Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo






Ballinderry River Enhancement Association Sion Mills Angling Club
Glens Angling Club
Warrenpoint Rostrevor & District Angling Club
Dr R Mathers
Mr W Owens
Mr B Johnston
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Ards & Down Salmonid Enhancement Association
Mr N Armstrong
Northern Ireland Tourist Board
North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NI)
Department of Regional Development - Water Service Agency
Department of Agriculture and Rural Development - Rivers Agency
Demesne Angling Club
Fisheries Conservancy Board
Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Department of the Environment - Environment & Heritage Service


Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McElduff
Mr McMenamin
Mr J Wilson

Mr L Cassidy ) Ballinderry River
Mr A Keys ) Enhancement Association


The Chairperson: Good afternoon, Gentlemen. You are very welcome. We received your submission and have all had a chance to look at it. This is an opportunity for you to expand on some of the points in it. It is also an opportunity for us to put a few questions to you to help to develop some your ideas. You have 10 or 15 minutes to make your presentation, and then there will be questions.


Mr Cassidy: I would like to set the record straight on our organisation because sometimes there is confusion about it. Ballinderry River Enhancement Association, Ballinderry Fish Hatchery Limited and Ballinderry Bridge Angling Club are, of course, all in Ballinderry but they are all different organisations.


The Ballinderry River Enhancement Association is 18 years old and is made up of seven local angling clubs with a combined membership of 500. We also have a Board of Directors called BFH. Ballinderry Fish Hatchery is a seven year old non-profit making community business. It provides local native game fish, habitat enhancement and education. It sells native game fish consultancy and training across Northern Ireland.


Mr Keys: Mr Cassidy and I remarked earlier that our fathers were not given the great opportunity that we have been given to be able to influence Government. In the early years of our 18 year old history we had four main objectives. The dollaghan trout which is a native of Lough Neagh, was in decline in our river and many other rivers. Our first objective was to halt the decline of that species. The second objective was to try to reduce agricultural, industrial and domestic pollution in the Ballinderry river. The third objective was to upgrade in-river spawning and nursery habitats and also to educate local primary school children in general river care. This photograph is a fairly dramatic one which shows effluent from the Cookstown Sewage Treatment Works. This rubbish should never get to a river. The photograph I am talking about is of a boy angling.


That particular boy's mother worked at our hatchery, and he has been involved in and around the hatchery and has become an excellent fisherman. I asked him to pose for this photograph six years ago. The domestic discharge in Cookstown has steadily become worse in the last six years. Attached to that photograph are two letters from the Department of the Environment. One was written in 1996 when we were told that the sewage treatment plant in Cookstown would be upgraded in April 2000. We were devastated to learn a few months ago that there would be nothing done this year and that work would not commence until April 2001. That is the only failure that we admit to in our development. We have failed to bring about any improvement. In fact there has been a fairly serious decline in what comes out of sewage treatment plants in our catchment area.


Moving to the bigger picture, we began to work with other clubs across what is sometimes called Northern Ireland and at other times the North of Ireland, the Six Counties or the Province; we do not know what to refer to it as, but other objectives began to come forward. In the early years of Ballinderry River Enhancement Association (BREA) the project attracted several environmental awards, including one from the Institute of Fisheries Management which is a Great Britain- wide award.


In the early years the skills and knowledge of river enhancement were built up, and many contacts were made. At a time when there were no grants a core group of volunteers had to be very inventive and adapt things like factory spoutings and old cheese vats to hatch eggs and grow fish in. We learnt a lot in those early years. Grants then became available, and the BREA project was ripe for assistance. It had made all its mistakes over a four- or five-year period. In 1993 there was an INTERREG grant which allowed our hatchery capacity to be expanded. In 1994 a grant from the rural development division of the then Department of Agriculture provided a safer water flow system and an alarm system at the hatchery.


Mr Cassidy explained that the seven-year old community business, Ballinderry Fish Hatchery, was started, and in 1995, that organisation, the community business Ballinderry Fish Hatchery, which I manage, was asked to draw up enhancement work plans for other rivers. We carried out surveys and drew up work plans for various clients at that time, and they all received grants from various quarters.


During the two rounds of the Salmonid Enhancement Programme, BREA and its member clubs received funding for 11 habitat-enhancement projects. BREA is currently completing five projects which are being funded by LEADER II and the local peace and reconciliation partnership. These include a new river school, a pearl mussel breeding unit and a glen walk. Since the in-river habitat enhancement work started, both on our local river and across Northern Ireland, we have monitored the success of work completed. All that work should now be assessed. Money has been spent, and there have been cases - the Department and consultants and clubs were all learning during the last four or five years when the Peace and Reconciliation money has been coming through the Salmonid Enhancement Programme - and it is now time to assess how that money has been spent. It is only by doing so that we will learn how to spend future moneys more wisely. An assessment team could be set up to go and look at that work.


Assessment teams should also be asked to look at existing fish farms and car washes. These would have received planning permission years ago, and we feel that their performance should be assessed.


In our submission we talked about a spend of approximately £36 million, and you have asked us to elaborate on that. I will just stand up and show you this map.


The Chairperson: This meeting is being recorded and the microphones may not pick you up if you are standing. Perhaps an officer could hold it up for you.


Mr Keys: The black lines are around each catchment area in Northern Ireland and the red dots are places where the peace and reconciliation money was spent. The yellow dots show where there has been no spend in those catchments. We assessed from this map where the money had been spent, particularly on spawning and nursery habitat in red catchments. We took the size of those catchments, the spend that has already been made, and by simple division and multiplication we worked out that about £30 million is needed to make all the catchments red on this map. So that is where that figure has come from.


The other point was that the Salmonid Enhancement Programme money, although it was very welcome, was given to us without much warning and there were very few people actually geared to handle it. It would be much better to have a smaller amount of money over a greater period of time, so that everybody concerned could have an ongoing rolling programme to enhance each river.


You have asked us to comment on an all-Ireland permit. It would certainly simplify and streamline things for anybody arriving on the island, should it be through Cork or Larne, if they could go into a tourist information centre or an angling shop and buy a single ticket.


On the proposed tagging system, I think that for whoever would be selling that ticket it would be a simpler job for them than the multitude of tickets that are available at the moment. The customers would have to be asked if they would be fishing for salmon or sea trout, and, if so, then they could buy tags with the single permit. That would be a good advance.


I would like to make four final points about habitat improvement and river enhancement in general. There is no ongoing cost after habitat improvement, or there should not be if it is properly planned and carried out. At the other end of the scale is the Millennium Dome where there were more ongoing costs than were bargained for. But we have carried out work - six-year-old work - where the fish are now spawning on new spawning fords each year, and we have never had to go back and spend a penny on that work. I would be glad to show it to you, on the Ballinderry River. The other fact is that Mother Nature is on our side, and any cost and effort, no matter how little, gives a vast return. In other words, Mother Nature and the fish get on with the business.


We are building a river school at the moment, and that building will have to be heated. We will also have to pay staff to work in it, and we will have to maintain it and paint it, whereas river enhancement work does not carry any of those burdens. Another side effect of river enhancement concerns other species. On the Moy, where fisheries work on river enhancement was carried out, there are far more mallard duck and butterflies. As a result of river enhancement on the Ballinderry, we certainly have more otters and kingfishers than ever before.


My last point is about people. We have certainly made contacts throughout Europe as a result of the Cookstown project. A presentation on our pearl mussel will be given at a conference in Germany next month. A professor from Queen's University will bring the scientific fraternity in Europe up to date with the project ongoing at our hatchery.


We made contact and worked with a host of people. This was happening long before terms like "mutual respect" and "cross-community" were thought of, for the Ballinderry rises in the mountains, flowing down through good agricultural land and flatlands into Lough Neagh. Our two communities living along various parts of the river are brought together by river enhancement projects. At our first meeting 18 years ago, I ran my eye round the room and saw that 22 Catholics and 22 Protestants were in attendance. Every committee meeting is about 50/50, something I see in angling clubs right across Northern Ireland.


The Chairperson: I must ask all groups two standard questions first, and you have partially answered them already, the reason I was smiling. I must, however, ask them. They relate to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and concern the equality legislation, something we are required to mention at the beginning of each evidence session.


Are your organisation's members representative of a cross-section of the local community and local groups, such as disability groups and Age Concern? Are there any specific problems facing disabled anglers, and have you made any improvements to deal with them?


Mr Keys:Yes. As I said, our membership is about 50/50, and all groups on the river are represented in the association. We have built eight facilities along the river for disabled anglers, although they are unfortunately not used as much as we should like. Old age pensioners receive a free ticket in most of the clubs.


Mr J Wilson: Thank you for your submission. You mentioned your concerns about the Cookstown sewage treatment works. Every submission we have received, almost without exception, has mentioned such works. Perhaps some would prefer to call them "sewage non-treatment works". A letter we received today from the mayor of Ballymena expresses his concerns about that town's problems, and I have video footage from my home town of identifiable bathroom items going straight into our river and Lough Neagh. Given your background, I feel you could comment, not just on your own area, but on the seriousness of the situation with sewage treatment works right across the Province.


If you do not mind, I should also like to ask a related question on zero phosphates, something you mentioned earlier. You will be aware that a scheme is currently running in the Lough Erne catchment. Please explain to the Committee why a scheme such that running in Lough Erne is so necessary for the Lough Neagh basin and address the question of nitrification generally.


Mr Keys: I will start with the sewage treatment works. All the major towns on the rivers flowing into Lough Neagh did receive extra facilities - an upgrade or a new sewage treatment plant - in the last ten years, except Cookstown. That is what our local gripe is based on. I know that Ballymena were putting forward a case for yet more money to upgrade, while Cookstown still remains the way it was 25 years ago. Generally, across the Province, agriculture and industrial pollution have come into line compared to the situation 20 or 30 years ago when silage making was in its heyday. The domestic problem has got worse. Certainly the case that Ballymena is making is that, even though money was spent a few years ago, the town has grown quickly and the plant is not able to cope. It is a problem that is going to cost a lot of money to address across the Province. Other countries like Sweden spent a lot of money on this kind of environmental improvement 20 years ago. They are saying they could not afford to do today what they did 20 years ago. We have this problem and it will have to be faced.


On the use of agricultural phosphate, the Erne scheme is a pilot scheme and is a very good scheme. Applying phosphate to the land is like applying it slowly to a sponge. Over a period of 25 years the phosphate will pass through to the bottom - even if you stop the application. It is a big problem. The Erne scheme involved soil sampling every individual field on each farm and there was an 86% take up of that scheme. If phosphate was not required then a zero phosphate fertiliser was purchased. An initiative could be introduced for zero phosphate fertiliser to be made cheaper to buy. The fertiliser manufacturers charge about the same price for both types of fertiliser. This pilot project should be replicated, not only in the Lough Neagh basin but right across all catchments.


Mr McElduff: The Association suggests that the Committee look at the feasibility of setting up an independent body to protect and monitor water quality, why do you emphasis independent in this case?


