Beef Environmental Efficiency Scheme Pilot

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Ceisteanna (6)

Eugene Murphy

Ceist:

6. Deputy Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the commencement date for the beef environmental economic pilot scheme; if the terms and conditions of the scheme have already been drawn up and issued to suckler cow farmers; if agreement has been reached with the mart co-operatives in on the weighing of animals for the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5443/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I wish to ask the Minister about the commencement of the beef environmental economic pilot scheme. Have the terms and conditions of the scheme already been drawn up and issued to suckler cow farmers? Has agreement been reached with the mart co-ops on the weighing of animals for the scheme and will he make a statement on the matter?

I launched the beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme on 30 January. The launch was covered in the agriculture media. Applications for participation in the pilot scheme will be accepted from Monday, 4 February to 22 February.

The terms and conditions and information on the process and application procedure are available on my Department's website. The procurement process for the field service provider is ongoing. The necessary infrastructure will be in place prior to the opening of the timeframe for the submission of weights on 8 March.

The beef environmental efficiency pilot, BEEP, scheme is a targeted support for suckler cow farmers and specifically aimed at further improving the economic and environmental efficiency of beef production. This is done by measuring the weaning efficiency of suckler cows. Building on the success of the beef data and genomics programme, the data collected will also be a valuable addition to Ireland's already impressive cattle breeding database.

The beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme was announced in budget 2019 as part of the €78 million package for the agrifood industry. As well as clear environmental and climate benefits, the scheme will provide for farm gate investment at a time of market volatility and uncertainty related to Brexit. I am conscious that 2018 was a very difficult year for beef farmers in terms of weather conditions, fodder issues and market volatility. This is the sector most exposed to Brexit, given its reliance on the UK market. The initiative has been designed to provide an injection of investment at a critical time for farmers in navigating the challenges ahead, while delivering in real terms on our climate objectives.

The funding of €20 million available will allow for payment up to a maximum of €40 per calf, based on costs incurred and income forgone. If the scheme is oversubscribed, a linear cut may be applied. It is a pilot scheme for 2019 only, Exchequer funded and operated under state aid de minimis provisions. The pilot scheme has been designed to be as straightforward as possible and ensure the majority of the payment can be retained by the farmer. Application will be open to all beef suckler herdowners. The terms and conditions and information on the process and application procedure are available on my Department's website or the beef schemes section of my Department.

I thank the Minister for his statement and clarification. He knows as well as I do and Deputy McConalogue, the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, and others that beef farmers are under enormous pressure. While I welcome the opening up of the scheme which was something Fianna Fáil pushed for in the confidence and supply agreement, it does not go far enough. The sum of €40 per calf is a start, but it is way down on our bottom line of €200 per calf. In terms of implementation of the scheme, what will the arrangements be for access to the weighing scales? That seems to be an issue for many farmers. Has an arrangement been made and has the position been clarified?

We must consider the reintroduction of the beef suckler cow welfare scheme.

That is a very important issue for beef farmers and it should be looked at again in the context of the difficulties facing that sector currently.

The infrastructure will be in place, including the weighing scales. We will have a nationwide network of scales to be provided by the successful tenderer. That process will commence on 8 March. The ambition, about which I am confident, is that the hiring out of those weighing scales or the use of approved weighing scales by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, if they are owned or available elsewhere, will enable the scheme to deliver the maximum amount of funding to the farmers who apply. We expect that the fee for hiring the scales will be in region of €50 or less. Farmers can pick up the scales, bring them home, run their cattle through the crush and weigh them as they step on the scales, record the data and send them in to the Department. Payment will then issue before the end of the calendar year. We expect to be making payments in December 2019.

I note the Deputy's point about it not being enough but this must be taken in the round, in the context of the improved funding for the ANC scheme over two years. The Deputy will appreciate that funding for that scheme had been reduced but I will not go into the history of that now. I also note the Deputy's continuing support for the concept of €200 per cow but I did not see that in his party's alternative budget.

