The purpose of this Bill is to make provision for the acquisition of and the management by the Electricity Supply Board of the fisheries of the River Shannon. As Senators are aware, when the Shannon hydroelectric scheme was contemplated it was anticipated that certain damage would be done to the valuable fisheries of the Shannon and the Shannon Electricity Act provided for the payment of compensation to the owners of such fisheries whose property was damaged by the construction of the Shannon works. By what was an oversight, no provision was made for compensation where the damage arose through the operation of the works. That particular defect is made good by this Bill. The Electricity Supply Board is under obligation to pay various sums in compensation in respect of damage done to fisheries either by the construction or the operation of the Shannon works. It is further to be noted that because of the erection and the operation of the works certain changes have occurred in the river which will result in further damage to the fisheries unless various works are undertaken and various measures adopted in order to preserve the fisheries. Under these circumstances it was decided that it was necessary to bring all the fisheries of the Shannon under one control if they were to be preserved. It was also realised that only some person or some organisation having control of all the fisheries could plan the works necessary to preserve them and make the necessary provision for their maintenance.
The purpose of this Bill, therefore, is, firstly, to enable the Electricity Supply Board, where compensation is due by them to the owner of any fishery in respect of damage, in lieu of paying the compensation to acquire the fishery and, secondly, to enable them to acquire any other fishery on the Shannon that they wish to make subject to their control and management. The whole purpose of the Bill is really expressed in that sentence. The other parts of it provide for the management of the fisheries by the Electricity Supply Board and for the assessment of the amount of compensation to be paid to persons whose fisheries have been acquired. Special provision is made for additional compensation to be paid where the fishery was owned by persons who worked that fishery personally and depended upon it for a livelihood, having regard to the difficulty that might arise in their case of transferring themselves to any other place in the country where their particular skill as fishermen could be of value to them. Other portions of the Bill are of a miscellaneous nature. There is provision for the maintenance, through the weir at Parteen Villa, of a minimum flow of water of 10 cubic metres per second, which is the minimum amount necessary, we are advised, in order to preserve the fisheries in the river below the weir. There is a provision for the alteration of the weekly close season from 48 to 72 hours, which new close season, it is considered, will have to be maintained for some time in order to prevent the depletion of fish in the river.
It is proposed to restrict the issue of licences for fishing with drift or draft nets in the estuary to the number which was issued during the last few years. That is to enable those who were given licences to fish to continue to fish, but to prevent any addition to their number. It is also proposed to prohibit net fishing in the fresh waters of the Shannon except by persons who have been lawfully exercising the right to fish during the past 12 months. Such persons will be able to continue their right until that right has been purchased from them by the Electricity Supply Board. That is the whole purpose of the Bill. The only matter that may require explanation is the decision to place all the responsibility in this respect on the Electricity Supply Board. It was felt it would be most undesirable to have a rival authority created on the Shannon. To some limited extent the interests of the fishery owners are in conflict with the interests of the Electricity Supply Board and it would be inevitable, if a separate organisation was created for the purpose of acquiring and operating the fisheries, that at some stage they would come into conflict with the Electricity Supply Board. There is no objection in principle to giving the Board the ownership of the fisheries, the responsibility for managing them and empowering them to establish a separate organisation under their control for that purpose and setting out in specific terms in the Bill their obligations to maintain and develop the fisheries, to maintain the flow of water in the old river and so forth, so that the Shannon fisheries can be made in future what they undoubtedly are at present, that is, a very valuable national asset.
In connection with this Bill various extraneous matters have been raised in different quarters which really do not arise at all. The essential point is, first of all, that damage has been done to the fisheries for which compensation must be paid. It is proposed, instead of paying compensation, to buy the fisheries outright. It is proposed to enable the Electricity Supply Board to acquire any other fishing right that it considers necessary to acquire on the Shannon in order to enable it to embark upon various schemes to protect and develop the Shannon fisheries. It is proposed to permit certain fishing to continue upon the estuary, but to limit these licences for fishing with draft or drift nets to the number of persons who have been so fishing in the past. This is to prevent any substantial addition in consequence of the acquisition of fresh water fisheries by the Board. The compensation to be paid to fishery owners will be determined by the arbitrator appointed under the Acquisition of Land Acts and in accordance with the provision of the Acquisition of Land Acts, subject to an additional amount of compensation being paid where the owner of the fishery also worked it himself.
I do not know that there is any other point that need be mentioned at this stage. The Bill is probably one more for discussion in Committee than for discussion on Second Reading. The principle of the Bill is to secure the Electricity Supply Board in the ownership of these fisheries and impose on it the obligation of developing them in the belief that any alternative course will lead to the continued decline of the fisheries and, consequently, the loss of what is a potential national asset.