Mr Keys: All polluters, no matter who they are, should pay for the problems they create, including the Department of the Environment, which currently receives crown immunity. The industries in our catchment would cite this all the time to us. They might fail their agreed limits by 1%, yet Cookstown sewage treatment plant could be exceeding normal limits by a factor of 1000 and is never taken to task. The Water Authority in England is independent and does as good a job as they can. The problem is how an independent organisation would be funded so as not to have to tip their cap to local or central government. They need to be truly independent.


Mr McElduff: Given that fisheries functions have been split across a number of bodies - the Conservancy Board, the Foyle Fisheries Commission and the Department of Agriculture itself - how do you feel about a single body serving the Six Counties as opposed to three bodies or even more?


Mr Keys: Going by what the staff in these departments and organisations tell me, it has become extremely fragmented and complex. The protection of rivers is one thing, their development is another and usually the two are split. For example, the Foyle Fisheries and Carlingford have a development and a protection role whereas the Fisheries Conservancy Board has only a protection role. The development in their area rests with the Inland Fisheries Branch of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. It is very complicated and it may take a smarter man than me to advise you on this.


Mr McCarthy: The Association suggests that a permit for anglers throughout Ireland could be considered. Should this proposed licence replace the rod licence and the game permit, and do you think it would be feasible to have one licence to cover game and coarse fishing?


Mr Keys: It could be streamlined with one licence taking the place of the existing licence and permit. This would involve a lot of meetings between our fishery people here and those in Dublin. It is very complicated. If I want to fish in the west of Ireland I have to buy two or three permits and if I then want to fish on a private fishery I will probably have another licence to buy. The whole thing is very complex and it must be very off-putting for tourist anglers coming to Northern Ireland. It might never be possible to have a single licence but it should certainly be investigated.


Mr McCarthy: Would the introduction of a tagging scheme further complicate the licensing structure?


Mr Keys: If the single ticket is introduced, the customer would only have to be asked if he is going to angle for the two kinds of fish to be tagged, that is, salmon and sea trout. This question will have to be asked if the tagging system is introduced and we would certainly be in favour of the tagging system in principle.


Dr Adamson: The Association suggests that the Assembly should look for funding of about £3.6 million per annum to be spent on the inland salmon fisheries over the next 10 years. Would the Association explain how this figure was calculated and how it would be best put to use?


Mr Keys: Without holding the map up again, we arrived at the figure based on the moneys spent previously, where they were spent and calculating what it would cost to address work across all the catchments. It is a fairly crude figure but I think it is not far off the mark. If you were able to offer £4.6 million instead of £3.6 million, it could still be spent.


The second point you made was where it should be used. Too high a percentage of the money spent to date was spent on creating access and creating new angling pools. The smart place to put money is where the fish are going to reproduce in spawning areas and new nursery areas. What is good for the fish is automatically good for the fisherman. Spawning and nursery habitat creation is the area where most of the money should be used.


Dr Adamson: How would you allocate the money? Would so much be given to each angling club or so much to each river per se?


Mr Keys: The yellow marks on the map which was held up earlier illustrate the areas in which no money has been spent in catchments to date. That is probably because there is not an active angling organisation in that catchment, and that might remain the case. There needs to be another assessment of the gaps in the catchments. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure might have to be proactive and go into catchments where there are not any plans forthcoming from organisations such as the Ballinderry River Enhancement Association and spend money on spawning and nursery habitat. Catchments cannot be ignored just because there are no applications coming from them.


Dr Adamson: Other groups have discussed the possibility of funding from the Fisheries Conservancy Board for voluntary bailiffs and granting the voluntary bailiffs extra powers. Have you included in your calculations the promotion of the extra funding for bailiffing, and what are your views on the other groups' suggestion.


Mr Keys: No, I did not include that cost because I had not thought of it. Mr Cassidy and myself are both voluntary bailiffs. Sometimes we are out in the middle of the night and we have never received payment for it. We would be prepared to continue to do it. I do not have a strong view on payment for voluntary bailiffing.


Mr Cassidy: I do not have a strong view on voluntary bailiffing, but I think that it might encourage more people to take up the job and this would lead to more protection on the ground. There is a lack of policing to protect against such problems as polluters and poachers. It is difficult for voluntary groups to make their plans and then go out and saturate an area and do checks on it. Therefore it would be beneficial if more people were encouraged to take up the opportunity of voluntary bailiffing.


There are some legislative problems with regard to water bailiffing and private water bailiffing, for example, granting the authority to someone to go to some man's property to do checks. Possibly that area could be looked at where a private water bailiff could have that authority. By the time you get a water bailiff from the Fisheries Conservancy Board to investigate the problem, the problem has gone and the conviction has normally gone as well. However, if it was got in time the outcome would be different, but it would take money to do that. For example, I could immediately take a sample to be analysed in Lisburn rather than waiting 24 hours by which time the sample could show up negative and then the polluter has got off with it. At the minute there is no quickness on the ground to being alerted to a problem.


Mr Davis: May I turn to the question of netting. The association has requested that the spend be focussed on decommissioning illegal salmon nets and on fish passes. Do you know how much it costs to buy out a salmon net, and how many salmon nets are there in Northern Ireland.


Mr Keys: I sit on the North Atlantic Salmon Fund Northern Ireland committee and at the moment that committee is made up of anglers. At present some of them are working very hard to get letters out to the private sector to help to run a fundraising event so that the anglers will have money to put in the pot to match some government money. We do not know what it would cost to buy out every salmon net. They will have to be picked off one at a time. The first one has been bought out but I do not know what the total spend would be. About £4 million would be needed to make an impact.


Mr Davis: Does the Association think that all netting licences and all national and European netting laws are inadequate?


Mr Keys: We could criticise the law, but it is nearly impossible to police the present laws. If we were to pass more stringent laws, they might prove even more difficult to enforce. There is no upper limit on many of the commercial licences which are issued.


Mr Cassidy: A commercial licence used to be available, though I think that it has been retracted. Those who got such a licence are still permitted to hold it. It is for a massive net, which can catch up to 20 times the amount that a fisherman can catch in the lough. A single trawl on the lough can catch vast numbers of salmon. One fisherman actually boasted of catching 2,500 salmon in one season using this method. Other applications for such licences were made, but were refused. However, those still existing take too many fish. That is locally speaking; nationally, I cannot say.


Mr Davis: Those without experience in angling might say "a net is a net", but you know that there are different kinds of net. Perhaps you might explain these for the benefit of the Committee.


Mr Keys: Salmon nets can be divided into two types: the offshore nets - drift nets - that fish far out into sea and along estuaries; and fixed nets around the coast that pick up the salmon on their way to particular rivers. They can also be divided into fixed engines and drift nets. The fixed engines which we would like to buy out own the right to fish for salmon. If I owned a car, a potential buyer would have to talk to me about buying it, whereas drift-netters have a licence issued by Government, and it is up to the Government to stop issuing drift-net licences. Most salmon are taken by drift-netters operating far off the coast; not so many fish are taken around the coast and in the estuaries.


Mr McMenamin: The report states that angling organisations plan to upgrade spawning and nursery areas. Who will fund these upgrades? Should hydro- operators be charged for the supervision of their operations? If so, should this be a set amount or should it be calculated according to the amount spent on policing each operation?


Mr Keys: The second round of the Salmonid Enhancement Programme will wind up at the end of the year. That was a very good vehicle for delivering river enhancement. We need more from the same source. It would be unreasonable to ask anglers to repair damage which was done 20 or 30 years ago during drainage schemes, when the then drainage division removed the rivers' spawning and nursery facilities. So it would be 75%European money that I would see being put into these improvements.


We put forward the idea of a bond for future hydro developers. This is the case in other developments where the operator has to put up money before he begins his operation and some of that money is used to monitor the operation for two to five years. If improvements are necessary, then that money would come out of the bond that the developer put up at the planning stage.


Mr McMenamin: The Fisheries Division can issue an exemption from the provisions where it is satisfied that suitable alternative measures to protect wild fish stocks are in place. What are these suitable alternatives? Would you explain what operators are exempt from doing, and what can they be prosecuted for?


Mr Keys: The Act states that a grill should be in place at the end of the tailrace. That is where the water re-enters the river in case fish run up the tailrace and get into the turbine. In certain circumstances, in larger operations, the Department has allowed an electric barrier to take the place of the metal grill. A second example is the Act states that these operators will close down for a certain number of hours every weekend. It goes back to the days when mills worked for five days of the week, and closed down at weekends. It makes more sense to allow them to operate during the weekends through the winter - from the point of view that fish only run in the summer and autumn. That is another exemption that can be given.


If an operator fails to work within the conditions and exemptions given by the Department, they can be taken to court. It seldom happens. Any other stipulation in the Act, like smolt screens, which the Act states must be in place in springtime, if those are not fitted then the operator can be taken to court.


Mr McMenamin: Would you say that the grill is more effective than the electrode?


Mr Keys: We tested electric barriers during this study and we were surprised at how effective they were. Having said that, it does not seem that the manufacturers can stand over how they work. Electric barriers must be site specific as there are no two sites the same. What we advise is that for any one site there should be far greater time and money spent in the design of the specific electric barrier that will be working there; the operator should know how it works; there should be a testing mechanism in place at all times; there should be a record kept of any breakdowns and if the electric barrier breaks down then he should shut the plant off. There are a series of recommendations around electric barriers. Properly designed and maintained they can be very effective.


The Chairperson: There are two further areas for questioning and I will bring in Mr Wilson and Mr McCarthy, in that order.


Mr J Wilson: Every summer has seen a number of serious fish kills across the Province. The most recent notable one has been in the Moyola, which you would be close to. Some people do not understand a major fish kill, particularly a highly toxic fish kill, and take the view that the toxic substance has moved downstream, fresh water follows and a quick fix is to introduce trout back into the river the next day. Would you explain to the Committee why that does not work?


Mr Keys: In the event of a fish kill the substance has to be pretty toxic to kill the fish in the first place. It will probably have killed most of the invertebrates that fish live on. It is debatable how long it takes for that natural fish food to return to the river before you could introduce new fish. In the event of two or three large floods, invertebrates that fish live on can be swept downstream fairly quickly. There is a new product which our company has brought in from America called AquaMats - they are quite like the material on the floor here, like a carpet or a felt. When that material is put in the river, the invertebrates colonise it and they build up in massive numbers on the material. In Cookstown we have ripened up a number of mats and, if there is a fish kill in any river, those mats plus the invertebrates on them can be shipped in within a week or so. That actually inoculates the stretch of river affected and fish could be reintroduced fairly quickly in that case.


Mr McCarthy: Going back to the water quality and pollution we talked about earlier. Other groups have recommended that there should be different levels of fines for polluters, depending on whether it is their first offence or not. What would your views on that be?