We must ensure that this is a simple scheme. If farmers are going to be tied up in red tape and facing issues with regard to scales and so forth, that will be a turn off. Given that the figure involved - €40 - is deemed to be very low by the farming community, many farmers will opt out.

Another issue of concern in my area is the fact that the application process is online. Unfortunately, in my part of the country access to broadband is very poor. Roscommon is one of the worst counties in terms of broadband access and we need to see the urgent roll-out of the national broadband plan. Has the Department put something in place to ensure that all farmers, including those who do not have broadband access, will be able to get details of the scheme, including the closing date for applications? It is crucial that we address those issues.

What are the Minister's plans for the scheme if it is over-subscribed?

On the last point, if the scheme is over-subscribed it will require a linear cut. We expect the participation rate to be similar to that for the BDGP which, at 500,000, would allow for the payment as envisaged under the scheme. If it is over-subscribed, it will require a linear cut across the board.

On the issue of simplicity, the scheme is very user-friendly. All that farmers need to do to apply is send their name, address and herd number to the Department. That can be done online or by paper application. That deals with the issue of online access. I would point out that with a lot of co-operation and effort on the part of individual farmers and farming organisations and a lot of work by my Department, last year we achieved 100% online applications for the basic payment scheme. Farmers are seeing the benefits of applying online. In the context of this scheme, there is a paper option for applying to the scheme and for submitting the data. It can also be done online or by way of an app.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Common Agricultural Policy

Ceisteanna (9)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

9. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his policy on capping basic payment scheme, BPS, and greening payments to applicants under the forthcoming CAP programme 2021 to 2027; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5447/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Big decisions will be made on CAP soon and as the Minister knows, there is a debate going on about the capping of the BPS and greening payments. Under the current CAP, the BPS payments were limited somewhat but the greening payments were not limited. What is the Minister's policy on capping and will it include greening payments this time, as well as BPS payments?

The new legislative proposals for the CAP for the period 2021 to 2027 were launched on Friday, 1 June 2018 by the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Phil Hogan. The proposals as drafted involve significant changes, including in relation to governance, the distribution of direct payments among farmers and the increasing environmental conditionality attaching to such payments. There will be some additional discretion for member states in configuring the measures available within parameters laid down in the draft proposals.

The proposals are complex and we are now in the middle of intensive and challenging negotiations for the next CAP to run from 2021 to 2027. I am working with the European Commission and other member states to shape these proposals into an effective new CAP. The new proposals allow for subsidiarity for member states but with an overall commitment by the European Commission to protect the common policy and avoid distorting the Single Market.

I have already indicated that I am open to considering some level of capping. Ireland has already applied the maximum level of degressivity allowable under the current regulations for payments over €150,000. The new proposals include a number of measures designed to move further in this direction including an overall mandatory cap of €100,000, degressivity for payments above €60,000, a complementary redistributive income support and the convergence of payments towards a minimum of 75% of the average payment per hectare nationally. These are currently draft proposals only and my Department is examining them carefully to assess their potential impact on applicants and to ensure that any such mechanisms can be implemented without undue complexity.

The new CAP proposals point to a more significant environmental ambition than the current CAP schemes, including in Pillar 1. It is a new departure for member states to be required to design a specific climate and environment scheme in Pillar 1 but this is something I support. It is consistent with my Department's long-term strategy for the agriculture sector, which recognises the critical importance of environmental sustainability. Protecting the environment and the sustainable development of agriculture are two sides of the same coin. There are also proposals for new conditionality requirements with an increased number of good agricultural and environmental conditions and statutory management requirements included in the draft proposals. It is essential that the new environmental conditionality is implemented effectively with common standards that are relevant and effective.

Farmers play a vital role in the provision of public goods and need to be adequately recognised and recompensed for this role. It is important that the overall level of the budget acknowledges the public goods being delivered by farmers. This places a particular focus on environmental aspects of CAP.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Negotiations on the CAP proposals are continuing under the Romanian Presidency. The Presidency has outlined its ambition to achieve a partial general approach at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council of Ministers meeting in June. I will continue to work closely with my European colleagues on these issues with a view to achieving the best possible outcome for Ireland's farmers and agriculture sector.

