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Fisheries Protection (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash] They have been raising concerns for some time about the methodology applied to many rivers in Louth and Meath which have, essentially, copperfastened the catch-and-release policy since 2006. As the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, is aware, the fishermen want to work in partnership with Inland Fisheries Ireland. They have asked questions about the methodology applied that in their view have yet to be adequately addressed by the authorities. It is my firm opinion from speaking with those involved that a review of the policy is timely, taking on board the relevant and experienced views and evidence supplied by local anglers, fishing clubs and federations in the area.

Deputy Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan I concur with what Deputy Nash said. The Minister of State, Deputy O’Dowd, met the group on many occasions. I go fishing as often as I can, but not often enough. As the Minister of State is aware, fishing is an important past time in this country and it is also a source of revenue to the Exchequer because many tourists, in particular from the Continent, come to this country to fish in our waters. It is very important that we get the catch-and-release system right. As Deputy Nash said, there is currently contention as to whether we are correctly measuring the amount of fish in the rivers.

I wrote to the Minister of State on the matter last April and I received a reply from him. He referred to the forecast model used to identify the number of fish in the rivers. In the Glyde river the forecast is approximately 19% of the conservation limit for salmon and it is 27% for the River Dee. From speaking to fishermen locally who know the rivers in question, they think the figures are very low. All we seek is that the officials would speak again to local fishermen and try to come up with a revised methodology and that both sides can agree on the exact number of fish in the rivers based on as close an estimate as possible. At the moment we contend that we are underestimating the amount of fish and that it would be okay to end the catch-and-release scheme.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I thank the Deputies for bringing this matter to my attention. As they pointed out, I am very happy to meet them at any stage, in particular as we are from the same town. I have met all of the angling organisations in the county of Louth in Ardee and Drogheda on Friday afternoons and Wednesday nights.

Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash The Minister of State has met anglers on Saturday mornings.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I wish to be perfectly clear because I wish to be specific on the matter. Mr. Ciaran Byrne, chief executive officer of Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, has always made himself available to everyone concerned. He has visited on Friday afternoons and on Wednesdays. He has gone to Dundalk. His senior management team has met on a number of occasions with interested parties. The first point is very clear, the IFI and I are very happy to meet and to look at all the facts. However, we must deal with the facts and they are as I will outline.

First, it is not true to say, as Deputy Nash said, that there is no fishing on the Boyne. There is fishing on the Boyne on a catch-and-release basis. That allows people to fish and to catch but it does not allow them to keep. The Deputy is probably misinformed in that respect.

The standing scientific committee for salmon has identified 143 rivers throughout the country which contain 152 fisheries, as some rivers have other tributaries. In 2013, a total of 94 fisheries were open for angling. Of these, 62 fisheries are open because there was a surplus of fish. A total of 32 fisheries are classified as open for angling on a catch-and-release basis only and 58 fisheries are closed as they have no surplus of fish.

In 2006, the Government committed to alignment with the scientific advice and moved to restrict the harvest of fish to those which meet the conservation limits. The effect of this advice was that the mixed stock fisheries were closed. Indiscriminate mixed stock salmon fishing at sea was ceased, that is, drift netting at sea was effectively stopped.

There are five salmon rivers in the Dundalk district which are scientifically assessed on an annual basis, the River Flurry, the River Fane, the Castletown River, the River Dee and the River Glyde. Only one salmon river in the Drogheda district is scientifically assessed on an annual basis and that is the River Boyne. In 2013, one of these six rivers, the River Fane, is open for the harvesting of salmon. Of the remainder, the River Flurry is closed to all angling, and the remainder, the River Boyne, the River Glyde, the Castletown river and the River Dee are open for catch-and-release angling.

This country manages salmon stocks on an individual river basis due to the fact that each river contains a genetically unique stock, which migrates to sea as juveniles and returns to the same river in adulthood to spawn. The conservation imperative means that exploitation of salmon in each river is only permitted where the independent standing scientific committee for salmon, SSCS, which includes expertise from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, the Loughs Agency, LA, the ESB, and the Marine Institute, MI, determine that the stock in that river is above the conservation limit. The decision is not a political or administrative decision; it is based on science. The conservation limits are set out in the reply.

Significant analysis has been carried out by Inland Fisheries Ireland through the use of catchment wide electro-fishing to determine salmon fry abundance. In other words, it is not just based on conservation figures, as experts carry out tests in the fisheries to establish whether some fish were not identified. Further research is carried out to establish that. The goal of IFI is to protect the stock and to make it available for the future. If the conservation limit is exceeded, it is possible to catch and keep fish.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny The Minister of State must conclude now.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I will respond in more detail as I am entitled to a further two minutes following the supplementary questions. I do not know whether the Deputies have my reply but it contains facts and figures. We must be clear on the issue.

Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash I wish to be clear as well about what I said. I did not say that fishing on the River Boyne had ceased; I said that the objective evidence from what I have seen and heard from local fishermen in many respects indicates that fishing on the River Boyne has all but ceased in recent years. The level of activity is certainly not the same as it used to be. That is understandable given the catch-and-release policy.

Essentially, what Deputy Hannigan and I suggest is that the policy would be further reviewed and that IFI would continue to work on a partnership basis with local anglers to try to achieve the best possible outcome from a conservation point of view, which is extremely important, and also from the point of view of fishermen, current and future, who wish to engage in angling and to see a situation where they can at least aspire to having a catch-and-keep system.

Deputy Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan I thank the Minister of State for his comments and the fact that he is happy to meet anglers. I recognise, as do the fishermen, that he has been very willing to meet them on many occasions. I also thank him for the additional updated information contained within his reply. To date, the fishermen have received no formal response from the IFI to the submission they made in May 2012. Some information has come back informally but I urge that a formal response would be made to their submission of that date.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I would be very happy to ensure a formal response is made. The clarity is in the figures. In terms of opening a river for catch-and-keep fishing, the Flurry river is at 23% of its conservation limit, which is well below the required level. Even if only every second fish was being counted, the level would only be at 46%, which is not even half the level required to catch and keep fish. We must deal with the facts. I would be very happy to meet with the Deputies concerned and to arrange for the provision of any data they or the fishermen have not received.

In summary, 32 fisheries in this country operate on a catch-and-release basis and to unilaterally open the four rivers in the Drogheda and Dundalk districts to harvesting would set a dangerous precedent that would ultimately compromise the entire scientific process to which the Government agreed to commit in 2006. In short, the rivers are open for catch-and-release angling and therefore there are angling opportunities for all anglers. A small minority believe they should be able to take fish and they do not wish to engage in the conservation-focused practice of releasing fish. I accept the majority of people are not in that category. I would be happy to meet the fishermen in question. I meet fishermen around the country all the time. To be honest, I am surprised the Deputies tabled this Topical Issue debate instead of asking to meet me so that I could go through all the facts rather than giving them in this public place.

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