Major shift over salmon policy


The Government seems set to undertake a major policy shift on wild salmon management if a public-private compensation scheme for drift-net and draft-net fishermen is approved.

Minister of State for the Marine Pat "the Cope" Gallagher says he is prepared to look at a system of voluntary buyouts and temporary set-aside for commercial salmon catchers, which has been recommended in a report due to be published tomorrow by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

Funding for the scheme, estimated to cost anywhere between €5 million and €70 million, should be drawn from the tourism angling sector, as the main beneficiary of any such move, and from national and international conservation groups, according to the report. It says EU and State funds could also be used.

The report is the result of a nine-month consultation undertaken by a sub-committee of the group chaired by Cork North-Central TD Noel O'Flynn (FF), and comes less than a fortnight before a protest rally organised by an umbrella group of angling interests, the Stop Salmon Drift Nets Now campaign for the Fianna Fáil ardfheis in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Government policy to date is opposed to any total buy-out, and the Minister of State told the Oireachtas committee last April that he remained unconvinced that investments to buy out the commercial wild salmon fishery could be returned from the tourism angling sector.

Meanwhile the Progressive Democrats have rejected claims of "political opportunism" in the debate after party TD Fiona O'Malley said she was prepared to vote against the Government in support of an end to the current system. The Green Party accused the PDs of gaining an interest in the issue in advance of a Government policy shift.

The party last week produced a detailed policy in favour of a ban on draft-net fishing, written by Senator John Dardis.

A PD spokeswoman said the party's position had in no way been influenced by the imminent Oireachtas report, and that it had been in preparation since early in the summer.

"It's certainly not political opportunism," she said. "John's policy paper was discussed in detail at the party's parliamentary meeting in Dublin in September and there was a unanimous decision to support it."

The committee's report outlines two separate compensatory schemes - a once-off payment for drift- and draft-netters who surrender their licence permanently, and an annual sum over three-years for licence-holders who set aside their activities for three years. This latter group may reapply for their licences if the stocks recover during that period.

Significantly, the committee recommends an increase in licences for the commercial sector after three years if stocks do recover sufficiently, and it calls on the Department of the Environment and Local Government to commission a report on the effects of seal predation of wild salmon.

Several reports on the impact of seals have been prepared for Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

The Minister of State told The Irish Times there were complex factors involved in wild salmon survival, including pollution, seal predation and global warming and the issue was "not as simple as has been portrayed".

He said he would refer the Joint Oireachtas committee report, and the PD policy paper, to the newly appointed National Salmon Commission. The commission meets in Dublin tomorrow.