A lot was said but nothing was said by the Minister. Let us go back to basics here. Originally there was no cap under the single farm payment scheme. Then the single farm payment was broken down into two payments, with 70% under the BPS and the remaining 30% under greening. As the Minister said, in the very complicated language of the reply, there was a limit placed on that of €150,000 that applied only to the 70% but not to the 30%. I have a simple question for the Minister to which I seek a simple and straightforward answer. Is the Minister in favour of capping both the basic farm payment and the greening payment? If so, what cap does he propose for the combined single farm payment and greening payment? If not, is the Minister in favour of continuing with the situation as it stands, where all of these payments are based on something that happened in 2001 that might have no relevance to the current situation of the farmer?

I appreciate that Deputy Ó Cuív may have had other business to attend to earlier but I already had a discussion with Deputy Martin Kenny on the reference years issue. It is not fair to say that the reference years are an anachronism because the system has moved so much in terms of convergence. In fact, in the period of the current CAP, more than €100 million will have moved from farmers with a higher than average per hectare payment to farmers with a lower than average per hectare payment. There is a requirement in the current draft proposals to get to a situation where every farmer has at least 75% of the average per hectare payment in the lifetime of the next CAP. We are on a journey that is going to see greater convergence and equalisation and I do not have any difficulty with that in principle. The Deputy asked a very simple question as to whether I am in favour of capping, which I am. I do not have a difficulty with the new proposals on that. However, I am engaged in a process of consultation and in that context, it would be unfair to be overly prescriptive about my own views on this. We are doing a SWOT analysis now and we will be doing a needs assessment of what would be best for us in the future. We will have an ex ante evaluation of both of those processes before we complete our CAP strategic plan.

As a general principle, I do not have a problem with convergence and capping. That said, we need to be careful about unintended consequences. There was an issue during the term of the last CAP in the context of convergence, whereby some people had a high per hectare payment but a low gross payment. Some farmers found that their payment of €12,000 or €13,000 went down while payments to others with a big gross payment of €20,000, €30,000 or €40,000 went up because they had a low per hectare payment. We need to avoid unintended consequences in our quest to have a fairer CAP.

Excluding the 4% of tillage farmers and looking at the whole spectrum of farmers, what was clear relative to stocking levels on livestock farms was that those on low payments were actually being underpaid while those on very high payments had no stocking justification for the payments they were receiving. On average, nobody should have been getting more than €400 per hectare. That is what the Minister's own nitrates information, which he gets every year, tells him.

Can we go back to the question I want the Minister to answer? In the context of capping, is he talking about the BPS only or the BPS and the greening payment because the greening payment was excluded from the capping on the last occasion?

There is no greening in the current proposal.

Is the Minister telling me that it will all revert back into BPS? Can he confirm that there will be no greening payment and that it will all revert back into a single BPS? If we are talking about capping, will it include the total payment?

My understanding of the regulations as currently drafted, and the Deputy will appreciate that there is political engagement around all of this detail so it is impossible to be definitive about what the final outcome will look like from this juncture, is that in terms of the CAP generally, there will be far greater environmental ambition. Part of the CAP strategic plan will have to outline our proposals in respect of Pillar 1. A specific cohort of the payment under Pillar 1 will depend on environmental obligations but it is not the same as the greening provision as currently contained. I have said that I have no difficulty in terms of convergence and capping. What I am anxious to avoid are unintended consequences where there are casualties and there were casualties the last time around. What I am anxious to do is minimise those casualties in the context of the journey with capping and convergence continuing.

With the agreement of Members, I will revert to Question No. 8 in the name of Deputy Heydon.

