Ó Domhnaill seeks re-opening of ban on drift net fishing

Fianna Fáil Seanad spokesperson on Agriculture, Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, has told the Seanad that an urgent review of the ban placed on drift net fishing for wild Atlantic salmon is now required.

Senator Ó Domhnaill said the review is needed in light of the increased volume of salmon coming into the majority of all rivers.

He commented: “In light of the challenging economic environment and the difficulties being experienced by coastal and island communities, I firmly believe that the ban on commercial drift netting should be eased.”

This week, Senator Ó Domhnaill and Senator Denis O Donovan pressed the Minister of State for National Resources, Fergus O Dowd TD, about opening a limited licensing regiment for island and coastal communities in view of the recovery of the wild salmon stocks.

“After all, both Fine Gael and Labour promised to carry out such a review prior to the last election so I was deeply disappointed with the response from Minister O’Dowd, who has responsibility for this issue, when he dismissed my call outright.

“I never agreed with the outright closure of mixed stock commercial salmon fisheries in 2007. However, in light of the increase in runs of salmon in almost all rivers following the closure, I believe it justifiable to seek a review of the ban,” said Ó Domhnaill.

“I feel it is totally unreasonable not to give consideration to reviewing this issue, particularly in light of the fact that the two biggest challenges facing the fortification of wild salmon stocks is pollution in our rivers, which was highlighted in a new EPA report, and the excessive destruction of wild salmon by schools of seals.”

“I will continue to press the Government on this issue until a relaxing of the ban is introduced. I believe that a controlled re-introduction of commercial salmon fishing could be introduced on a 3 or 5 year pilot basis in a way which would not diminish stock levels.”

Senator Ó Domhnaill also expressed his satisfaction that the Donegal Islands Fishermen Committee will have an opportunity to make a formal presentation to the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine next Tuesday (3rd July).

“The group will have the opportunity to discuss the Common Fisheries Policy review and the issues impacting island fishermen, including the salmon ban. The group recently launched a 3-Year survival plan which aims to save and maintain the communities on the Islands of Arranmore, Inishboffin, and Tory Island. The group will have an opportunity to formally present the report to the committee,” concluded Senator Ó Domhnaill.

See wording of motion and response attached

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill and Senator Denis O’ Donovan

The need for the Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resource to review the ban on Drift Net Fishing for wild Atlantic Salmon and if he will consider providing a limited licencing regiment for Islands and Coastal communities in view of the recovery of the wild salmon stocks.

Wednesday 20th June 2012

Senator Denis O’Donovan: With the permission of the House, I wish to give a minute of my time to Senator Ó Domhnaill who also wishes to address this issue. It is ironic that the Minister with responsibility, Deputy Coveney, a good honourable Corkman, has left the House and put the Minister of State in charge of a very delicate matter.

I will refresh the memory of the House. In 2006, a Fisheries Bill was introduced and in the same year, the then Minister, Noel Dempsey, one of our own Ministers in that Government, decided to revoke the licence for salmon net fishing around the coastline. This caused great consternation and, arising therefrom, an absolute ban on drift nets for salmon fishing was introduced which affected people around west Cork, Kerry, the island communities and, as my colleague will attest, in Donegal. It had a socio-economic impact on those areas. In Cork there were some 110 active drift net licences, all of which were revoked by minsterial order, as the Minister was entitled to do; it was not done by legislation. As a result of efforts by me and others within our party those affected got a compensation package. At that stage Fine Gael Deputies from the peripheral areas of Ireland, whether in counties Donegal, Mayo, Clare, Kerry, west Cork or Waterford, gave a clear commitment that if they were returned to power they would reverse that particular decision. I locked horns with the Minister of the day, Noel Dempsey, with whom I had difficulties, and he declared that after five or six years he would review the situation.

