Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: Thursday, 03 April 2008

Salmon and Inland Fisheries Stakeholder Forum Consultation

3 April 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Jim Shannon

The Chairperson:
The next item on the agenda is the consideration of the salmon and inland fisheries stakeholder forum consultation. I advise members that the deadline for responses to this consultation is 11 April, so the Committee needs to consider how it wishes to respond.

The Committee’s response can be signed off at the meeting of 10 April 2008. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) advises that it has undertaken an equality impact screening exercise, and it does not consider that the proposal to establish a new stakeholder forum impacts adversely on any of the nine designated equality categories, as defined under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

The Department has also undertaken an assessment of the proposal’s impact on areas other than equality, including the economic, social and environmental impacts. It does not consider that the proposal will have a significant impact on any of those areas.

Members have copies of the DCAL consultation document, the Minister’s response of 5 February 2008 to concerns raised by the Committee on the role of stakeholders, and his responses of 18 February 2008 on angling representation on subcommittees and 28 February on the analysis of consultation responses.

The current board comprises stakeholders who represent various interests in salmon and inland fisheries and other interests that impact on fisheries. Under schedule 2 to the Fisheries Act ( Northern Ireland) 1966, up to 24 persons can be appointed to the board. Currently, anglers have six representatives for affiliated and unaffiliated anglers. The commercial operation of salmon and eel fishing and other commercial fishermen have a further six representatives. When the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB) has been abolished, no statutory forum will exist. I have additional contextual information: should I distribute that now, or do you want to make a point, David?

Mr McNarry:
I would be grateful if I could make my point now, because I must take my leave. I am strongly in favour of anglers being represented on the subcommittees; I take a different view to the Department on that. It is crucial for the anglers’ associations to be represented.

The Chairperson:
We will discuss that strongly made suggestion.

Mr Shannon:
I agree with David.

The Chairperson:
I will put your opinions on the record, and we can come back to that issue. I will continue with the contextual information. At —

Mr McNarry:
May I propose that the Committee sends a letter to the representatives of the three sporting bodies?[Laughter.]

The Chairperson:
Our laugh is your answer, David. It is a pity that you cannot stay.

Mr Shannon:
That was said with real sincerity.

The Chairperson:
I know, and to the Deputy Chair.

The consultation document contains a series of questions that require answers. The proposed composition of the new stakeholder lists is: two anglers; two unaffiliated anglers; two named representatives of commercial fisheries; four named representatives of commercial fishermen; one named representative of fishery management interests; one named and one other representative of fishery owners and operators, and others. Anglers and fisheries will continue to have up to 12 representatives on the new forum. Questions allow for agreement to, or suggestions about, this proposal and about the nomination and selection of candidates.

The proposed role of the new forum is that it should be consultative rather than executive. The Minister’s letter of 18 February 2008 sets out the Department’s view on specialised subcommittees of the new forum and the angling representation on same — and we have heard two members’ views on that today.

Mrs Simpson’s letter of 7 February 2008 sets out the Fisheries Conservancy Board’s views on the potential implications for the present functions of the FCB arising from the transfer of functions to the Department. Their concerns include: the fact that executive powers will become a matter for the Department in consultation with the new forum; the disparity between the resources available to the Loughs Agency of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission and the FCB; the number of cases in which criminal proceedings involving fish kills will not have reached a conclusion or in which civil claims are still to be resolved; the number of firms of solicitors that have built up considerable expertise in fisheries legislation from cases where alleged fishery offences were prosecuted through the courts after files were prepared by the FCB, and the potential loss of that expertise. Finally, the FCB is concerned about the lack of knowledge about whether the Department will continue to undertake certain functions, such as the provision of a bailiff service to angling clubs and the provision of support to angling clubs in training private water bailiffs.

At the Committee meeting on 24 January 2008, Mr Michael Crilly, an executive member of the board, voiced concern about the representation of anglers in the new forum. The Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Limited, Toome Eel Fishery (NI) Limited and the commercial fishermen on Lough Neagh sent a combined submission to the Department in March 2007, regarding the proposed restructuring of the FCB and the influence to be afforded to stakeholders. Page 2 of the submission sets out the co-operative’s views on what is required to provide proper representation.

That is the background information, which should focus members’ minds on the forum consultation. Does any member wish to state an opinion?

Committee Clerk, what is our job today, our task?

The Committee Clerk:
The consultation document provides a questionnaire. The Committee could, if it wished, answer those questions, particularly those with respect to the nominating bodies that are listed under paragraph 4·4 and the number of nominations that should be sought from each.

However, as I understand it, the Committee’s concern is that the salmon and inland fisheries stakeholder forum will be a consultative, rather than an executive, forum, and that the representation of anglers will be severely watered down, in that the Department will only be consulting.

Mr Shannon:
There is a committee and, as I understand it, subcommittees will operate under its auspices. Will that structure of subcommittees involve more anglers? Will anglers be able to feed into the process in that way? I would rather have increased the number of representatives to four groups of four, as the Committee Clerk has suggested. I want to ensure that anglers can feed into the process.

What is meant by “affiliated” and “unaffiliated anglers”? How does the Department decide who falls into which category? I would be happier had the number of anglers on the forum been increased. I do not know whether that is possible, though I am well aware of where we are in the process. I need some guidance.

Mr McCartney:
The seats for unaffiliated anglers are to be filled by public advertisement.

Mr Shannon:
I see that. Who will decide who those will be? If there are 20 applicants, are their names put in a hat and drawn out? I do not know what is meant by that. I see that the Northern Ireland Angling Advisory Council will have two members representing affiliated anglers.

The Committee Clerk:
Under paragraph 4·5, there is provision for the Committee to give its views, where it is asked:

“Do you agree with the proposed method of selection as outlined above?”

Mr Shannon:
Should all the representatives be drawn from the Northern Ireland Angling Advisory Council? How many anglers would be excluded from the process by organising it that way? The anglers to whom I have spoken are probably members of organisations and will have input to those bodies. However, the ones who are not are happy to fish on their own: that is what they are about. I have no wish to be obstructive. I am trying to tease out where we are in this process and ensure that more anglers are represented on that body.

The Chairperson:
Have you further questions for the Department?

Mr Shannon:
In paragraph 4·5, it states:

“Where there is no recognised body to nominate, as in the case of unaffiliated anglers, nominations will be sought by the Department by means of public advertisement and interview”

That is interesting. It goes on to say:

“if more than the requisite number of applications are received.”

We should ask the Department whether it will consider drawing the four nominations from the affiliated anglers. We should also ask how the Department sees that the process will involve local anglers, so that they can feed into the system and have their views heard? It would be a pity to lose, in the middle of the process, those whom we depend on for the organisation, namely the anglers.

Angling is one of the biggest country sports in Northern Ireland, in Ireland as a whole and in the UK. It has great potential.

The Chairperson:
We will draw these views to the Department’s attention: representation on subcommittees and the representation of anglers. What other concerns should the Committee Clerk to include in her draft response, which we will sign off on next week?

There are no other points.

The Committee Clerk:
If the Committee agrees, rather than preparing a response by way of the questionnaire, I will draft a statement that refers to the concerns raised.

The Chairperson:
Yes. We will provide an evidence-based response, because we are reflecting the views of the various organisations that have addressed the Committee.

Next week, the Committee will sign off on the response.

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