Brexit Issues

Ceisteanna (8)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

8. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the estimated impact of Brexit on the movement of horses and the equine industry, the protections that can be provided and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5676/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The estimated impact of Brexit on the movement of horses and the equine industry in general is a significant source of concern. What protections can be provided to the industry? As the Minister is aware, the tripartite agreement between Ireland, the UK and France allows for the movement of and trade in horses between countries without the need for veterinary inspections or-and health certificates. This could be greatly challenged by a no-deal Brexit. Are there any contingency plans?

I appreciate the Deputy's ongoing interest in this issue. Ireland has a strong reputation for the quality of its horses and the quality of its horsemanship. The current EU rules on the movement of horses between EU member states require that the animals being moved are inspected by an official veterinarian and accompanied by a veterinary health certificate issued under the EU TRACES system and that a horse passport is issued by an approved horse passport issuing body.

However, these rules also allow member states that have implemented alternative but equivalent health control systems in their respective territories to grant one another derogations from the standard movement rules. The derogation provided for under Community rules on the movement of horses is applicable to movements between EU member states only. It is not inclusive of movements between the EU and third countries.

Currently, Ireland is part of a tripartite agreement with the UK and France that allows for the movement and trade of horses between the three countries without undergoing veterinary inspections and without health certificates. As the agreement is based on EU legislation on the movement of horses within the EU, the UK cannot be part of the agreement once it becomes a third country.

The current focus of our no-deal contingency planning is on the arrangements that will be necessary for the Department to fulfil its legal obligations with respect to import controls on live animals and agrifood products as efficiently as possible while also ensuring the minimum possible disruption to trading arrangements. As part of this planning we are upgrading existing border inspection posts and developing additional border inspection posts to cater for the increased volume of inspections necessary, including in respect of equines being imported from the UK, and making arrangements to facilitate the certification of horses to the UK as necessary.

I thank the Minister for his response. As he outlined, the concern involves what happens when the UK becomes a third country and the impact of that, be it a no-deal scenario or a more managed way. The impact on the equine industry in Ireland could be akin to the effect on the beef sector because the Irish and UK markets for the breeding and racing of horses are so interlinked. If there was no deal at the end of March, it would be far more difficult for Irish horses to travel to Aintree the following week for the Grand National festival. Later that month, we want the best of the English horses who have been successful in Cheltenham to come and contest in Punchestown. A couple of weeks later, we are into the height of the breeding season. Some of the top stallions in the world are found in this country and mares will be travelling to and from this country so that concern is there. Our racing and breeding industry is worth well in excess of €1 billion to this country and jobs in this sector are core economic jobs across rural Ireland. Might we need to look at the relaxation of state aid rules to support the industry? We need reassurance that the Department stands ready to help the industry in every way possible.

The Department has had extensive and ongoing negotiations with the industry and the Commission on this matter. I raised the subject with Commissioner Hogan on Monday of last week in Brussels. It does not just affect the thoroughbred sector because the horse sport sector also sees very considerable volume. I saw figures recently suggesting that anything up to 30,000 sport horses outside of the thoroughbred sector move east to west on an annual basis. The issue with regard to the thoroughbred sector is complicated by the fact that there is all-island administration of racing through the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board and there is an all-island stud book for the thoroughbred sector. It is complex. We are looking at ways to facilitate that. There will be some additional administrative obligations but we are trying to make the matter as simple as possible to ensure that movement can continue because that is critical to the industry here. I am very conscious that it is a highly mobile industry and that anything that is perceived as an impediment could be to our disadvantage if it is not resolved. We are looking for clarity in many respects on a range of issues where none is immediately available because we do not know what the UK's response is but we are committed to working with the industry to make the new arrangements relating to when the UK becomes a third country as user-friendly and efficient as possible.

I am delighted to hear that the Minister is open to working with the industry across the board whether it is the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association or racehorse trainers through Horse Racing Ireland. I ask that the Minister and Department work with all key stakeholders in the industry to look at initiatives that could help those who will be impacted both in the short term and long term so that we safeguard an industry that is crucially important and provides thousands of jobs across rural Ireland in many areas that do not have a significant amount of other economic activity. That is what our racing and breeding industry is worth to us and we need to make sure it is protected in every way possible. I thank the Minister for his response.