I accept and do not dispute the importance of salmon fishing to inland fisheries in the rivers and lakes of the west of Ireland. The issue is also present, however, for people in Bere Island, Whiddy Island, Cape Clear and other islands, for whom there should be a limited reopening of salmon fisheries, subject to certain obvious restrictions. I am not talking about the blanket situation that had obtained. However, evidence so far shows that the removal of drift net licences has dramatically increased the volume of fish coming into all the rivers. In Bantry Bay we have the Ouvane and Comhola rivers, among others. A lot of poaching is going on. In my view, the people I mentioned are the first who should be given, on a test series, a limited licensing system. This would help people in remote rural areas of Ireland, the peninsular areas and islands off west Cork and might only be on a two year basis. If the Minister retains the right to reintroduce a licensing system he also has the right, at any stage, to abandon that system. After six years of the ban it is worth looking at this situation again and we should do so. For many years, salmon fishing off the west Cork coastline was very successful and created onshore jobs. It is worth revisiting. The Minister of State might have some very interesting news for me and I hope at least some of it will be positive.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I thank Senator O’Donovan, who is an expert in this area, for raising the issue and for allowing me 30 seconds to add my tuppence worth from a north-west point of view. The salmon fishing ban was a devastating blow and a wrong decision. It was devastating for smaller coaster and island communities. The compensation package, although available, was not availed of by all fishermen. Those people, in particular, should be allowed, encouraged or given the opportunity to return to fishing. Although scientific evidence may argue that by returning to fishing there will not be the availability of salmon, the best scientists of all are the fishermen themselves, particularly those living on islands who are advising that there are salmon coming in close to shore, in particular in the north-west 6A area, where salmon are coming in albeit later in the season.

The biggest difficulties, which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine did not attack, were the pollution in our rivers, the lack of spawning beds for the production of salmon and the issue of seals. In every bay in the country, as in the bays in my constituency, there are seals sitting up and eating five, six and seven salmon a day. The Department should focus on a seal cull and on reopening salmon fishing. I hope the Minister of State has good news for Senator O’Donovan and me.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Fergus O’Dowd): Táim chun é seo a léamh, cé go bhfuil sé beagáinín fada agus má bhíonn orm teacht isteach an dara uair, déanfaidh méé sin. Wild salmon in Ireland are part of our rich national heritage and biological tapestry, and Ireland is one of the most renowned natural producers of wild salmon in the North Atlantic.

Ireland traditionally operated a commercial, offshore, mixed stock fishery, an estuarine draft net fishery, an in-river commercial snap net fishery and an angling or recreational fishery.

Fisheries experts and scientists in Ireland have been concerned for many years about the declining numbers of salmon in Ireland. This parallels concerns internationally regarding the severe decline in Atlantic salmon. This parallels international concerns about the severe decline in the number of wild Atlantic salmon, which has a very distinct life cycle. As Ireland has a large number of salmon rivers, it is very important in terms of the worldwide stock of Atlantic salmon. Since 1996, Ireland has introduced a progressive series of conservation initiatives to address this decline in stocks. In addition to conservation measures that were already in place, Ireland introduced an annual quota for angling and commercial salmon fishery in 2002. That quota was reduced progressively on an annual basis from 219,000 salmon in 2002 to 62,000 salmon in 2007. Although these measures provided some protection for stocks until 2007, they did not specifically address the mixed stock nature of Ireland’s marine salmon fisheries. These fisheries were known to take salmon from individual river stocks below that river’s conservation limits. They took stocks originating from rivers in other countries as well as in Ireland.