Mr Keys: The sort of step-up they are recom- mending - and we have seen only once in our catchment area where for the first offence the fine was £150, the second offence £750, and for the third offence £3000 - was very effective in one particular case. I think the polluter was laughing at how small the fines were until a figure of £3000, linked to this person, appeared in the local paper and I have watched that stream with interest ever since and it has been clean. So, it shows that it does work but it is very uncommon for that to happen. Certainly we would advocate different levels of fines.


Mr McCarthy: Would you agree with suggestions made by other clubs that protection of river corridors from development would benefit fisheries and also a wide range of animals and vegetation? How could this concept be adopted and expanded by the Government?


Mr Keys: I just brought this with me, if I could pass it round. A building contractor in Derry actually engaged us to draw up a plan of work which would upgrade the stream running beside houses he was building, just outside Derry. It was the first time that any contractor had taken that initiative. It struck me that at the planning stage of developments near rivers, planners could ask to see the plan that the contractor is proposing to maintain and upgrade the stream or river that he is building or developing beside. We are certainly advocating that type of approach. It is better than what exists at the moment.


Mr McCarthy: You would not be advocating a total ban on our corridor from development as long as you would get co-operation from builders?


Mr Keys: In that particular case I had surveyed that burn some years ago, and although it is small, it is important on the Faughan River because it is quite close to the sea and salmon and sea trout would use it. If this plan is carried out, that particular stretch of the burn will be better after the housing development but certainly planners should try to keep development away from it. In that case, some of the photographs included with the plan, show the corridor which would be planted out and it is easily the width of this room - the Senate Chamber. It is not absolutely ideal but it is a lot better than we have seen before.


Mr McCarthy: Other groups have given details of problems they have had with cormorants. Do you have a problem with these birds and can you suggest a possible solution to pollution caused by them that would be acceptable to all bodies?


Mr Cassidy: I agree with those clubs that there is a massive increase in the cormorant population, and it is probably due to the numbers of fish being produced by the likes of ourselves which results in an increase in other wildlife species. The cormorant in particular consumes fish each day amounting to four times its own body weight. They are becoming like pests. I want to see them protected and not threatened, but there should be some licensed control methods. One does not want an open situation where people think that they can get away with shooting cormorants. So there needs to be some licensed control at certain times of the year. For example, their parents should not be eliminated when they are rearing their young, although perhaps a few eggs could be removed from their nests before they are hatched.


Other bodies such as the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) should have some ideas on ways of controlling them. There are other species of birds but the cormorants are really increasing beyond control. They do need to be controlled as they can invade the river from the lough in vast numbers and they are scooping up the fish in huge numbers. There needs to be some form of control that would be acceptable to other bodies such as the RSPB.


Mr McCarthy: If the numbers were controlled, could you work with that?


Mr Cassidy: Yes.


The Chairperson: A final point that you have touched on several times - Mr Keys in particular - concerns the regulations to control water abstractions, particularly for hydroelectric schemes, from waterways. What kind of regulations are there, and what do they entail? Are there any charges for the water extraction?


Mr Keys: I came across this quite recently, Mr Chairman. I was asked to do a survey on the Annalong River in the Mournes. I was amazed at the situation there where there are 18 square kilometres drained to that river and the water that falls on 12 of the 18 square kilometres is abstracted to come to Belfast. That was set up in the early part of this century. It is a small but fast flowing river, and it is very productive. The five square kilometres that drain to the lower part of the river are very productive in terms of salmon and sea trout, but there is absolutely no provision to allow salmon or sea trout to pass weirs, which the Department of the Environment now control, in order to get these fish up the river. If they did get up the river the riverbed is totally dry most of the time.


I was amazed that this is happening. It is also happening in other rivers that I am not as well versed about but in this day and age the community living around Annalong could have a very good viable river that would bring income into the area. They are not given that opportunity as things stand at present.


Considering the fact that a fairly vast amount of money is being spent at Enniskillen and at Lough Neagh for major abstraction of water from those two large bodies of water, it is now time that we allowed the water that the man above said should go down these minor rivers which are like parched tributaries of the River Maine. Abstraction from headwaters was something that was done in the early part of the century that should be seriously looked at now.


The Chairperson: Thank you. That concludes our questions. Thank you for coming along and providing us with so much interesting and useful information. We will be deliberating on this and producing a set of recom- mendations. Our plan is to have that prepared by November.




Members Present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McElduff
Mr McMenamin
Mr J Wilson

Mr M Patton )
Mr E McCrea ) Sion Mills Angling Club
Ms McCrea )


The Chairperson: You are very welcome.


Mr Patton: The Sion Mills Angling Club has been looking into fishing for some time and has set up an office catering for anglers throughout Northern Ireland, the British Isles and elsewhere. We have tried to cater for them on a day-to-day basis and provide information on angling. We also provide information on accommodation for anglers from other areas. We have been involved in enhancement programmes of the river system through the Department of Agriculture. We also co-operate extensively with the Foyle Fisheries in regard to developments.


Mr E McCrea: One of the problems on the River Mourne we identified was fishing rights, which was unfortunate for us as a long-standing angling club. We believe that this is a problem common to all rivers. There are details of this on page three of the submission and in our initial submission. We would like to see an in-depth search of fishing rights. It is crucial, on behalf of all angling clubs, to identify the proper owners. We did not realise the extent of the problem until we researched it. We raised various possibilities, and grave doubts, as to the ownership of fishing rights.


This affects public money being spent to develop fisheries throughout Northern Ireland, especially the Foyle system. It needs to go to the right people, and that is to the titleholders of the rivers. This will ensure anglers are correct in what they are doing - legally fishing in the proper places.


Fishing rights also affect tourism. On a number of occasions visiting anglers have been challenged because they have the wrong day tickets, and tourism has increased now that there is peace. They need to get those day tickets from the proper authorities - people that own or manage the fishing rights legally. That was one of our main concerns in the submission.


I will go on to pollution. Looking at the map you can see that there are eight main tributaries running into the River Mourne on the Foyle system. This means that all clubs should be vigilant and we are keeping in contact with them concerning this.


Pollution is also caused by leaking slurry tanks, slurry being spread in fields near burns and rivers and industrial leaks. When Baroness Denton was the Minister we made some recommendations to her. One of these recommendations was that there was a need for more pollution officers. At the moment in our area we have pollution officers in Strabane District Council, Omagh and the Foyle Fisheries, and they are passing it from one to the other. This is not right. If we cannot get one then we get the other, but we still do not know what is happening, nothing is being resolved.


The issue of dead animals should also be addressed. The council says that it does not want to know about it - it is not their problem - neither does the Rivers Agency want to be concerned with it. It is a terrible thing to see rotten animal carcasses along the same rivers that we are trying to maintain and improve access to fishing.


I shall now deal with the issue of poaching. In our area there are organised gangs of poachers who operate in a professional manner. Gone are the days of the old poacher running away when a bailiff comes along. These guys are waiting with all the mod cons to take on the bailiffs, especially the bailiffs of the local clubs. In Sion Mills especially, the voluntary bailiffs are right at the forefront of the system because we are responsible for all fish going up and down to the rest of the rivers. We are responsible for that but our bailiffs are not even insured.


We asked the Foyle Commission about this on numerous occasions. We said that all club bailiffs should be insured by the Foyle Fisheries because they are assisting them and doing their work but we got no response. The ordinary clubs cannot afford insurance - it is too heavy an expense. So we shall be putting forward the idea of block insurance for all clubs when we meet Mr Anderson from the Loughs Agency.


As you can see from your documentation, the Foyle system is separate from the rest of the rivers in Northern Ireland. On arriving at the Sion Mills information office which is managed by Stella, my wife, supplement licences and permits have to be administered. That results in a mountain of paperwork. A visiting angler will have to wait for about 10 or 15 minutes in the office before all the paperwork gets sorted out. It should be simplified. Our aim is to have a rod licence introduced for all rivers. This would simplify matters but I would like a body set up to enquire into it.


The ordinary people in Northern Ireland feel that hydro electric schemes on the rivers are not good for them. A vast amount of water is extracted from rivers and then diverted through and into these hydro- generators and then out. The fish do not know what is happening. Electric barriers are also put on.


There has been three attempts in three years to put up protective barriers at the run at Sion Mills but this has not succeeded. Where is the expertise here? Is it with the fisheries? We relied on the fisheries all along when the hydro scheme was being installed because they are supposed to be the men who know everything concerning the wellbeing of the rivers. That is their job. Not the ordinary man in the street. These hydros have been killing fish. It has been on the television and the radio. I would like to see some sort of body set up to monitor all the hydros in Northern Ireland and perhaps report back to yourself, Mr Chairman.


There is a lack of communication with the Foyle Fisheries. There has always been a distance between Foyle Fisheries and the ordinary clubs. The ordinary clubs should be given more responsibility. Sion Mills Angling Club took responsibility itself by patrolling, protecting against pollution and poachers. When patrolling, we bump into the Foyle Fisheries' bailiffs an odd time. Had there been co-operation there would have been no need for them to be there. They would have been at a hot point somewhere else, as we were covering our own stretch. If we cannot go out on a certain night, then we would call them in. We had a serious incident not so long ago which I will refer to later on - and Mr McMenamin knows all about it. We were on patrol all of June because there was a heavy run of fish coming into the River Mourne. Our club bailiffs are all young fellows, and they did a fantastic job in keeping nets off the river. To date about 42 illegal nets have been lifted.


Mr Patton: On one occasion, before the Foyle Fisheries' bailiffs got the beating, five nets were lifted in one night, with some 56 fish in the nets. Since then we have still been lifting nets. We lifted nets two days ago with some fish in them. The amount of poaching that is taking place is serious. It has been turned it into a business - it has been commercialised; there is no doubt whatsoever about that.


We had envisaged that the club would need a great deal of help in stamping it out. I say that because some of bailiffs working for us are not paid - they are volunteers, who have daytime jobs. They are out to three or four o'clock in the morning, and then starting their own jobs. They cannot do that every night.


As Eddie said, there must be better communication to ensure that when we are on duty, Foyle Fisheries are off duty, and when Foyle Fisheries are on, we are off.


I do not know if the Foyle Fisheries require financial help to increase the number of bailiffs. That would need to be looked at. They are well stretched given the amount of river that they have to watch. Perhaps something on that might come out of your inquiry.


Mr E McCrea: We were talking about the young boys being out every night of the week during June. There was one night when they could not go out because they were going to a dance or some function. As our bailiffs could not make it out that night we informed the Foyle Fisheries - the Loughs Agency. They said to us that they would provide cover. They sent two bailiffs into the area, but they were strangers to the area and were not familiar with it. A serious assault occurred on the river that night. One of the bailiffs got an awful hiding, and it could have been worse had our local lads been on duty. They were waiting to get our lads because they were lifting nets.


All we are trying to do in Sion Mills is protect the river. It is worth protecting, and it forms part of the life of Sion Mills - with the anglers and the fishing competitions every year. We have got things going; we have involved the schools on a cross-community basis by taking pupils to fish farms and hatcheries to show them the life cycle of fish. We gradually built this up ourselves. The local information office that Strabane District Council gave us helped. They gave us the premises for next to nothing, but we received no help for administration. We are on the Internet, and we are geared for tourism. We believe that all clubs should be doing this as well. In conclusion, our report has identified some major problems.


