGE.
Anybody interested in the preservation of our fisheries will welcome the introduction of this Bill, although one might come to the conclusion that the minimum penalties are certainly somewhat heavy. When we compare them with the penalties which are inflicted on those who adulterate milk and commit a crime against humanity, one is forced to the conclusion that there is a greater interest taken in the preservation of the life of a fish than in the preservation of the lives of children. Of course, under the existing Act these crimes were almost automatically reduced to a nominal amount, and if the same procedure is to be adopted in the present Bill, the penalties will be non-deterrent as they will be treated as merely nominal.
The provision which enables a minimum sentence of one month's imprisonment in one case and in another of six months' imprisonment seems altogether atrocious for crimes of that kind. The drafting of the Bill is in one case unconsciously funny, and I do not know if the Minister can explain it. At the end of Section 3 it reads: "Provided always that any person who shall take or catch any such salmon or trout accidentally and shall return the same immediately to the water without injury shall not be guilty of the offence aforesaid."
If a man hooks a salmon and can take the hook out of its throat, and return the fish to the water without injury he must be an artist. If there is any doubt that he returned it to the water without injury would the Minister say whether the same salmon can be arrested and brought up for medical examination?
I think that refers to cases where fish are caught in nets. Occasionally salmon are caught in nets with pollock and other fish, and the fisherman is supposed to return the salmon and I suppose he does. The fines in the past were absolutely prohibitive. Some time ago there were two extraordinary cases of which different views were taken by the magistrates. In one case they fined £50 for an offence which was much less than one committed in Dublin where the fine was £10. The great thing this Bill strives to do is to draw attention to the extraordinary value of our fisheries. I think people are really to be pitied more than blamed in some instances, as they do not seem to understand the real harm they are doing. I think that in places where salmon go to spawn there ought to be pictorial maps in the schools showing the value of salmon and the harm done by killing them.
It is estimated that a female sheds from one to two hundred thousand eggs, which in the course of six weeks come to maturity. After about three and a half years the fish come back in the form of spring salmon. In some rivers there are artificial hatcheries arranged and they give good results. In America they have them all over the country. Here I think we suffer much because there has not been a proper conception of their duties by Boards of Conservators who mostly know nothing about fishing. They have, perhaps, some rights of their own and they stick to them. I think that the rivers should belong to the people. Down in the South, Lord Bandon has given a free day's fishing on his river, and it has had very good results. The common right of fishing must be respected, and there should be proper conservancy of the rivers. The Lee and its tributaries extend about two hundred miles, but the vast amount of conservancy money is spent on watching the men with drift nets in the lower end of the harbour while the rest of the river and tributaries are watched by one or two bailiffs.
I think the Minister is to be congratulated upon bringing in this Bill, which will do something towards conserving our rivers. Inquiries have been held, and the authorities have decided to amend the laws. In the estuary of the Lee a man may be, and has been, shot for fishing with a drift net, but on the Blackwater and other rivers he can fish with impunity if he pays the ordinary licence of £3. Some time ago an attempt was made to prevent such fishing on the Bann and on the Foyle, and there was a big lawsuit in Dublin which bore very largely upon the fishing rights of people all over the country. The Master of the Rolls decided against the Royal Charter and said that there was no power that could destroy the common right of fishing. There have been a few instances of that kind but I am sure all the facts in connection with them are in the possession of the Department. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill, and I hope he will give an opportunity of looking into these cases with a view to adjustment.
I consider this to be a good Bill. It protects the fish on the spawning beds, and it provides a close season for brown trout as well as for salmon. The rich man can afford to go salmon fishing and pay a big price, but it is great amusement for the poor man to be able to go and fish for brown trout, of which there are thousands in this country. That is why I welcome the Bill. Our rivers are short in comparison with those in America, and we have no canning stations, but we have quantities of these trout.
This is the first time that I have noticed in legislation that brown trout is to be really preserved, and when our Civic Guards are in full working order and the conservators can afford to keep bailiffs, which they must very soon, if this Bill is to be carried out, then I foresee that Ireland will be a great playground for the man who wishes to enjoy a quiet and pleasant holiday following the gentle art.