I acknowledge the Deputy's ongoing interest in this area. Given where he is from, it is a critical issue. We have had extensive engagement. It is an issue of which we are very aware. It will involve change to the current arrangements but we are endeavouring to make those as user-friendly and efficient as possible.

Forestry Data

Ceisteanna (10)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

10. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the percentage of managed forest that is planted with sitka spruce; the timeline during which the trees are allowed to grow before they are felled; the end use for the trees in terms of percentage for timber, biomass and so on; the pesticides, insecticides and fungicides used on Sitka spruce; the average use of each per square metre of managed Sitka spruce plantations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5674/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

We spoke earlier about the beef and dairy sectors and the many indirect forms of emissions, pollution and damage to the environment they may cause. The carbon sequestration through afforestation programme, which has expanded alongside the expansion of the dairy herd in an ill-thought-out attempt to promote another short-term cash crop, is supposed to help dig us out of our emissions problem. Can the Minister explain how this might help?

Government policy on forestry is to incentivise private planting of forests given the many economic, environmental and social benefits that forests are proven to deliver. More recently, we have amended this policy to increase species diversity within the national forest estate and increasing afforestation levels across all planting categories supported with higher rates reserved for broadleaf species. Under the current forestry programme, new species have been added to the mix to create more diversity and to target climate change mitigation.

Sitka spruce occupies 343,311 hectares or 51.1% of Ireland's total forested area.

As one of our fastest growing tree species, clearfell typically takes place between 35 and 40 years. It has been grown successfully for over 80 years and it has proven itself to be one of the most productive coniferous species grown in Ireland and, as such, has become the industry’s mainstay in terms of timber processing and end markets. In terms of end use of trees, roundwood harvesting, including firewood, in 2017 was 3.54 million cu. m, the highest level since records began. The majority of this timber was harvested from Sitka spruce plantations. Of this total, 42% was used for energy purposes, making an important contribution to our renewable energy targets. The balance was used to produce 1.05 million cu. m of sawn softwood, mostly for construction, 0.14 million cu. m of round stakes for fencing and 0.84 cu. m of wood-based panels.

In 2017, exports of forest products from the Republic of Ireland were €423 million, an increase of 11.3% on 2016. Wood-based panels accounted for €224 million with the balance comprising paper and sawn timber exports.

As regards the use of pesticides, insecticides and fungicides, there is a relatively low use of these products in the forestry sector. Chemicals may only be used that are statutorily approved as safe to use in forestry by the regulator.

The evidence coming my way is different. Forest management in Ireland is in crisis and we are creating another environmental disaster by doing what is immediately, financially and politically expedient rather than what is good for the people of our country, the Irish environment and the future of the planet. We have the second-lowest tree cover in the EU after Malta, which means we need to dramatically increase our forest cover but over-reliance on conifer-dominated forestry plantations, in particular Sitka spruce, is unsustainable. These are dark, dead forest plantations designed to be felled for profit. It is not safe to enter a forest because of the dependence on chemicals, despite what the Minister said. One would not want to anyway, as they do not support any flora or fauna, they destroy water quality and they acidify soils. Why does the Department not support more sustainable native tree cover initiatives, which are better at absorbing pollution and converting it to carbon? They do not require fertilisers or pesticides, unlike current commercial non-native tree plantations.

The Deputy has made a lot of assertions and claims that are completely unfounded. It is wrong to say that spruce does not sequester carbon and a life-cycle analysis of spruce conifers, as compared with hardwoods and broadleaf trees, shows that they are the same in this regard. The mid-term review was approved last year. The Directorates General responsible for the environment and agriculture scrutinised the proposals and approved them. They include a requirement that all plantations contain a species mix, including up to 15% broadleafs. There needs to be up to 15% biodiversity with setback areas away from streams, rivers, roads and houses. In acid-sensitive areas, water has to be tested for four months before any plantation can be approved.