We request that they are taken into consideration and mentioned in the recommendation to the Minister, especially the matter of fishing rights. That is the basis of everything. On any river you must identify who owns the fishing rights. After that everything else falls into place. This concludes our presentation.


The Chairperson: Thank you, Mr Patton.


I am required as Chairperson to put a standard question to all groups. Actually there are two questions. They relate to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. They concern the equality legislation, and we are required to establish this at the beginning of each evidence session. Does your organisation have members who are representative of a cross-section of the local community and of local groups such as disability groups and Age Concern? Are there any specific problems facing disabled anglers, and have you made any improvements?


Mr Patton: For the past two years, 1998-99, we acquired funding of £90,000 from the fisheries and the International Fund for Ireland to develop a disabled section. A tremendous amount of work was put into it by members of the community work programme. They did a brilliant job on it and quite a few disabled anglers use it.


With regard to the sections of the community that we have in the club, we have anglers from all over Northern Ireland and parts of the South of Ireland, and no one, I believe, has ever been questioned or asked who they were or what they were. We are representative of everyone that comes to fish in Sion Mills.


Ms S McCrea: I am in the office, and I get phone calls from people who use wheelchairs. We have a wheelchair-friendly stretch but there is a problem. Our stretch of the river is beside a firm called Herdman's Ltd. The only access to the disabled stretch is through Herdman's so we have to issue people with passes. It would be simpler for us if there was a roadway around the factory for the disabled. Then they would not have to interrupt the workings of the mill.


Mr E McCrea: I do not know if anyone has been down around Sion Mills area to see it. The stretch that we made available for disabled people is the largest one in Northern Ireland. We hope to hold the Northern Ireland championships in the coming years. There is much still to be done, but that is what the club has achieved so far.


Mr J Wilson: You began your submission with a mention of fishing rights and, indeed, you ended on that note. You obviously consider that to be very important. Let me preface my question with a little true story. I am aware of a circumstance where a club was purchasing fishing rights from the agent of a large estate. Being a wise sort of fellow he asked before he was about to sign the cheque "Are you sure that the person who is selling me this owns it?" to which the solicitor replied "As certain as I can be", and therein lies the difficulty. Have you thought of a simple way of approaching this? Surely it would take court case after court case throughout Northern Ireland and, indeed, further afield to establish absolute certainty? Is there a simpler way of going about it? Obviously we do not want to clutter up the courts with ongoing wrangles.


Mr E McCrea: What we would like to see happening is, perhaps, what was done with the Settled Land Acts 1882-1890: that commissioners would come to each area, and enquire if anyone along the river "Do you own the fishing rights, and have you got paper title to it?" and take it on board that way. I am sure you know it is chaos at present. Research on one occasion, led our team, which the survival of the angling club depended on, to the Rates Office in Derry/ Londonderry, but its staff did not have a clue what we were talking about. Fishing rights should be registered, it is a valuable commodity. We went into the office two or three times to ask for the maps to see who was paying what, but we got absolutely nothing.


Mr J Wilson: Is there a connection between the uncertainty of fishing rights and a club trying to apply local regulations? In other words if it turns out that you do not own what you think you own you have difficulty taking people to court for infringement.


Mr E McCrea: People are more aware. The smart alecs of today will not even buy a licence. They are aware of what is going on and they have turned around and said "I have got a rod licence, but you cannot put me off here, prove it". That is the way they are doing it. Clubs are generally trying to hold it together and I believe they should be protected. Not in the same way as in Scotland, where all local clubs were put off the rivers. Local clubs should be protected and looked after and allowed to handle the tourists coming in.


The manager of the Abercorn Estate said we could only fish on certain days and on certain stretches of our river. We were not allowed to walk our dogs either, because the estate is moving into tourism in a big way, diversifying from agriculture. For a club that was established in 1933, I thought that was awful. The rents they charged us showed that they just did not want us there. Then the club was told it was going to be put off the river. It was done behind our backs. Mervyn and I have been running the club for 25 years, through thick and thin, and stood up to every threat for the survival of the club. That is why we wanted to research it and I would like Stella McCrea to elaborate on this. Where did we go Stella?


Ms S McCrea: We started at the university in Derry and then we went to the Public Records Office in Belfast and searched there. We went to Dublin and searched the Public Records Office and universities. We also went to Westminster where we gathered a lot of information.


Mr E McCrea: We did not want to snow you under with all the information that we have, such as copies of old indentures, patents etc.


Ms S McCrea: We looked at the Church of Ireland records as well, where we also got information, all concerning fishing disputes on our system.


Mr E McCrea: We definitely got information from London about the Foyle system-especially our own stretch. That was proved in the High Court on 14 December 1999 when we won our case with the help of The Honourable Irish Society. Long may our club exist and get stronger.


Mr McMenamin: I might be biased, but the stretch of water we are dealing with is, without doubt, the jewel in the crown of Northern Ireland rivers. Who should be responsible for identifying absolute title? Would the club outline the effect of ownership disputes, and what has caused the problems?


Mr E McCrea: The Loughs Agency now has new premises and there is a visitors centre. When a person goes into a fisheries centre such as that, the first thing he would look for is a large map portraying the whole system, together with the clubs on that system. The old Foyle Fisheries Commission was responsible for the rates for the other river and they should be partly responsible for identifying the system. If a stranger comes into a centre, such as that in Derry, they should be able to identify Sion Mills, Omagh, Castlederg, Ardstraw, the Roe, the Faughan, and the rest. There should be information leaflets, and there should be a legal requirement to provide such information. Therefore, the requirement should be part of the Department's responsibility. Ordinary people should not be up against each other in courts concerning ownership.


Mr Patton: We raised these issues with the Commissioners at Stormont. At one stage, in 1992, the Angling Waters (Development Schemes) Regulations (Northern Ireland) were introduced to try and sort out some of the problems regarding fishing rights. The Commissioners went to solicitors and those regulations resulted from that. Unfortunately, that document stated that prima facie evidence, and not evidence of absolute title, was acceptable. In other words, if you had been using something for a period of years, or if you lived nearby, you could say that you had used it for a period of years, and thereby claim it. To us, that would not stand up in a court of law. However, it was sufficient for us not to be able to proceed on certain waters that we were laying claim to, specifically with the request of the landowners, who have been put off these fishing areas by people who claimed to own them. Because of the test of prima facie evidence introduced by the 1992 regulations, the Commission would not proceed any further. We could also not proceed any further with the matter. I suggest that that legislation be looked at again and amended because the test of prima facie evidence is not an acceptable one.


Mr McCarthy: I congratulate you on your submission. I confess that I have not been to Sion Mills, however it does look very attractive. You have a row of attractive public houses, hotels, and restaurants. My question relates to pollution, which you have talked about and mentioned in your submission. Would the club recommend that general fines resulting from prosecutions must be increased to act as a deterrent to polluters and poachers? Could the club suggest an adequate level of such fines?


Mr E McCrea: There should be fixed penalties for those types of pollution incidents.


Mr McCarthy: Do you think that there should be different levels of fines for polluters depending on whether it is their first offence or not?


Mr E McCrea: There should be an awareness campaign set up to make farmers and industries aware of the damage to the system. The situation is very serious and they must realise that they cannot get off lightly. We must look after the river and its environment.


Mr Patton: On one occasion we had 14 dead animals within an area of 400 to 500 yards. The problem was having them removed. Who would deal with this - the Department of the Environment, the fisheries? It did not matter whom we saw - one passed the buck to the other. We ended up discussing this with Baroness Denton. There has been no satisfactory conclusion as to what is going to happen with farm animals or dead animals in the river. No one will accept responsibility for removing them.


Mr E McCrea: We had to get ordinary workers under a community work programme to burn them because the smell was awful. This problem must be addressed.


Mr McCarthy: The river agencies have indicated in their visitors' plan proposals for obtaining contributions from developers towards the cost of drainage infrastructure schemes. Does your club feel that these charges should contain a pollution prevention component, and should these contributions be made obligatory or voluntary?


Mr E McCrea: That is putting the onus on the clubs.


Mr McCarthy: Yes. Do the clubs feel that the charges should contain a pollution prevention component and should those contributions be made obligatory or voluntary?


Mr E McCrea: Yes, there should be rules to that effect and they should be made obligatory.


Mr McCarthy: Agricultural waste represents a large threat regarding environmental issues. Is this monitored in any way and whose responsibility should it be?


Mr Patton: When we enquired as to who was responsible, we had no response at all. There was no body set up to deal with this.


Mr E McCrea: I think what should be done, as I said earlier, is to establish an awareness campaign to advise and assist farmers on farms, et cetera. If there is something wrong with slurry pits there are grants available to help. If there are dead animals to be removed there should be a phone number where this can be reported and the animals should be picked up within 24 hours. This is what is needed to be done.


Mr Davis: You mentioned the subject of voluntary bailiffs. Do they receive any training for this particular job?


Mr E McCrea: No. It is just down to pure experience and dedication of the local anglers. I can speak for our own bailiffs - Mervyn and myself have been doing this for 16 years on a voluntary basis.


Mr Davis: Would you like to have the ability to take samples of pollutants?


Mr E McCrea: Absolutely. We instigated a scheme a few years ago. We invited all the school teachers of 12-year-olds to come to a meeting to get the kids involved in an awareness project. The idea was that they could monitor the streams and the condition of the water without them getting into conflict. It would get them out of the schools and on site along the river. We got them involved in something positive by taking them to the hatchery.


This year alone we have had three assaults, and those cases are coming through the courts against our lads. We have had two cars interfered with, one car twice in the one month.


Mr Davis: In relation to the assaults on these people, I assume that it is organised - for example, in the case of the poachers. Have you any ideas at all of who might be involved in the this?


Mr E McCrea: Knowing who is involved and proving it are two different things. In a small community like Sion Mills we have got a fair idea who committed the bad crime I mentioned - they could not hold their tongue.


Mr Davis: You also mentioned there was not enough manpower. What level of manpower would you like to see in your area.


Mr E McCrea: Sion Mills is a natural stopping- off point for all the rivers, because of the weir, so that needs to be bailiffed full-time. You are talking about two bailiffs in that area rotating with the backup of local bailiffs and the voluntary bailiffs. That should be happening in all areas, and the bailiffing should be localised. In the case of our area it is based in Derry, and they have to come up and down by boat. It should be along the stretch.


Mr Davis: In relation to bailiffing, if that could be financed who do you think should be supplying this finance - for example, should it be The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission?


Mr E McCrea: The club cannot afford the insurance for club bailiffs, yes, the Loughs Agency should cover all bailiffs. An increase in the rod licence is another idea that could be put genuinely to the rod anglers. However, we have the situation, with regard to the Foyle system, where the bills are split between two Governments. It should not be too much to keep the jewel in the crown shining. It should be the number one example and given protection at the highest level. Give the people a bit of hope that something is being done to protect the river. They can see it happening when they see bailiffs on the river.


