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To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide an update on the status of the Green Paper on Energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 6th May, 2014.

REPLY

My Department is finalising an Energy Policy Green Paper which identifies issues that need to be considered in the development of Ireland’s energy policy to meet current and future challenges. Competitiveness, security of supply, and sustainability, as well as energy policy’s potential to support economic growth and job creation, will be the key pillars of the Green Paper which I expect to publish next week.

The energy policy landscape has undergone considerable change since the Energy Policy White Paper was published in 2007. The Green Paper provides a useful overview of the very significant developments that have taken place since then including billions of euro of investment in generation, transmission, distribution, supply, energy efficiency, renewable energy and new technologies. Other important developments including retail market competition, the Single Electricity Market, the development and commissioning of the East West Interconnector, renewable energy investment initiatives, energy efficiency incentives, and key policy documents are also referenced in order to set the scene for public consultation. The paper also points to developments at EU and international level that are having a direct impact on the Irish energy landscape.

The Green Paper sets out six energy policy priorities as follows:

·

Empowering Energy Citizens;

·

Markets and Regulation;

·

Planning and Implementing Essential Energy Infrastructure;

·

Ensuring a Balanced and Secure Energy Mix;

·

Putting the Energy System on a Sustainable Pathway; and

·

Driving Economic Opportunity.

There will be a full public consultation process on the Green Paper during which interested parties will be invited to submit their views which will form a key imput to the development of a new Energy Policy Framework in the form of a White Paper. It is my intention to publish the Energy White Paper around the end of this year.

To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will consider initiating new independent research to assess the potential for allowing small commercial fishing for mullet, sea trout, bass and salmon using traditional methods based on best practice and sustainability; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Mick Wallace.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 6th May, 2014.

REPLY

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) is the state agency responsible for the protection, management and conservation of Ireland's inland fisheries and sea angling resources. In that role it provides scientific advice to my Department regarding the most up-to-date status of species under its brief.

Sea trout, bass and salmon are all managed as recreational angling species. All three are highly valuable angling species and provide the basis for significant employment and associated revenue generation in the angling tourism sector throughout Ireland.

IFI manages salmon stocks on an individual river basis as each of Ireland’s 143 salmon rivers has its own unique stock of salmon. IFI is supported in its management of salmon stocks by a statutorily based Standing Scientific Committee on Salmon comprising scientists from IFI, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), the Loughs Agency, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Marine Institute, the

Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI- Northern Ireland) other State bodies and third level institutions. IFI carries out extensive monitoring of salmon stock status which feed into the the scientific committee's assessments carried out every year. Sea trout greater than 40cm length are managed under the same regulations as salmon.

The offshore and inshore salmon and sea trout commercial fisheries were closed in 2007 in order to comply with the EU Habitats Directive. A €25M Hardship Scheme was established for fishermen. While the scheme was administered by BIM, I understand that the average payment under the scheme was almost €23,000 and the highest payment was over €195,000. Conditions of the scheme included that nets had to be verifiably decommissioned and those availing of the Scheme would not be entitled to a licence in the future.

Commercial harvest fisheries are currently permitted on individual river stocks which are shown to be meeting their conservation limit. Fisheries in estuaries may also be permitted where the stocks from individual rivers entering the estuaries are each meeting their individual conservation limits. The current management approach allows Ireland to meet its international and national obligations in terms of salmon conservation and operate sustainable harvest fisheries (commercial and recreational) where this is feasible.

The steep decline in bass stocks in Ireland in the mid-1970s resulted in a severe deterioration of the renowned Irish bass angling resource. Ultimately the decline led to the cessation of the commercial fishery in 1990 via the Bass (Conservation of Stocks) Order, 1990. Since then bass, which are at the extremes of its European distribution in Irish coastal waters, have been regarded solely as an angling species and are restrictively managed largely on a catch and release basis.

Since 1990 Ireland has applied the precautionary principle in relation to management of Irish bass stocks and has concentrated on measures to enable the rebuilding of the severely depleted stock. Recent advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is that data are insufficient in the wider Northeast Atlantic Area, which includes Ireland, to evaluate the status of bass and that, on a precautionary basis, catches should not be allowed to increase. The current advice states that Irish bass are slow growing and discrete and the stock is highly dependent on suitable environmental conditions for successful recruitment.

IFI is currently delivering on its bass research programme, which seeks to provide greater insight into the ecology and biology of bass to support long-term bass sustainability. The outputs from this research and associated annual monitoring will, in the future, provide scientific advice to support the future management and conservation of Ireland’s bass stocks. The current Irish management model is regarded as being progressive by many observers and there are no data to warrant any change in the management approach. I am advised that the focus should be to continue observing the precautionary principle and collecting better quality data on stock status as consistently advocated by ICES for all species as a fundamental policy approach.

There are three species of mullet in Irish waters; the most abundant and common is the grey mullet. Grey mullet is also a popular recreational angling species which is sought after by specialist recreational anglers. I am advised that stock status is unknown as there is no formal stock assessment and no evaluation of mullet stocks by ICES in the north east Atlantic. Like bass, mullet are slow-growing, long-lived and late-maturing fish. In the absence of formal assessment I am advised by IFI that the precautionary principle is recommended. Opening up a fishery on stocks with an unknown status presents the possibility of overexploitation without any measure of current sustainability.

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