The Deputy should check out his facts before he makes assertions such as he has made. Does he not accept that this has been a major contributor to the rural economy? Trees sequester carbon. Moreover, we have acceptance from the main farming bodies that growing trees are an essential part of their overall effort.

We are probably reading different research. The Minister of State should send his to me and I will send mine to him. John Murray of the Murray Timber Group has gone on record to say:

Sitka spruce, while there seems to be an awful lot of talk about monoculture, is the equivalent of a Friesian cow - that's what it does for the industry. The nearest performer, as a native Irish cow, produces one third of what a Friesian produces - I know the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA ) would be up in arms if they were told to change all of their cows to that.

Mr. Murray may not have intended to do so but he actually nailed what is going on. He is saying that Sitka spruce is a monoculture. It is destructive but it is currently profitable, much the same as in the monoculture of dairy farming, which is destructive but profitable for the time being. The IFA and the timber industry have both told the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine what is what. Any consideration of what is not profitable but which may be good for the future of farming, and any consideration of the value of our surroundings or the world we live in, is completely off the table as long as the agribusiness giants are telling the Department what do.

I am not sure if the Deputy has heard of the efforts to promote the bioeconomy to replace the fossil economy. I visited Finland last year, where 73% of land cover is in three species of forestry. We sometimes forget that conifers include native Scots pine and Douglas fir. The three species in Finland are birch - which is a broadleaf hardwood - Scots pine and Norway spruce. They have developed a circular bioeconomy and are replacing all sorts of fossil-based product with bio-based products.

Are those species native to that region?

No. Norway spruce is, but Scots pine is native to this country. Birch is one of the bigger broadleaf species.

Are we planting Douglas fir?

Yes. I can get the statistics for the Deputy.

We must move on so that we are fair to other Members.

Fish Quotas

Ceisteanna (11)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

11. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the application to Europe for bluefin tuna quotas taking into account the potential in angling tourism in Donegal Bay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5625/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My question relates to the potential of a bluefin tuna angling industry to develop in Donegal Bay. This could be vitally important in providing employment in the off season and in the angling season. In order for it to develop, we would need a quota. There is a catch and release programme but there has to be a quota to develop, yet the Department is dragging its heels when it comes to making that happen.

Ireland has not made a specific application to Europe for a commercial bluefin tuna quota. The available bluefin tuna quota is allocated each year to member states on the basis of relative stability as established in the late 1990s. At the time, Ireland had no track record of commercial fishing for bluefin and, accordingly, did not receive a quota allocation.  The only way to obtain a share of the EU quota now would involve reducing the shares of those EU member states which do have quota and for whom bluefin is an important commercial fishery. A small bluefin by-catch quota is available to Ireland, primarily for use in our important northern Albacore tuna fishery and the Celtic Sea herring fishery, where there can be Bluefin tuna by-catch. This by-catch quota is also available to other member states of the European Union.

While obtaining a viable commercial quota is unlikely in the short to medium term, I am glad to be able to inform the Deputy that during the negotiations for the new management plan for bluefin tuna in the east Atlantic, Ireland was successful in introducing a clause allowing countries without a commercial quota to set up a catch-tag-release fishery. This will allow for the gathering of scientific data by trained tagging operators. My Department is currently working with the Marine Institute and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, as well as the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which has policy responsibility for recreational angling, to establish a pilot project for such a fishery in 2019. I believe that this fishery will be most beneficial to Ireland, as it will increase our knowledge of the behaviour and abundance of bluefin tuna in north-western waters, while also providing a small but valuable tourism benefit to peripheral coastal communities such as those in Donegal Bay.

There is no doubt that the tagging quota gets over the short-term problem of not having a quota but that is all it does. The quota is for tagging and scientific research but not for the tourism industry, which is vitally important. The by-catch quota is something like 100 tonnes.