Mr Davis: Do you think the anglers in Sion Mills are better than their cricket team?


Mr E McCrea: Am I supposed to answer that?


Mr Patton: We should give you a brief explanation about the involvement that we have with our bailiffs. We have spent somewhere in the region of £3,000 in the last four or five years on life jackets, ramps, a boat, and so on. It can be expensive, and the club is footing the bill someone somewhere along the road would need to give us a bit of help. We are not out to make profit - we never have been. We have kept our fees to a minimum. They are far lower than any other club's on the system. In view of all the work we do for the system and the fisheries, some of it at night, it is time someone else contributed to it. At the end of the day, there are more rewards for us that way than seeing a grievance against the fishery.


Dr Adamson: Does the club already have any angling packages to attract tourist anglers?


Mr E McCrea: In a pilot scheme, we issued club leaflets to highlight what is available in Sion Mills. We have also tried to link up with the local hotel and B&B's, which has now increased our ranks, and we hope for more. Many more people are coming now that our site is on the Internet.


Dr Adamson: Should rent charges for visitors be standardised by a regulatory body? What would the average cost of rents be?


Mr E McCrea: I think it is the same all over - around £10 to £12 per day.


Dr Adamson: Should there be a regulatory body for this?


Mr E McCrea: There could be one to give advice and guidance. Sion Mills has the best fishing. The fish must go past Sion Mills to the other rivers. We encourage the tourists to come to Sion Mills and stay in the area. They will never be ripped off by our club, but will spend their money on B&B's and tackle, which we hope to introduce to our information office at a low cost. We do not want anglers coming to fish in our river, only to find there is nothing there and not coming back again!


Mr McElduff: Other clubs have suggested a permit to angle throughout Ireland should be considered. Do you feel there should be one licence to replace the rod licence and game permit? Would it be feasible to have one licence covering game and course fishing? Would the introduction of a tagging scheme further complicate the licensing structure?


Mr E McCrea: Tagging is a step in the right direction when trying to identify how many fish have been taken. In Sion Mills, as with the vast majority of rivers in Northern Ireland years ago, we relied on fish from the river, but those days are gone, and it is now a sport for local people. Getting the message through to an ordinary person catching a lock of fish that they should catch no more than four is fairly difficult, but we are going through the process.


It is fair to say that one licence would be simpler, for there must be a way of simplifying all this paperwork. One rod licence should cover the lot.


The Chairperson: You will be pleased to hear that concludes our questioning session. We shall take all the valuable information you have given along with your submission and work on this to prepare a set of recommendations we shall put to the Minister and Department. We hope to be able to act on those in November, and your contribution will play a part in that.


Mr E McCrea: I hope the item about fishing rights will not have to be tossed aside for the courts to decide, for that would cause chaos. It must be taken up at the highest level and full attention given to identifying them. It would make everyone much safer, no matter who wishes to fish the rivers.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Davis
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr Harrison )
Mr McCormick ) Glens Angling Club
Mr McKeever )
Mr Duffy )


The Chairperson: We are now in public session. You are very welcome, Gentlemen.


Mr Harrison: I am Liam Harrison, and I am president of the Glens Angling Club. I would like to introduce my committee: Mr McCormick, our club chairman, Mr McKeever, our secretary, who will present our submission, and Mr Duffy, our technical advisor.


The Glens Club has been in existence since 1956. It draws members not merely from the immediate Glens area, but from as far as Belfast, Comber and Newtownards. It is totally non-sectarian and non- denominational and accepts members of both sexes. The club fishes the short, straight rivers, which are fed from the Antrim plateau and flow into Red Bay, Cushendun Bay and Cushendall Bay. The rivers are the Glenariffe, the Dall river, which rises in Glenballyemon and Glenaan, and the beautiful Glendun river, which received high praise in a Northern Ireland Tourist Board publication last year, 'Angling in Ulster Waters'.


I thank the Committee for the opportunity to appear here today, particularly as all our efforts to preserve fish stocks in the Glen rivers have failed, and our deputations and appeals to the authorities have met with total indifference and apathy.


We welcome the new era of government in Northern Ireland, which has made the existence of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee possible. We present our submissions to you with confidence that you will recognise the opportunity to contribute to the salvation of the king of fish, the Atlantic salmon. I now invite Mr McKeever to present our submissions.


Mr McKeever: May I remove any misconception that might arise by virtue of my accent. I am a North Antrim man born and bred and have spent most of my working life in Cloughmills to be precise. However my association with the Glens in general, and Cushendall in particular, goes back to my earliest childhood. It has been suggested that I was conceived in Cushendall, but unfortunately my parents are no longer here to confirm or deny this. My wife and I were fortunate to build a house in Cushendall in which we intend to spend the remainder of our rapidly diminishing years.


Prior to 1962 each of the three Glens rivers could expect to run 300 plus spawning salmon per annum. The offspring of these salmon, after a period at sea, returned to the river in which they were spawned to perpetuate the species. Today, in three short decades, the situation has utterly changed, regrettably much for the worse. In 1999, fewer than 20 salmon were reported caught by legal methods in all three rivers. None in the Glenariffe, two in Glenarm and the balance in the Glendun. This year to date, only two salmon have been caught.


Commercial nets are one of the principal causes of the decline in fish stocks. In the view of the clubs, the severe decline in fish stocks in the Glendun river is directly attributable to the building of a barrage of breakwater at the mouth of the river by the National Trust. This barrage is in conjunction with the Sleans draught net, and that is why we brought our little map. Cushendun bay is at the bottom, and white shows the position of the Sleans draught net. You will be able to look at it later in closer detail. This barrage, in conjunction with the Sleans draft net, effectively closed off all access to the river for returning fish to spawn. To remedy this situation the various Government Departments involved allowed the Sleans net to be re-located approximately one half mile from the mouth of the river and permitted this net to be fished as a bag net, rather than as a draft net as it had been previously. So along with the Ballyteerim net which is the top one, there is now a bag net operating on both sides of Cushendun Bay. It is well understood that a bag net is a much more deadly fishing instrument than a draught net. A spawning salmon has virtually no chance of getting anywhere near the Glendun River unless there is a flood in the river. The returning fish now circle around the bay until caught by one or other of the two nets. The club's efforts to have this decision reversed are on record with all the parties involved, namely the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB), the Department of Agriculture and the National Trust. To date, all the club's submissions to these bodies on the issue of the nets have met with nothing but apathy and excuses. No one in authority is seemingly prepared to rectify the mistakes of the past, to the great detriment of what was once a premier salmon river.


Another of our concerns is rampant poaching, which needs to be urgently addressed. We are not so concerned with the occasional angler who is not a member of the club, as he is like us - he does not catch too many fish. We are concerned with the professional smuggler, as during a one-week period club members removed eight nets from the Glenariffe River alone. This poaching decimates the regenerative ability of the few returning salmon and sea trout that have managed to elude the commercial nets. However, the club is most appreciative of the efforts of the FCB bailiff for this area, but it is quite apparent that the Fisheries Conservancy Board has neither the manpower nor the resources to tackle this problem effectively.


Pollution is a concern to the club in various ways. The dumping of agricultural slurry and dead livestock in the rivers has an immediate and devastating effect on all the wildlife in the river involved. The banks and shrubbery along the three Glens rivers are festooned with plastic bags, agricultural silage and plastic. Sadly, this phenomenon is not unique to the Glens rivers, but can be seen along any hedge around the countryside. This is a much bigger subject. Further methods to educate indifferent members of the agriculture community and the general public are a priority.


During July 2000, a group of volunteer club members, ably helped by their local conservation group, whose assistance was very much appreciated, spent four days removing many trailer loads of debris from the banks and riverbed of a regrettably short stretch of the Glendun river. Now, in September, the pollution is as bad as if they had never tried.


As the population of the Glens increases, more and more houses are being built to satisfy the demand from local residents, as well as others who are seeking holiday homes in this picturesque and scenic location. Many of these new developments seem to result in yet another sewer pipe draining into the nearest river. The effects on the fry population are unknown at this time.


We also want to refer to the threat posed by the marine salmon farms in Red Bay and Glenarm. We refer to those merely to highlight the consequences of their establishment that pertain today. The club expressed reservations at the time of their inauguration, but the Departments that were involved in setting them up dismissed them.


We had a number of reservations. First, inter- breeding between escaped farm salmon and local native stock would lead to a loss of homing instinct. That has actually happened. Secondly, there are diseases associated with farm salmon. One example is that two years ago three quarters of all Scottish salmon farms were quarantined and over 400,000 salmon were slaughtered because of infectious salmon anaemia. We will leave you a file containing a photograph that shows the effect on the salmon. The photograph illustrates our concern about sea lice and other parasites, and it is an accepted fact that sea trout have been decimated along the west coast of Ireland wherever salmon farms are in situ.


Thirdly, predators are a problem. Seabirds, such as the cormorant, who feed on salmon and trout fry, have increased four-fold in the past 10 years, and salmon farms attract them.


We accept the existence of the Red Bay and Glenarm farms, the very limited employment that they provide locally and the economic benefits that they provide to their owner. However, we urge the Committee to be aware of the disadvantages that they create for other wildlife and, indirectly, for local people.


I will outline the solutions, as we see them. The commercial netting of salmon and sea trout should be halted until the rivers have a sustainable breeding stock in them. Thereafter the number of fish taken by the netsmen and the number permitted to return to the rivers need to be very closely monitored so that the present lamentable situation does not recur.


With considerable public funding, the Fisheries Conservancy Board is currently installing a fish counter on the Glendun River that will enable it to determine precisely how many fish are in the river. We believe that the Fisheries Conservancy Board must be adequately funded and staffed to permit it to carry out an effective role in eliminating poaching.


A routine programme of water sampling needs to be undertaken to determine if any harmful pollutants are entering the river. Also, an ongoing public advertising campaign aimed at eliminating litter in the countryside would further increase public awareness and perhaps decrease the amount of rubbish in the rivers and the countryside in general.


In conclusion, we are very aware of the benefits to all the local community that would come from an increase in angling tourists if the fish stocks could only be brought back to the same levels they were 20 years ago. Over the years, the club has made strenuous efforts to improve the angling in these rivers. All three rivers are stocked with fry in an attempt to increase the fish stocks returning each year. Other work undertaken has included the building of weirs, holding pools and spawning beds and stabilising river bank erosion for which grant aid was generously provided by the International Fund for Ireland.


A lot of this work would seem to be in vain in view of the dwindling numbers of fish caught and reared by our members. In the club's view, it is time that the various Government bodies acted to remedy the deplorable situation that now exists. It will be too late to rectify the situation when the Glendun and Glenariffe salmon are totally extinct.


