I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for accepting this important motion for discussion this evening. I welcome to the House the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment. However, I must point out that the motion calls on the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Andrews, to save the sea trout from extinction and I am disappointed no Minister from that Department is here to respond to this debate. I hope it is not indicative of their lack of interest in the matter.
It is important to say that I have no political motive in raising this matter. I come from a constituency which has neither sea trout nor fish farming in it. Therefore, I hope the Minister will accept my credentials in that respect. However, I should say that I am a sea trout angler of long standing and I visited the west for many years to fish for sea trout.
What has happened to our sea trout is an environmental catastrophe of major significance. The report of the Green 2000 Advisory Group established by Mr. Haughey, the then Taoiseach, states that "the decrease in sea trout numbers in the rivers of the Connemara-South Mayo region from 1988 onwards was so sudden and so dramatic as to warrant its description as a total collapse". The same report, which I am sure the Minister of State and his Department are familiar with, also says that "it is possible that the 1992 run of sea trout smolts in the western region may well be the last of any significance". Cruelty to hares has attracted considerable national attention, as have the absence of dolphins in Dingle harbour and peregrine falcons; all of those matters are worthy of attention. However, we are talking about the destruction of a major national resource that seems to be going unnoticed, not a lot is being done about it.
Some of the figures relating to what has happened are startling. Delphi in County Mayo is a famous fishery on the west coast above Leenane and County Galway had catches of around 2,000 sea trout per annum. Last year that was down to 100. Gowla is another famous sea trout fishery in Connemara and I think I am correct in saying that there was one fish caught there last year. That fishery would have recorded numbers into the thousands. The environmental grounds for taking urgent action are extremely compelling.
There is another equally important reason, namely, economic consequences to the affected areas. From the information I have, game fishing in County Galway and County Mayo is worth £10 million a year. There are 1,000 jobs at stake and 100,000 tourist bednights involved. The jobs in sea trout fishing are traditional activities that have gone on for many years in that part of the country; they have sustained small farming and other activities and have kept people in their local communities. They are just as legitimate as the newly created jobs in the salmon farming industry and in the finfish farming industry.
There is a lot said about the promotion of tourism and the need for rural development. This is high value, high quality tourism. These are the tourists we need to attract to the country. I can recall when I started fishing in the west of Ireland there were people who flew to Shannon — shortly they may no longer be able to fly to Shannon — hired a car and stayed for many weeks. They had a gillie every day of the week and spent an enormous amount of money in the area. Those people are wealthy and can just as easily go to Scotland, Norway, Alaska or the Falkland Islands. They will go to where the sport is and if the sport is not there they will not go there.
The latest and most tragic development in this saga which goes back a few years is that Waterville, which is the premier fishery in County Kerry and is of international significance, has been affected by the same condition and the sea trout are disappearing from it. There has been a long and tedious debate about whether salmon farming is responsible for what has happened to the sea trout stocks. Sea trout fishing in Waterville was good up to the time salmon farming was introduced there. Sea trout fishing had declined in Connemara and had continued to survive in Waterville. Sea trout cages were put into Ballinskelligs Bay last year and now the sea trout are disappearing from Waterville. By any reasonable standard, there has to be, some connection between the two activities.
I realise, and I am sure it is in the Minister of State's reply, that a task force has been established. However, we have come to a point where we do not want to talk about task forces, reports or reports about reports. We need to get to the bottom of this problem and we need to sort it out once and for all. We need to restore the stocks of trout to what they were. No Government can subscribe to a situation where a species is in danger of extinction.
In an effort to try and remove the connection between salmon farming and the sea trout, we had what I regard as scurrilous propaganda whereby it was suggested that fish in the Dargle River were infested with sea lice and that there was no salmon farming in that area. However, they were totally different lice. They were the lice that normally appear on any sea trout, and I have caught healthy sea trout in Waterville that had lice on them. They are the trout one wants to see, fresh in from the sea and absolutely silvery. The ones that are affected in the west are juvenile trout and they are infested to the extent that their fins are eaten and they just cannot survive. It is a different case and it should not have been represented that the Dargle River was in some way the same as Connemara. It is my understanding, and I hope I am wrong in this, that a picture was furnished of trout in the Dargle River by someone from the Department of the Marine. If that is the case it reflects appallingly on the Department of the Marine.
I suggest to the Minister of State that there is an urgent need not just to prevent the extinction of these fine fish and to restore the level of tourist activity which they generated, but there is a responsibility to try to restore the stocks in the national interest. There are recommendations in the report to the Green 2000 Advisory Group which I would refer to the Minister of State and which I understand his colleague Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, supports. However, he is not here so I cannot ask him directly.
There are three provisions in particular in the report about aquaculture and they are recommendations 3, 9 and 14. Recommendations 9 and 14 are particularly significant. Recommendation 9 states that:
A mandatory code of practice should be intorduced for both finfish and shellfish cultivation. This should include, for example, mandatory reporting of escapes, detailed listing of chemical usage and out of date chemicals disposal; mortality losses and dead or diseased fish disposal records; lice levels and lice treatment records; antibiotic usage, etc. This code of practice should also apply to enhancement hatcheries.
Recommendation 14 says that:
Adequate funding should be provided for an increased level of research on innovative methods of lice control, on potential genetic interactions between farmed and wild salmon and on the impact of possible long term changes in oceanographical and climatological conditions and the response of the aquaculture sector to such changes.
The earlier provision, recommendation 3, which I will not quote in detail to the Minister of State talks about a "single integrated aquaculture permit" for the various activities involved in fish farming.
I want to stress to the Minister of State the appalling situation. I have fished in nearly all of the fisheries along the west coast from Galway, from Casla to Screeb to Gowla to Ballinahinch to Kylemore and on to Delphi, and I have left out a few in between, and the sea trout are gone. The people who fish them are gone and the people who derived a living from those lakes and from those fisheries can do so no longer. The tourist industry and the hotels in the area are being devastated. I have no objection to job creation in fish farming but the jobs that were there in the sea trout industry are just as legitimate as the other jobs.