Minister's statement on salmon conservation in the Department's jurisdiction

Minister's statement made to the Assembly on Tuesday 11 December 2012 on a range of salmon conservation measures that the Department was introducing to protect wild salmon within the Department’s jurisdiction.

Summary

Summary of proposed measures to conserve and protect wild salmon in the department's jurisdiction.

2013 season: transitional measures

Continuation and enhancement of DCAL’s current conservation measures for salmon including habitat restoration works and monitoring, protection and enforcement activities.

Continuation of the voluntary commitment from commercial nets men not to fish in 2013.

Continuation of the voluntary catch and release throughout DCAL jurisdiction and catch and release on PAE waters.

One salmon carcass tag to be issued at any one time; Anglers offered option of waiving right to take a tag.

Ban on the sale of rod caught salmon in the DCAL jurisdiction from 2013.
Introduction and agreement to legislation to give legal effect to further measures from the start of the 2014 fishing season.

2014 Season

Mandatory cessation of commercial netting for wild salmon from 2014 for the conservation and improvement of stock levels, which may allow for future sustainable exploitation.

Mandatory catch and release of wild salmon for recreational angling from 2014 to allow for the conservation and improvement of stock levels, which may allow for future sustainable exploitation.

Introduction

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I am making this statement to the Assembly today to advise Members on a range of salmon conservation measures that I am introducing to protect wild salmon within my Department’s jurisdiction. Salmon conservation is a subject that has generated a great deal of attention and debate. I value the interest and contribution made by Members, the CAL Committee and a wide range of stakeholders, including the Salmon and Inland Fisheries Forum, on the best approach to address the challenges in protecting wild salmon stocks.

Background

My statement to the Assembly on 12 March this year set out the grounds for concern:  International scientists have confirmed that wild Atlantic salmon are dying at sea in significant numbers; Southern stocks, including some in North America and Europe are threatened with extinction;  My Department’s Bushmills Salmon Station shows a decline in salmon returning to the River Bush from around 30% prior to 1997 to less than 5% today;  There is scientific evidence that salmon fishing off the North Coast is catching fish from areas protected under the EC Habitats Directive; and other monitored rivers across the North have failed to achieve their conservation limits in most years since 2002.

Continuing to authorise such exploitation is unsustainable and would be inconsistent with the Department’s obligations under the EC Habitats Directive, and with our commitments to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation.   This could lead to infraction fines being imposed by the EC.

Voluntary measures

Members will recall that earlier this year I called on all key stakeholders to commit to a range of voluntary measures to minimise the killing of salmon, and allow the Department to consult on measures to ensure the long term sustainability of wild salmon stocks. I am pleased to report to the Assembly that this there was a positive response by coastal nets men and they did not fish for salmon during the 2012 season. I am also pleased to report that most recreational anglers acted responsibly in adopting the voluntary catch and release policy during the 2012 season.  These measures have undoubtedly resulted in a significant reduction in the number of salmon being killed.

Results of consultation

The Department’s public consultation on longer term measures has now been completed.  Over 370 responses were received. The views of individuals accounted for 90% of responses, while 10% were from organizations purporting to represent the views of some 17,000 individuals. The key messages that emerged was that 83% of respondents supported a total cessation of commercial salmon fishing and a total of 74% supported the introduction of mandatory catch and release for recreational angling.

Views of salmon and inland fisheries forum

Since then, my officials have consulted on the outcome of the consultation including with the CAL Committee and the Department’s Advisory stakeholder group, the Salmon and Inland Fisheries Forum. Forum members, for the most part, supported a total cessation of commercial netting and the introduction of mandatory catch and release for rod caught salmon. The Forum also advised that it would welcome a review mechanism that would consider the possibility of allowing the taking of fish should stocks recover to an abundant level at some stage in the future.

I have given a great deal of thought to the views expressed by the various stakeholder interests. I have reflected on the international and local scientific advice and the position adopted by Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Loughs Agency in deciding on a way forward. I believe that the suite of new conservation measures that I am announcing today are appropriate, equitable, enforceable and essential to conserving and protecting wild salmon stocks in the future.

Commercial fishing of wild salmon

Firstly, I will consider the commercial fishing of wild salmon.  In doing so I recognize that the continuation of commercial fishing for salmon is a complex and contentious issue. Fishermen have harvested salmon for hundreds of years off the North Antrim and County Down coasts. These traditional fisheries have made an important contribution to supporting livelihoods and the economy and are an integral part of the culture and heritage of our coastal communities and a way of life.  It is important to acknowledge and preserve this heritage. The nets men themselves fully recognise that steps must be taken to conserve stocks to ensure the long-term survival of the species. They have shown this commitment by not fishing in 2012. There is a need to achieve a balance between conservation and fishing that may allow for the sustainable harvesting of salmon in the future should stocks levels permit this.

Therefore I will introduce legislation to impose a mandatory cessation of all commercial wild salmon fisheries to take effect from the 2014 season. This would remain in place until such times that scientific evidence confirms a sustainable surplus of fish over conservation limits over a number of years.