We have not come here today to rake over the ashes of past errors and injustices perpetrated by the National Trust and the various statutory bodies. We refer to our previous submissions merely to inform the Committee and thus to enable it to reach decisions which will create a practical and viable way forward.


It is our fervent desire that the children and grandchildren of our members will be able to reap the benefits of our efforts, and those of your Committee, when they go fishing in their adult years. I sincerely thank the Committee for its time and patience in accepting our submission.


The Chairperson: I am required to ask every group of witnesses the same two questions to begin with, although Mr Harrison already answered them partially in his opening comments. The questions relate to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998), and they concern the equality legislation. Do your organisation's members represent a cross-section of the local community and local groups, such as disability groups and Age Concern? Are there any specific problems facing disabled anglers, and have you made any improvements?


Mr McCormick: We have done some work on that, but we will get back to you with the details. Our members are taken from various parts of Northern Ireland and daily tickets are available for anybody. Religion does not come into it at all. We have looked at one site which may be suitable for wheelchair access and for people with slight disabilities. That has been discussed at various committee meetings.


Mr J Wilson: Before I put my question, I have to use the appropriate terminology and declare an interest in that I am a long-time member of the Glens Angling club. I have two questions which are, in a sense, related. What advantage was gained by any interest or any other body by the relocation of the breakwater? Connected to that can you elaborate on the question of the net and its location in relation to the breakwater; the difference between a bag net and a draft net, and how on a daily basis the net located there restricts the movement of salmon upstream to the spawning beds?


Mr Harrison: Mr J Wilson is well aware of the difficulties we have had. The original site of the Sleans net ran from the hotel at the point straight out to sea. About 10 or 15 years ago it was decided to relocate the net and place it straight across the mouth of the river. You can see in the original 1935 photograph - before the wall - that Sleans net came straight out. It did not inhibit in any way the run of the salmon as they came up the coast, circled into the bay and went up the river when the conditions were right. However, over the years the Sleans net was moved and placed right across the bay. Following that, about 10 years ago, the National Trust built up the breakwater wall. The reason it gave me for that was to prevent the silting up of the bay itself, but it gave no consideration whatsoever to the effect that it would have on the salmon.


The result is - and you can see this from a careful look at that wall - that when the net was moved right from a point seawards, across the mouth, it left a very narrow passage for access for salmon going up the river. Hence, any water coming down, if it was not too heavy, did not affect the net. The salmon that got up the river were negligible. We then consulted with the National Trust and eventually got something in the region of a 20-foot portion of the wall taken away. Having said that, our experience is that the devastation of the nets and the wall itself, even though it was taken off, has affected the run of salmon. I was involved then and we started, in co-operation with Fisheries Division of the Department of Agriculture, to rear our own salmon. We borrowed its electric fish and started a five-year programme to try to rejuvenate the river itself. All that work failed, as can be seen from the results of our submission to this Committee. I hope, now that we have a local Committee, that we will be able to do something positive.


Mr McKeever: Mr Wilson asked about the difference between a bag net and a draft net. A draft net is a large rectangular piece of netting, fixed at the top and at the bottom, which the salmon can swim round. A bag net is a three-chamber arrangement along with a long lead net. The salmon are forced to go into the chambers of a net that has a bag at the end. It is a deadly net and the salmon do not escape from it. To some extent they can escape from a draft net.


Mrs Nelis: First of all, I cannot see the purpose of that ugly looking thing in the lower photograph. What was the National Trust thinking of? I thought that the National Trust had some sort of responsibility to preserve the environment and make it more attractive - not less attractive.


In your submission you said that you had been trying to get redress from various departments, including the National Trust, the Fisheries Conservancy Board and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Did you write to or meet with them? Did they respond to you? Why did they not act when you were able, I presume, to produce the same evidence that you are producing to this Committee? During your correspondence with them, did they acknowledge that the bag nets were adversely affecting the salmon population - you said that only two salmon have been caught this year and that there has been a steady decline? If the nets were to be removed or relocated, even at this late stage, would that improve the adverse conditions? As a result of this presentation could there be some compromise? Could the National Trust see sense and remove that dreadful looking barrier? What would be the long-term impact if the nets and that obstruction were not removed? All these questions are inter-related.


Mr McCormick: The National Trust barrage was constructed in 1974 to prevent the harbour from silting up, but it has not worked. The barrage hinders the return of the salmon and makes it difficult for people operating boats to negotiate their way in because the distance between the harbour and the barrage is quite small. Therefore it affects the salmon and the people using boats.


The National Trust consulted with the club on this matter, but the club was unaware of any assessment being carried out prior to the building of the barrage. However, it is apparent that if the stone work was constructed it would practically meet at the end of the draft net at the mouth of the river making it impossible for returning salmon to get in. After much consultation and a series of monthly meetings with the club, the National Trust finally admitted that the club had suffered loss and offered to help with improvements to the river as deemed necessary by the club. This was discussed after this latest net issue was resolved.


At that time the club understood the National Trust to have three options. It could buy out the net entirely; it could relocate the net to its original position - that was not feasible as it would have lead to a public inquiry; and it could locate a bag net approximately one half mile from the river mouth. The bag net option was totally unacceptable to the club, and the National Trust representative at the meeting was shocked at the club's opposition to it. A member of the club explained to the National Trust representative how lethal bag nets are, and he concurred with the club's views. However, in the following month the National Trust's position changed, and it requested that the minutes of the previous meeting be changed to reflect this.


Fish can escape when a draft net is used, but a bag net has three chambers and is lethal for the fish. My club cannot understand why a bag net is being permitted to be fished this close to the end of a river. When the fish gets close to the homing river that it left three years previously, devastation occurs.


Mr Harrison: I was involved with the National Trust when the wall issue was being tackled. The National Trust told us that we had no authority to object to the wall because it had permission for it from the Admiralty. There was a defining mark between the high tide and the low tide. Ambiguity still exists as to who controls the low tide - is it the local councils or the local owners? Therefore a concession was made to us, and 20 feet were taken off the wall.


However, the wall proved to be ineffective. Its purpose was to prevent the silting of the mouth of the river, but this still continues today as you can see at low tide. As Mr McCormick stated, because of this none of the salmon swim up along the Antrim coast, they circle the bay. When the water is right they go up the river for fresh water, but the combination of the net and the wall is inhibiting that.


Finding something to enhance the salmon running up the river is a key point for me and the Committee. The net should either be discussed and removed or bought and removed, because these nets that are so close to river mouths are devastating the natural spawning of salmon. If salmon do not get up the river to spawn, the cycle is finished. It begins and ends in a fresh water river.


Mr McMenamin: As regards poaching, your submission states that up to eight nets were found on one day. You acknowledge that the FCB is making an effort to bailiff the area yet you are also aware of the major problems caused by nets and barrage. Does that indicate the lack of a coherent strategy or a willingness to deal with the declining population of fish stocks?


Mr Harrison: The FCB is working as closely as possible with clubs given the funding available. Without proper funding, the FCB is not able to co-operate with a club such as ours and really go to work on the river itself. We need one example, and that could be the Glendun river because that was a prime salmon river. If we could have the funds and the total co-operation required to police the river, remove the nets, and discuss the situation with the National Trust, it could be an example for the whole country.


Mr Davis: In your submission, you made the point about pollution as a result of agriculture, litter and the increase in the number of holiday homes. We know that a monthly river inspection takes place. It would be impractical to cover the whole river so what additional sampling should take place?


Mr Duffy: We are unaware that the river is being tested on a monthly basis. That is good news. We appreciate that it would be impossible to police the whole river. However, we would like the waters of the Glenariffe river to be tested below the trout farm and below Waterford bridge. We would like the Cushendall river tested where it flows behind the library and the Glendun river could be tested below the Knocknacarry bridge. That would be feasible, and it would give us an idea of the quality of the water.


Mr Davis: Have you liased with the Ulster Farmers' Union about slurry spreading and its effect on water quality?


Mr McCormick: Because we live in the area, most of us are from a farming background. We need farmers' permission to walk through their land and we treat them respectfully. Farming trends have changed in the last 10 years and unfortunately that has resulted in more intensive farming methods. Animals are now housed for longer periods during winter, and that adds to the pollution problem when it comes to slurry.


In most cases, farmers are generally happy. However, a lot more can be done to improve things. Black plastic is a recent problem and it would be the most unsightly problem on our rivers at the moment. We recently set up a very active environmental group in Cushendun, and we are helping it as much as possible financially to carry out its work.


Mr Davis: What would be an adequate fine to discourage farmers from dumping slurry?


Mr McKeever: The fines are adequate at the moment, but prosecutions have to take place.


Mr Shannon: Very briefly how would the local community benefit if the Glen rivers were restored to their former status as premier fishing locations? What single action would do most to achieve that?


Mr McKeever: We anticipated this question. It is very difficult to determine in financial terms exactly how much benefit improved angling would bring to the local community, but a figure which is often quoted is £1,000 for each wild salmon caught by an angling tourist. In the past many anglers came from afar to fish in the Glens. They stayed in local hotels, ate and drank in the pubs and bought from the local shops. Our area is very dependent on tourism, and it has been hit very hard in the last few years by the lack of tourists. This has been due to the strength of the sterling and the cost of petrol. The negative publicity from the civil unrest in July also seriously affected us.


The single action which would have the greatest impact would be the removal of the nets from Cushendun bay until there is a viable and sustainable fish population in the Glendun river. But we are reasonable people and we would not object to the Sleans net being fished as a draft net at its original location when the salmon stocks have recovered.


Mr Harrison: I brought about 50 people over for a week to the Glens area a few months ago and their professions ranged from judge to joiner. They are all bringing their children over in the spring. They were very impressed with the Glens area and fishing was very high on their agenda. We hope that the conditions for fishing will be right for their return. Fishing is just a small part of what the Glens of Antrim have to offer visitors.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much. I apologise for the delay at the start as this left us a bit short of time. Your submission is very significant and we will be studying it along with other submissions. We are hoping to prepare a series of recommendations for the Minister and the Department in November.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr P Murphy ) Warrenpoint Rostrevor and District Angling Club


The Chairperson: Good morning, Mr Murphy. You are very welcome.


Mr Murphy: I will be brief. As you can see from our club's submission, we were really concerned about one issue: the creation of an additional administrative body to oversee and police fishing in our area. We felt that this was unnecessary. We wondered what was the rationale behind this. Certainly from my club members' point of view, there is no tangible benefit associated with the creation of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. We were aware that they did exist, and that the Foyle system was set up so that the whole of that area came under the Foyle Commission. We could understand the benefits of that, given the catchment area of the Foyle. It is one of the prime salmon rivers which cross the border at numerous points. However, the mark-ups were effective.


We are talking about two small landlocked waters, which do not have any access to Carlingford Lough. What our club members would be expected to do, following the creation of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commision, would be to purchase an additional licence, under which we would be able to fish in our own waters. Many of our club members also belong to clubs in the immediate vicinity, namely Armagh Anglers, Kilkeel Whitewater Club, the Newry club itself, all of which require an additional FCB licence. So you can see there is additional cost to some of our members. For those of us who are in paid employment that might not be a horrendous additional charge, but certainly for members of the club who are less able or elderly or who are on a low income or no income, certainly it is an additional burden which we feel is totally unnecessary, given that we could not see any tangible benefits.


