PDs accused of politicking over salmon industry

Tue, Oct 11, 2005, 01:00

The Progressive Democrats are using the survival of the salmon industry as a political football, Labour Party TD Tommy Broughan claimed today.

The all-party Committee on the Marine and Natural Resources today issued a report calling for a three-year ban on drift-net fishing of salmon to protect stocks in Irish rivers.

The Minister of State for the Marine Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher said afterwards that he is open to any proposal that would secure the future of the salmon industry.

He immediately referred the five-point report to the newly appointed national Salmon Commission for "consideration on how best the wild salmon resource may be managed, conserved and exploited on a shared and sustainable basis".

However, while Mr Gallagher, a Fianna Fail TD, has yet to make a decision, he could be on a collision course with coalition partners the Progressive Democrats. He clashed with the PDs' Fiona O'Malley yesterday after her party published a policy document advocating an outright ban.

Ms O'Malley said at the weekend that her party felt so strongly about the issue that she was prepared to vote against the Government, though she reckoned an accommodation could be reached.

Mr Broughan, a member of the Marine Committee attacked the PD position today saying they had seven years to address the issue. "Now they are taking a sudden interest in the issue on the eve of our report coming out. It smacks of political opportunism to say the least."

However PD senator John Dardis later rejected the criticism and said his party issued a policy document on a buy-out of drift-net fishermen as far back as 1999. "We discussed the whole issue at our parliamentary party meeting again last month and agreed on it," he said.

The Marine Committee, which considered submissions from 45 interest groups over the last nine months, has called for a scheme to compensate drift-net fishermen. The scheme would either buy out the netsmen or suspend their licences for three years in order for stocks to recover.

Drift-net fishing has been blamed for a massive decline in salmon stocks across northern Europe and the practice is banned in most other countries along Europe's Atlantic coast.

Irish anglers have been seeking a similar ban for several years and claim the angling industry is on the verge of collapse because most salmon are caught before they ever reach the rivers.

Senator Dardis welcomed today's report but claimed it didn't go far enough. "I would have liked the report to go further than it has. It's going to take more than three years for us to know if there is a turnaround."

A decision on the report's five recommendations is due in early 2006.