As one having some slight practical knowledge of this subject, I should like to say that I support this Bill. Fault has been found with the nature of the penalties; Senator O'Farrell thought they were very high. They are high in some cases, no doubt, but the thing which perhaps will not be realised by all the members of the Seanad is that the offence of poaching, in many of its aspects, is so particularly easy to carry out and is a particularly mean form of crime, if I may so call it, because it is so selfish and results in depriving other people of a great deal of pleasure. Where it is very easy to commit offences of this kind with impunity I think the magistrate is justified in making the penalty rather high and for that reason I do not think we ought to take exception to that. The Bill may not be perfect. It may possibly be improved in certain respects, but I think it is a move in the right direction. Something of the kind is badly needed, or the country will be the poorer for something which in every way would be a great loss. For the information of Senator O'Farrell who, I think, said that anyone who had caught a salmon was something in the nature of a marvel, I would like to assure him that it is frequently done. I have often done it myself, and it is quite easy to do. I would not like it to go out that the Bill has been criticised by this House as being in any way ridiculous. I think it has been very carefully considered and that it is aiming in the right direction.
Sé an fáth gur tharraingeas an Bille seo os comhair an Oireachtais ná gur iarradh orm ó gach áird de'n tír Bille de'n tsórt so do thabhairt isteach.
Sé brí an Bhille ná leasú do dhéanamh ar na Sean-reachtanna chun méadú do dhéanamh ar na pionóisí mar gheall ar chionntaí áirithe, go mórmor nuair a dintear na cionntaí sin san séasúr coisgthe.
I was asked practically by every part of the country to bring forward a Bill of this kind because it was generally felt that something like this was necessary to check the wholesale poaching of fish, especially during the spawning season. It was all the more necessary because in a great many parts of the country we had, if one might call it so, become sufficiently morally depraved to look on poaching as a rather honourable profession. I brought forward the Bill with the intention of making those gentlemen who thought so feel that they will pay for their fun. The purport of the Bill is to increase the penalties under the existing enactments. It creates no new offences. Senator O'Farrell referred to the minimum penalty. The minimum penalty exists wholesale already in fishery law. From the year 1848 down we find the minimum penalty appearing in Fishery Act after Fishery Act. It varied from 10/- to £5. Where a penalty of 10/- was imposed in 1848 it is not an extraordinary thing to impose a penalty of £2 now. I am sure that Senator O'Farrell, in discussing a matter of another kind, would hold that a person who earned 10/- in 1848 should at least get £2 now.
He does not get it.
I think he does, or very nearly. Under the existing Acts also, not so widely, I admit, as in the present Bill, there is an option of imprisonment, notably in the case of dynamiting and poisoning. We extend that a little further to govern other offences, especially during the close season, and we hold that nobody should have any sympathy with a person who finds himself getting a month in jail for interfering with spawning beds and spawning salmon. After all, interference with a spawning salmon or trout is not alone an offence against that individual salmon or trout but against the potential wealth that will accrue if it is allowed to spawn. It is an offence against the national fisheries themselves as well as against every person who directly or indirectly depends on them for a livelihood. For that reason I do not see that we should shed any tears over any person who gets a month in jail for this offence. I have hopes that the Bill will bring home to people that this is considered a serious offence, that therefore it will act as a great deterrent and that as a result our fisheries will benefit considerably, because, as the Earl of Mayo remarked, I believe that one of the results of the Bill will be to bring a great deal of money to the country through the attraction of persons who have money to spend on a pleasant holiday.