We also see the difficulty arising where we have tourists. We, in conjunction with Newry and Mourne District Council and with other bodies involved with tourism, have been looking at policing the whole area of tourist anglers. Again, because it is a small area, we are talking about people coming not just to fish the Warrenpoint Rostrevor waters. They will fish our waters, they will go a couple of miles down the road, where they will be fishing Whitewater, they may actually want to go inland a little bit to go to fish Armagh waters or Newry waters, and again they will be required to purchase separate licences. In short, from our perspective, this creation of an administrative body is not absolutely necessary. We see it as an additional cost incurred by the Assembly, and given the limited resources available, we would question the rationale in the creation of an administrative body which will not necessarily prove beneficial to anglers in our area.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Mr Murphy, for your submission. I have two questions that relate to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and they concern the equality legislation which we are acquired to establish at the beginning of each evidence session. Does your organisation have members who are representative of a cross-section of the local community and local groups such as disability groups and Age Concern? Are there any specific problems facing disabled anglers and have you made any improvements?


Mr Murphy: We do promote ourselves as a cross-community club, and our membership and our management committee certainly reflect that. Also, we actively promote the development of facilities for disabled anglers, and, in conjunction with Newry and Mourne District Council and the Department of Agriculture, we have established fishing stands to accommodate wheelchairs, and so on. We have also at the moment a submission in for funding in order to create access for disabled anglers on one of the waters where we have a lease from the local landowner.


Mr McCarthy: You state that the club members had difficulty in obtaining fishing licences from the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission (FCILC) at the beginning of the season. Has that body now addressed this problem? Do you think that this was simply a teething problem brought about by the transfer of the responsibility for licences, and has that problem been confined to your area, or is it more widespread?


Mr Murphy: Members had been informed that from the start of this fishing season they would require a licence from the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commision, but when they went to purchase their licence none of the local suppliers of licences actually had any. I spoke with one of the licence providers, Mr Jack Smith in Newry, and he said that at that stage he had absolutely no contact with the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commision. I do not know if that problem has been resolved because at this time of the season most anglers, certainly all of the anglers in our club, will have purchased a FCB licence by now.


Mr McMenamin: You have indicated that dual membership of fishing clubs requires two licences. Can you explain further? You have also stated that this also applies to visiting tourist anglers. Have you any indication how this requirement is affecting the number of tourists and anglers coming to your area?


Mr Murphy: There has not been any opportunity to take figures on this given the fact that at the start of the season there were no licences available. One difficulty is that the enforcement by bailiffs of licences has not happened this year whatsoever. When we have contacted the FCB, who have their own bailiffs, they have said that it is no longer going to be their respons- ibility. I do not believe that the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commision has yet appointed any bailiffs, so there has not been any policing of the system.


In terms of the difficulties that are going to arise with visitors, maybe unknowingly visiting with the wrong licence, we are not actually sure what numbers would be involved and what problems that would cause. For example, some of our members are also members of the Armagh club, so they will require two licences from the start of the next season.


There will also be tourists who will visit our area, and within a very short distance - perhaps five or ten minutes by car - they will require a separate second licence. We see this as totally unnecessary it should not be happening.


Mr Shannon: My question is in relation to the establishment of one governing administrative body that you referred to in your submission. Do you see such a body confined to the control of licences and the authorisation of bailiffs, or do you feel that the body should have responsibility for other aspects of fishing, such as water quality, drainage, and so on?


Mr Murphy: It would be less cumbersome to have one body with overall responsibility for all aspects of angling, including water quality. There have been problems in the past when you have had a "robbing Peter to pay Paul" scenario. For example, one Government Department is responsible for pollution and another is responsible for fishing. The people responsible for pollution are also responsible for policing. One administrative body would be much less cumbersome and would be a better use of the public purse.


Mr Davis: Is there is a lack of co-ordination between Government bodies?


Mr Murphy: If you were to speak to anglers and if you looked at aspects of the work of the Water Service, the FCB and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development you would see that things are already fragmented. In the past we have argued that the work could be brought together under one umbrella organisation. We see the creation of an additional body as adding more confusion.


Mr J Wilson: Each submission made to us from clubs and other interested organisations has focused quite sharply on the question of water quality and pollution. Has your club recently had problems with those matters?


Mr Murphy: We have had no major environmental crisis due to pollution as a result of foreign bodies getting into the waters. One of our problems has been with Canadian pondweed, which causes major problems in one of our waters. We have worked closely with the FCB, and its weed harvester has been to this water several times. We have a good working relationship with the environmental health officers in Newry and Mourne District Council, and they regularly test the waters at our behest. The pH content has been excellent. One problem has been that the number of fowl in one of our waters exacerbates the pondweed problem because of the amount of suspended solids.


Mr J Wilson: Is the weed harvester effective?


Mr Murphy: The pondweed grows about three inches a week. The weed harvester comes and, over a period of four to five days, removes about 3,000 tonnes of weed from a small water of about three acres. Two to three weeks after the harvester has left, you would think it had not been there. It is a major problem. We have been considering using a chemical solution, but that is problematic because you have to be particularly careful about the environmental impact that may have.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Mr Murphy. Your submission is very significant and will be considered with the others we have received. We will be preparing a list of recommendations for the Minister and the Department. It is hoped that this will be completed by November.


Mr Murphy: Thank you for inviting us. We welcomed the opportunity to make our views heard.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Davis
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Dr R Mathers


The Chairperson: You are very welcome, Dr Mathers. I apologise for the delay. You have a few minutes to make a presentation before we begin our question and answer session.


Dr Mathers: I want to discuss the three main issues in my submission. The main concern, which is of most interest to me, is that of management structures in Northern Ireland fisheries. What we are trying to manage in Northern Ireland's fisheries is the actual resource, the entire freshwater system. Fish are a by- product of that resource. I have no angling experience. I do not fish at all, I am a biologist / fisheries manager, and I have spent much of my career working in that field. I want to talk mainly about the way in which the fisheries sector is currently being managed in the North. I have already given you information on pollution and the loss of habitats. That covers most angles, if you have time to go through it.


I want to see a new beginning for fisheries. Everybody who has come here to date has expressed in some way the need for a new beginning. I agree with that. I have been lucky to work with fisheries agencies in Britain and the South of Ireland, and I have gained insight into their organisational methods. We have much to learn from the approaches taken in England, Wales and the South. If we are to take a long-term view of fisheries, which is the only approach we can take, we need to grasp the nettle and revise our structures. We have many committed people working in fisheries at ground level, but they do not have the resources or the organisation that they deserve. The resource has consequently suffered significantly.


Fisheries and fresh water issues are growth areas. For example, Donegal County Council is investing huge amounts of money in this area. It has realised that fisheries are a potential multi-million pound industry, and this sector in Northern Ireland is in the same ballpark. In Northern Ireland, we currently have several organisations involved in fresh water issues and fisheries, including the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland, The Environment and Heritage Service and the Department of the Environment's Water Service. Having tried to extract information from these agencies, and by working with them at ground level, I have found that they do not have the necessary integrated structures which the Environment Agency in England, Wales and the South of Ireland have. This is one of the main reasons why we have not been focused on freshwater issues in Northern Ireland.


In my initial submission there is a map of Northern Ireland with my idea for the regionalisation of fisheries issues here. The issues of fisheries and freshwater are broad and difficult to approach. Different areas have specific needs. For example, Lough Erne and Lough Neagh have huge potential for eel fisheries. Lough Erne has a lot of untapped potential, including significant employment opportunities, as well as angling possibilities. It would be very difficult for just one or two people to cover the needs of the whole of Northern Ireland, which has a relatively high density of waterways and is a specialist in the field of fisheries. We need to have people working in collaboration with both scientists and management at ground level, but regionalisation is the way forward. Some angling clubs are not happy with this idea because of licensing implications but if we can provide an improved fisheries service, everyone will be willing to endorse it. It is the only viable approach. For example, The River Foyle, our best salmon fishery in terms of its catchment, would benefit a great deal from regionalisation. There are many more potential fisheries that we could manage in a local, grassroots fashion. This is the way forward for strategic planning in relation to fisheries in the North. I am not particularly interested in local rivers -although they are very important - but we must take a broad view on the management structure of fisheries to give people what they deserve.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much. We appreciate your comments and would like to ask you a few questions.


Mr McCarthy: You say that the current approach to the management of fisheries, through programmes such as the salmonid enhancement programme, is inappropriate and could be doing more harm than good. Can you explain that further? Would it be better to do nothing until a broadly acceptable plan is available?


Dr Mathers: I worked as an independent consultant for some of the clubs, doing survey work on the salmonid enhancement programme, so I have some insight into what went on.


We must take a strategic view of all fisheries issues. The hydrology and geomorphology of rivers and fish biology are multi-faceted disciplines, so it is naive to expect even a specialist such as myself to know everything about them. Even though anglers may know a lot about fish, creating the right habitat in the right place is a task for the specialist.


Productive areas have been lost in an attempt to create angling opportunities, which is ultimately self- defeating. An area of production is an area which produces young fish - essential for the fisheries of the future. It is self-defeating to remove them for enhancement, no matter how well intentioned. There is no point in building nice structures on rivers if they are not targeted and focused.


The salmonid enhancement programme was hamstrung by the fact that it was introduced through the peace and reconciliation programme and was a bottom-up approach. The then Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland took an honest approach in carrying it out, but its main problem was a lack of resources and expertise.


Mr McCarthy: How would you redirect the funding currently targeted at these fish management programmes, and what would be the benefits?


Dr Mathers: I am not sure what funding you mean. In dealing with the peace and reconciliation programme, we are hamstrung by the edicts of Europe, as these are community-based approaches. I cannot stress too much the need to take the long view. Fisheries are long-term projects, and we need to look at funding, targeting and designing strategies.


Mr Davis: You say that the use of hatcheries to enhance wild fisheries poses potentially serious problems. What are those problems, and what alternatives do you propose?


Dr Mathers: Like most management options, hatcheries are neither good nor bad, but their use needs to be carefully controlled. I have highlighted some examples of where I think it is safe to use hatcheries. Put-and-take fisheries - fisheries isolated from wild fisheries, such as Castlewellan Lake - create an angling resource alone; they are not wild fisheries. We are missing that point the we are discussing wild fisheries. There is no problem for put-and-take fisheries, as there will be no contact between wild fish and domestic stock.


Hatcheries are very useful in reintroducing fish to a river which has completely lost its native population. An example of that is the Lagan salmon rehabilitation programme. Even there they are using fish which are nearly wild - not long-term hatchery stock. It is now recognised in the United States and in the European Union that huge mistakes were made with hatcheries. Hatcheries reduce the genetic vigour and the long-term self-sustainability of stocks.