Recreational fishing for wild salmon

Secondly, I now wish to consider recreational fishing for wild salmon. In doing so I recognize that recreational angling provides important economic and social benefits.  However, it is important that our fisheries are managed in a sustainable way in order that we may continue to benefit for many years to come.  Unrestricted exploitation of our fish is against the public interest, and I am pleased to say that many recreational anglers understand this and have in general supported my call for voluntary catch and release during the 2012 season. I am also aware that a number of private fishery owners have introduced mandatory catch and release on key rivers in the North. I welcome their leadership and acknowledge that, for some, this has had an impact on their businesses with fewer anglers opting to fish.

In considering the way forward for recreational fishing for wild salmon, we currently have scientific data available on six index rivers in the DCAL jurisdiction indicating that they are not meeting their conservation limits. It is essential that catch and release for rod caught salmon continues.

I believe that catch and release represents a win-win solution, maintaining social and economic benefits whilst ensuring the continuing of salmon angling, short of a full cessation of fishing. Therefore, I am introducing legislation to impose mandatory catch and release across the DCAL jurisdiction with effect from the 2014 season. These measures will also remain in place until such times that scientific evidence confirms a sustainable surplus of fish over conservation limits. I have also decided to limit the availability of salmon carcase Tags to one per angler in the 2013 season, but would appeal to anglers to waive their rights to a Tag in applying for their license.

I will continue to impose catch and release in all DCAL public angling estate waters and that all salmon caught in these fisheries must be returned to the water unharmed.

With the introduction of mandatory catch and release from the 2014 season, no carcass tags will be issued to anglers.

In addition, I will also introduce legislation to ban the sale of a rod caught salmon in the DCAL jurisdiction from 2013.

However, catch and release techniques do not guarantee the survival of rod caught salmon. Therefore, I will introduce legislation to improve the survival rates for these salmon through the use of appropriate angling methods, equipment and techniques in accordance with internationally agreed best practice.

Additional control measures

The consultation process also considered a range of temporal control measures, for example a shorter season, to reduce exploitation. Scientific advice in AFBI is that this would produce a differential impact across the DCAL area, impacting on some rivers and regions more heavily than others. Given this, I am therefore not proposing to adopt a single, DCAL area wide, temporal control measure at this stage.

Such measures are in addition to our ongoing work to ensure the sustainability of our fish stocks.  The conservation and protection of salmon stocks and their habitats are central to the work of DCAL. The protection of wild fisheries remains a priority for my Department and we are currently engaged in a range of programmes to protect and conserve wild fisheries and their habitats and to fulfil our obligations under European Union Directives and international commitments. My officials are also working with angling clubs on a number of projects to improve salmon habitats in selected rivers and we will continue this work.

Furthermore, we have a robust enforcement strategy in place to protect fish stocks and prevent illegal fishing. We will be furthering this work in tandem with new conservation policies. I will continue to commit departmental resources to fisheries with a focus on conservation, protection and enforcement in future.

New subordinate regulations

The measures I have outlined today will be implemented in a proactive and timely manner. My officials are drafting new subordinate regulations in conjunction with the Departmental Solicitors Office involving amending or recasting of at least four sets of existing regulations and introducing a further three. This is, by necessity, a complex and lengthy process and will include consulting with the CAL Committee, commercial fishing and recreational angling interests and other stakeholders.

Taking into account the necessary timeframe to allow for this engagement, it is proposed that the new legislation should be in place in time for the 2014 season. In the interim, the voluntary conservation measures that applied in 2012, and which proved effective, will continue and be enhanced.

Conclusion

Therefore, in summary, Mr Speaker, I am proposing;

  • a continuation and enhancement of the current conservation measures to protect wild salmon, including voluntary catch and release and no commercial netting in the 2013 season
  • to introduce legislation for the cessation of commercial netting for wild salmon to take effect from 2014
  • to introduce a ban on the sale of rod caught salmon from 2013
  • to introduce legislation for mandatory catch and release of wild salmon for recreational angling to take effect from 2014

There is a ground swell of opinion among all the stakeholders that measures need to be taken to support wild salmon stocks. The changes that I am announcing today positively respond to the challenges facing the future of salmon stocks. The approach aims to preserve fish stocks in a responsible, sustainable and equitable manner. This reflects my strong commitment to “champion” this issue. I am determined to continue to regulate fisheries and conserve and enhance fish habitats to ensure that commercial and recreational fisheries are sustainable and deliver benefits to all.

I believe that the measures are fair, balanced, enforceable and essential in conserving and protecting wild salmon now and for future generations. This approach will position the North at the forefront of salmon conservation policy. To succeed we will need the continued support of commercial nets men and anglers working together to ensure that we achieve our shared objective.

Mr Speaker, I thank the Assembly for the opportunity to update Members on these important measures and will keep Members and the CAL Committee informed of progress.

Back to top