Conservation limits are defined as the number of adult salmon required to reproduce in sufficient quantities to generate the next generation of salmon in a specific system and to ensure the long-term sustainability of this river-specific salmon stock. Ireland has established conservation limits for all salmon river systems. The salmon stock status in each catchment is accessed each year using best available counter and catch data supported by scientific data and modelling. This scientific analysis, which is conducted by the independent standing scientific committee on salmon, offers advice on potential salmon surpluses and deficits using the precautionary principle. Each year, management personnel review the scientific outputs and develop management advice for each salmon river. This advice supports the annual development of the salmon and sea trout commercial and angling fishery regulations. In order to align fully with international scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, the Government closed the mixed stock salmon fisheries – the drift net fishery – in 2007. The closure of Ireland’s mixed stock commercial salmon fishery was supported by the introduction of a €30 million salmon hardship scheme, which was aimed at fishermen who were prepared to leave the sector permanently and was administered through Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

While the salmon fishery is a public fishery for which a licence is required, there is no obligation on the State to open the fishery. Equally, nobody is entitled to obtain a licence. Despite this lack of licence entitlement, the hardship scheme was made available to all commercial salmon licence holders from previous years. They were given an opportunity to receive compensation in return for ceasing commercial salmon fishing permanently. Applications from interested applicants were accepted until the end of 2007. Many former fishermen availed of the scheme. Since then, the exploitation of salmon stocks through commercial fishing and recreational angling has only been permitted on stocks emanating from rivers that are achieving their conservation limits and therefore have surplus salmon available. In 2012, some 57 rivers are open with a surplus of salmon available whereas 60 rivers are closed because they did not reach conservation limits and did not generate a surplus. A further 31 rivers are open for angling on a catch and release basis. Rivers meeting over 65% of the conservation limit may be approved for catch and release status. This permits rod and line angling under strict conditions, such as using a barbless hook and immediately returning any fish caught to the water alive.

In 2006, the Central Fisheries Board, which is now known as Inland Fisheries Ireland, was directed under the Fisheries Act 1980 to “co-ordinate the preparation and implementation of a programme for rehabilitation of salmon stocks giving priority to rivers below their Conservation Limits in special areas of conservation which have the greatest prospect of recovery”. Provision was made for the programme to be funded from the proceeds of the salmon conservation component of salmon licence fees. An additional fee, equivalent to the cost of the salmon licence, was added to all classes of salmon licence to provide funds for conservation in 2007. This fund was subsequently used to rehabilitate habitats in salmon rivers, particularly those under their conservation limits. Over €3 million has been collected and allocated to rehabilitation projects nationwide since the fund was initiated.

The Atlantic salmon is a protected species under the EU habitats directive. The current salmon management regime complies with the requirements of this legislation. The reintroduction of a fishery for offshore islands and coastal communities would be contrary to the internationally independent advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. Such a move could potentially lead to conflict with EU obligations on grounds of not protecting vulnerable Irish and international salmon stocks. Despite the initial increase in runs in most rivers following the closure of mixed stock commercial salmon fisheries, many specific river stocks remain below their conservation limits. Given the persistently poor marine survival rates experienced by most monitored stocks in the north Atlantic and taking account of forecasts until 2015, at least, any expectation of an increase in catches is unrealistic and irresponsible at present. The advice we have received from our scientists and the position of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation is that the priority is the conservation imperative rather than an indiscriminate increase in the catch.

The current low levels of commercial fishing do not involve fish taken at sea but are concentrated on particular stocks in river and estuary systems that are generating surplus fish by meeting their conservation limits. It would not be appropriate to extend commercial fishing to sea areas such as those around offshore islands where the runs of salmon are known to be from multiple river stocks – both Irish and non-Irish rivers – some of which are below their conservation limits. The opening of commercial salmon fishing to offshore areas could only be considered with any authority if there was a dramatic improvement in marine survival of wild Atlantic salmon. Current international advice concurs that there is no indication of this in the foreseeable future. All current scientific evidence suggests that Atlantic salmon stocks remain under severe pressure in Ireland and elsewhere. There is no indication that there has been any sustainable recovery in the stocks as implied in the debate topic. All evidence is that marine survival of wild Atlantic salmon is at a fraction of historical levels. Until this improves significantly, the expansion of the commercial salmon fishery is unsustainable and irresponsible.




Posted: Jun 27, 2012     |     Categories: Uncategorized