I desire to ask the Minister a question on a subject which I hoped he would have dealt with. It is an open secret that the funds for the protection of these rivers are largely derived from fines. I have no sympathy at all with the people who are fined, because a great many of them are really destroying the assets of the nation and not the assets of any private individual. But these fines are inflicted in the country and they ought to go to the relief of those charged with their protection of the particular district concerned. They came up here, and hitherto the power rested with somebody—I suppose it will be with the Minister now—to remit these fines. Where a fine of £5, which probably was richly deserved, was inflicted, it was frequently reduced to 10/-, and similarly all through. I think it would be a very desirable thing that there should be no power to reduce fines that had been inflicted, after careful consideration, by a Justice who has investigated all the circumstances. If the Bill does not contain any provision for the reduction of these fines, could the Minister give us any undertaking that they will not be remitted? It will lead to the better protection of the fish.
The procedure hitherto had been that, prior to the establishment of the Saorstát, the recommendations for a remission were made on many occasions by the magistrate who inflicted a fine, or even if no recommendations were made by the Bench of Magistrates, frequently a memorial was sent to the Lord Lieutenant, who, I believe, referred the matter to the Fisheries Department. They made local inquiries and sent back their notes to the Lord Lieutenant, through the Chief Secretary, and then a decision was arrived at in the Castle.
The present procedure is this. The magistrates inflicted the fine, and the recommendations of the Justice were sent to the Home Affairs Department, and that Department referred the matter to me. I made inquiries from the local Board of Conservators, and I made my recommendations. You may take it that the recommendations of the Fisheries Department were usually against remission, except the circumstances were very exceptional. We usually recommend that the law should take its course, and I think that for the future you will find that the recommendations of the Ministry of Fisheries will be the last word as the governing authority for remission.
This Bill is dealing with the future. These wicked magistrates we have had in the past have disappeared, and in future these fines will be inflicted by some people who, we hope, will perform their duty with far greater scrupulousness than the magistrates are alleged to have done in the past. When a Judge having heard all the circumstances and investigated them fully, comes to the conclusion that a certain fine is justified, is it the intention of the Government that these fines should be reduced by backstairs influence in Dublin? If so, it would be a disastrous thing, and if a clause were inserted in the Bill that the fines imposed should in no circumstances be reduced, that would be in the interest of wholesome Government.
I think nothing I said would justify any suggestion that the recommendations of magistrates sitting locally would be changed here by backstairs methods. What has always happened in the past, and since the establishment of the Saorstát, is that recommendations were made by the Justice recommending that certain fines should be reduced. The Justice recommended to the Minister for Home Affairs that a fine should be reduced, and Home Affairs referred it to us. We recommended, as a rule, that the fines should stand, after consultation with the local Board of Conservators. I do not think there is any need for such a clause in the Bill as the Senator suggests.
I see in Section 9 reference is made to the Civic Guard, and all other persons appointed to carry out and enforce the provisions of the Fisheries Acts. I should like to ask the Minister if he would tell us what he has in mind by way of assisting people on the spot in enforcing the provisions of the Act. As the Minister, I am sure, is very well aware, to fine your poacher is one thing but to catch him is another, and that in the past has been, and probably in the future will be the great difficulty, especially in the part of Ireland I know best, where the rivers are small and the district mountainous. All the same, though they are little rivers, they carry great numbers of breeding fish, and I think from the national point of view the preservation of these small rivers is every bit as important as the larger ones, and that is why I ask the question.
The persons contemplated in Section 9 are water-bailiffs, acting under warrant, and water-bailiffs employed by the Board of Conservators, and also members of the Defence forces who might be called in in the case of persons who might not be so easily arrested without armed forces.
On this question of fines, as far as I understand the matter, I am not satisfied; perhaps I misunderstood the Minister. Is it quite clear that a recommendation for the remission or reduction of a fine must emanate from the Judge or Justice who imposes the fine, and, if so, must it emanate at the time the fine is made, or can a period elapse, and the matter then be brought to the notice of the Judge?
I do not say that of necessity the recommendation for remission should emanate from the Justice. It has frequently emanated from the Justice, and has come along with the report, whatever form it takes, of the infliction of the fine, but frequently a request for remission has taken the form of a memorial got up locally by the friends of the person on whom the fine was inflicted.
Arising out of that reply, I shall put down an amendment that recommendations for remission must emanate from the Judge or Justice who imposes the fine, and that no recommendations shall be considered coming from any other quarter.