It is 60 tonnes.

This is in comparison with a European total of up to 8,000 tonnes. One would think that, given the value we give to Europe in terms of fishing rights, Europe would be able to reciprocate with a quota of 50 tonnes or 60 tonnes to allow fishermen to work in the off-season and to allow the development of an important industry in coastal regions, standing alone rather than related to scientific research.

For clarification, we are putting in place a catch-tag-release fishery, which will facilitate the angling tourism product to which the Deputy referred.

The allocation of a permanent quota is made through the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, ICAT. The European Union is one of, I think, nearly 50 participating bodies in the negotiations for the allocation of a tuna quota. We do not have a European Union allocation of a bluefin tuna quota because we do not have a track record in that regard. If we were to seek to open up relative stability, the basis on which quotas are allocated, it would undermine, in the first instance, our approach to the Brexit negotiations, which has been to leave the Common Fisheries Policy and relative stability as issues to be negotiated in the next round of negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy and remain focused on our core interests. Seeking a quota would be akin to a member state with no mackerel quota at present seeking one and looking to open up relative stability on that basis. The Deputy will appreciate the analogy. I am sure he would hear a lot from his constituents about it if Ireland was to be seen to accede to such a request. Effort is a critical issue and relative stability a key policy plank, but we do not intend to open up negotiations at this point. What we are doing is facilitating the recreational angling industry which I know the Deputy is interested in promoting in his area but which also has potential in other areas along the western seaboard.

The Minister's example of the mackerel quota might have relevance if mackerel were swimming up to piers in countries that did not already have quotas. This brings us back to the situation in Iceland, where it is dealing with mackerel it already has, but the fact is that people can sit and look out their windows and see where the bluefin tuna are. The reality is that if we are to allow our fishing, costal and rural communities to develop, we must have a dynamic system that can accommodate it. I do not believe the Minister would open up the relative stability issue for the sake of a quota of 40 tonnes of tuna because that would be a way of kicking to touch so as to ensure nothing could happen. That is the real problem.

We do have a by-catch quota which is necessary for those who fish for albacore tuna and those involved in herring fisheries. We have a by-catch quota of 60 tonnes, but we do not have a designated bluefin tuna quota.

Inshore Fisheries

Ceisteanna (12)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

12. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the main objectives of the inshore fishing sector strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5717/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the main objectives of his inshore fishing sector strategy, in particular, job creation, in attracting new entrants and the conservation of species.

I was delighted to receive a presentation on the strategy for the inshore fisheries sector, 2019 to 2023, from the chairperson of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum at our meeting last week. I welcome the first industry-led strategy as it marks a major milestone in the work of the Inshore Fisheries Forum. Since its inception in 2014, the forum has developed initiatives which seek to protect the future of a sector which is extremely important for coastal communities. I understand the strategy was developed through an extensive and inclusive process which included both industry-focused and wider public consultation. The strategy identifies a vision for the inshore sector, that it "will have a prosperous and sustainable future delivered through a united industry with a strong influential voice". The strategy also sets out 14 objectives for the sector which are grouped under four themes. The objectives cover many issues, ranging from improving the management of fish stocks to strengthening the sector's representative structures, to improving the attractiveness of the sector as a career path to attract new entrants and retain current talent. Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, will lead implementation of the strategy in partnership with the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, particularly to target financial support available under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund to where it can be used most effectively.

I look forward to launching the strategy with the National Inshore Fisheries Forum in the coming weeks and, in the medium term, to seeing the output achieved through implementation of the strategy.

Is the Minister aware that 42% of the boats in the north-east inshore fishery fleet which extends from Dublin to the Border work out of County Louth, particularly the ports of Clogherhead, Annagassan and Carlingford? The fleet is a significant employer, not just in fisheries but also in marine tourism, processing and transport. What plans does the Minister have to conserve the resources that are available and attract new entrants into the industry?

I appreciate the scale of the industry to which the Deputy refers because when I meet representatives of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, they come with all of its constituent members in the north-east, north-west, south-west and south-east regional forums who all bring a unique perspective to the work of the national forum. The Deputy will be aware of the potential. We recently took a decision to prohibit larger vessels from fishing in inshore waters. I think this is the first time there has been a recognition of the potential and the opportunity now available for the sector to reclaim these waters as their exclusive territory. They generally fish in smaller boats which are not equipped to move out beyond them for safety reasons. There is a real opportunity for the sector, in all of the regional forums but also at the national forum, to present a product of the inshore that is marketed as sustainable in working with all other State agencies on how it can be progressed to deliver maximum value and in also working with Departments and local authorities on the infrastructural investment required to improve port and landing facilities. There is real potential in that regard.

I welcome the Minister's comments and his exclusion of larger boats from the six-mile zone. It makes a significant difference. In County Louth the razor clam, lobster and crab and cockerel fisheries in Dundalk Bay are all of huge importance locally. I look forward to the Minister's launching the report and his visit to County Louth in the near future.

I appreciate that it is a significant opportunity. It is now for the industry to grab it by the scruff of the neck. For many years it has been in the shadow of the larger fishing industries and the established producer organisations which do great work for the larger sectors, but this is a unique sector which has potential to create employment in local communities. The establishment of the strategy is key to driving the sector's potential.

Beef Industry

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Ceisteanna (13)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

13. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to make beef farming a viable option for farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5685/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (3 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Beef farmers are under tremendous pressure. Half of them are earning less than €10,000 a year and three quarters less than €20,000. In the past year alone they have seen prices go down by 20 or 25 cent a kilogram, or nearly €100 a head. There is phenomenal pressure, on top of which is Brexit which also exerts huge pressure. Beef farmers believe their needs are not being met. Will the Minister outline how he will address them?

I am fully committed to supporting the beef sector. I am conscious that 2018 was a difficult year for the suckler beef sector, particularly in terms of unprecedented weather events which resulted in increased input costs owing to fodder shortages. We must also acknowledge the exposure of the sector to Brexit impacts.

One of the unique strengths of the agrifood sector has been the shared vision in Food Wise 2025 for its sustainable development. I hope this positive engagement will continue. I have used the beef round table to highlight the need for stakeholders to recognise their interdependency and support the sector through an examination of mechanisms to add value along the supply chain and increase the strength of all links in the supply chain. For example, officials from my Department are engaging extensively with stakeholders in promoting the establishment of beef producer organisations.

In budget 2019 I secured €20 million for a new beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme targeted at suckler cow farmers and specifically aimed at further improving the carbon efficiency of beef production. I launched the scheme on 30 January. The scheme is open for applications until 22 February and I urge suckler cow farmers to apply for it. Further details are available on my Department's website.

My Department is examining all appropriate measures to support the different agrifood sectors, including the suckler beef sector, in preparation for the next iteration of the Common Agricultural Policy. I am committed to ensuring suckler cow farmers will continue to receive strong support under the CAP. My view is that such payments should support and encourage suckler cow farmers to make the best decisions possible to improve the profitability and the economic and environmental efficiency of their farming system.

The new beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme complements the existing beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, an agri-environmental measure which is specifically targeted at improving the genetic merit of the suckler cow herd which provides beef farmers with some €300 million in funding during the current rural development programme period. It is also envisaged that suckler cow farmers will be the primary beneficiaries of the €23 million ANC increase which I secured in budget 2019. Other supports available for suckler cow farmers under the rural development programme include GLAS, ANCs and knowledge transfer groups. Suckler cow farmers also benefit from the basic payment scheme and greening payments under Pillar 1 of the CAP. National farm survey data suggest suckler cow farmers receive support equivalent to approximately €500 per suckler cow on average, taking all of the schemes mentioned into account. I am strongly of the view that the current range of supports available to suckler cow farmers, together with ensuring access to as many markets as possible, both for live animals and beef exports, is appropriate for the continued development of the sector.

We are out of time.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.