Once a fish is taken into captivity at any time during its life cycle you are effectively beginning the domestication process has effectively begun. It is similar to putting a domestic sheep in the mountains of Europe and leaving it to survive. It is not going to make it as a wild animal. We are interfering with nature.


The other use of hatcheries is for experimental purposes. We need vital information on certain life aspects of salmon, which we are getting. These experiments have to be controlled under the correct auspices and situations, for example, the Bush ranching programme.


When should hatcheries not be used? They should not be used in the ad hoc manner that is happening across Northern Ireland at the moment. They are being used to take fish from rivers. The fish are hatched artificially to maximise productivity and then placed back in the rivers. It is very difficult for me to explain the science of that in the short time we have. However, it effectively weakens the stock. I have gone into it in more detail in writing if you would like to read it. It seriously damages the health of stock in the long run. Once you go down the road of having hatcheries for any length of time you are stuck down that road. We are talking about sustainability and wild fish sustainability. We must allow wild fish to act as wild fish. That is our long-term and only view.


The main alternatives to hatcheries are habitat management, catchment management, water quality management and a long-term approach to fisheries.


Mr Davis: I assume that from time to time you address angling clubs. What sort of reaction have you had to what you have told them?


Mr Mathers: It has not always been very favourable, although some people are more favourable than others. Clubs that have invested in hatcheries find it very hard to accept. It is hard for an angler, or anybody, to go out on a river and see what is happening there. When you have held fish, stripped fish and put them in the river, there is something tangible that you can understand. However, a bird in the hand is not worth two in the river.


Some of the science behind this is highfalutin, but it is essentially very basic and understandable for anyone who wants to take the time to understand it. The biggest problem in fisheries is the gap between science and practical management. There is a practical link that should be made. In Northern Ireland, in my experience, that link has not been made.


Mr J Wilson: Catchment management is the in word in angling circles. In your profession you are aware that catchment management brings into the equation many other important interests such as planning, housing, regional development, farming and community use. Is the angling interest strong enough to be at the forefront of the argument for catchment management?


Dr Mathers: I am not here to necessarily talk about angling. I am here to talk about freshwater and fisheries management and angling is only part of that. I have not come here to focus on angling, which is a very important part of recreation and economic potential. It has a huge economic potential. We are talking about the management of a resource. We cannot exploit any resource until we manage the resource itself - through angling, through agriculture, through anything. In agriculture we need to understand the land and how it works before we use it. Rivers and freshwaters are no different.


The resource needs to be managed through an inter-agency or interdisciplinary approach. Models exist, but there needs to be a strategic lead taken from above. These models will not come together by themselves. For example, some of the cross-border inter-agency catchment strategies that have been devised, such as the Erne and the Foyle, have not come to anything because there is no strategic structure in place to implement them. They are being implemented through various agencies working as best they can. The Erne has had a council it for the past 40 years, but it is still having problems.


Mr Shannon: Some anglers have criticised the anaesthetisation of wild salmon at the Bush station and the use of electric barriers. What is your opinion on that?


Dr Mathers: I am based at the Bush at the minute, but I am just using an office there. I am working on a European Atlantic salmon programme so I am not actually aware of what is happening day to day. In my opinion the Bush is the foremost research facility in Atlantic salmon in the world. The information generated there is used all over the world and is being used to provide strategic management for salmon in the future. The installations are vital. How else do we find out about a fish if we do not have installations. There are only six installations like it in the world. You mentioned anaesthetics for fish. To understand a wild animal, one must handle it at some stage. The anaesthetics used at the Bush have always kept up with the best practice in the market. For example, clove oil is used as an anaesthetic. I have read the papers on it, and it is the safest product on the market at present. It is less stressful for the fish and is safer for the user. It is not carcinogenic like some previous ones.


The electric barrier on the Bush is there to divert fish into the facility. It enables staff to trap everything going up and down the river so that they can carry out their experimental work. These electric barriers have been used in salmon management around the world. They are used to deflect fish from turbines and hydro systems in America. It is nothing new, therefore, and it does not just apply to the Bush.


The main problem in the Bush is water quality. Having worked in Donegal and the Erne I could not believe the state of the Bush when I arrived there. It is supposed to be one of our premier salmon rivers but the water quality in the Bush is atrocious and the habitat has effectively disappeared. People are trying to redress that and the Department is working towards redressing that. There may be problems with handling the fish, in a natural sense, but everybody does it. Fishing clubs are handling fish and catching fish in hatcheries. The scientific programme on the Bush is carried out in a scientific way and is controlled by professionals on a daily basis. The information is vital, if we have the sense to use it.


The Chairperson: We received submissions from anglers who fished the Bush higher up the river. One of their comments was that the fish which had gone through the station, and had been anaesthetised, were much less responsive. They were also slower to the spawning beds and were not as responsive - "floppy" was a word that was used. Generally they did not respond in the same way as the salmon which did not get caught in the trap and which got up the river unmolested.


Dr Mathers: There are two points I want to make. No fish get up the river unmolested. It is a complete trap and everything goes through the trap. That first comment was inaccurate with regard to these being two sets of fish up the river. The fish in the lower river are fresh from the sea. I am not trying to defend things carte blanche, but when you handle a fish, stress is involved. I have a lot of experience of this through working with the Erne hydro schemes and the problems there. When a fish is in the upper river it is in a different condition and has been in fresh water for a long time. By its nature, it is going to be slower and more relaxed. When it is in freshwater it is getting ready for spawning and its body chemistry is changing. It is becoming what anglers call "red fish" - a fish which is fresh in from the sea and is fighting fit. If an angler says that he is catching a fish in the upper river that has not been put through the traps he is being inaccurate. All fish go through the traps.


The Chairperson: There are times when the electric diverting mechanism is not on.


Dr Mathers: In a day-to-day situation that is happening. I was talking to a guy recently who is running the system. It happened once in the last two years, and they observed the number of fish which went over the trap. It was only a handful. I would be a liar if I said that I had the information. I do not work specifically on that site.


There was a fish kill in the Bush this year. The fish were very floppy because there was no oxygen in the river. It is very hard for an animal to respire when the oxygen level has gone due to the production of algae, algae blooms and bacteria because of the water quality. It is not just one issue; it is a whole series of issues. That is why we need to take a strategic view in fisheries management, not just pinpoint one particular thing. We need to look at the whole picture.


Mr McMenamin: Thank you for your informative presentation. I have just one question. If, in an ideal world, you were to do one thing or change one thing, what would that be?


Dr Mathers: I would change the structure of the management of fisheries in Northern Ireland and the way that it is portrayed. There is a lot of duplication in the way that the system has been set up. People are being hamstrung. We need to take a strategic review of the management of freshwaters. They are an important resource - particularly the fisheries.


The Chairperson: Thank you for your submission; it has been very valuable. The Committee may well be in contact with you again. This additional information recorded today will be included with your original submission. It will be compiled with all other evidence that we have collected. That will form a series of recommendations for the Minister and his Department by November, at the earliest. Thank you very much for your contribution.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Davis
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr W Owens


The Chairperson: Mr Owens, you are welcome. You have a few minutes to make your comments and then our Members will ask you some questions.


Mr Owens: Thank you for the opportunity to state my case. My name is William Owens and I am the FCB bailiff for the Glen system. I received a reprimand for requests to the board for a hearing to discuss its failure to improve fishery protection at Otterburn Fish Farm which is owned by a former executive member of the FCB. I would like to briefly outline what has happened over the years.


On 9 May 1988 there was an incident of poaching from a boat at Otterburn Fish Farm on the River Maine, and I was told to forget about it. In 1990 there was a statutory case taken against Mr Baird's fish farm and there was no prosecution. On 16 March 1990 a statutory case was taken against, Mr Baird's fish farm. There was no prosecution. There was prosecution file against Mr Baird's son for transporting brood stock without a permit and again there was no prosecution. There was a prosecution file against Otterburn Trout Farm, where fish were found dead, and there was no prosecution. On 2 May 1995, fish were found dead in bag nets at Otterburn. I have the photographs.


A further prosecution file related to Mr Baird's fish farm and the Inver river and there was no prosecution. I sent the Committee exhibit W1 - Mr Baird told me what to write. On 30 March 1996 Mr Baird had an illegal pond at Carclinty Road -exhibit W3. The photographs show a fish pass which is actually a spouting from a house. I will leave those for the Committee. A further prosecution was prepared against Mr Baird in 1996. Mr Baird pleaded guilty. On 4 March 1997, there was another prosecution, and the former chief executive Bill Smith told Mr Baird to hold up the bag nets.


This picture shows the bag nets that were held up. Exhibit W03 shows the Carclinty Road. From 23 June 1998 to 23 October 1998 I continued to submit reports concerning the slaughter of fish at Otterburn Trout Farm. Mr Baird and Mr Wright met with Mr Smith, and arranged a strategy. The strategy was allowed smolts into the fish farm and the ponds, and a hole at the other facilitated their escape. However, when they go in with rainbow trout, the trout eat them. In the interests of conservation of fish life in the Maine system I wrote a brief letter to Mr Smith, asking him to meet with the board or the executive committee. Mr Smith refused. I gave a copy of the letter to members of the angling federation, and to the Deputy Chief Officer, to see if we could get something done, but instead I received a reprimand for doing my job. I have a copy with me and Members can see it if they want. It says that the strategy of the board was to allow the fish into the fish farm. This is an extract from my letter.

"Had I been aware that the Board members were well acquainted with your strategy and were in agreement with the capture and obstruction of migratory trout and salmon, I would never have requested a meeting with the full Board. As FCO for the area, I was not told of the strategy until I was at Ballymena court on 27/10/98."


I received your letter the following day, and that again was put to Mr Kilgore, Mr Kennedy and Sir Patrick MacNaughton, and members of the Executive Committee, but nobody ever got in touch with me. I had to go onto my tablets again from the doctor. Briefly, that is what happened with Mr Baird and his fish farm.


On 24 January 2000, I put in reports to the FCB stating that the obstruction and killing of migratory trout and salmon parr was continuing. On 25 January 2000, the board withdrew all charges against Mr Baird. On 5 May 2000, I met one of my superiors, and he asked me to go into the fish farm. I refused for health reasons; indeed, I find it a struggle today to bring these matters to light, but it has to be done. He said that I was being unhelpful and awkward, and he asked me what medication was I on. He said "You think that the board is wrong, the Department is wrong, and you are right." That did not help. He and another bailiff went into the fish farm on 13 June 2000, and Mr Baird was found to be failing on four out of six conditions of exemption. I have documentation on that. It states that if the conditions concerned are not complied with, the exemptions do not apply. Therefore, he should be complying with the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966. I will leave the papers relating to Mr Baird for the Committee to look at.


The Randalstown turbine is owned and operated by Mr Anthony O'Neill. I also put in two prosecution files on that, but there were no prosecutions. Mr O'Neill and I had a heated exchange on the 26 July 1997 concerning his raceway, but we both shook hands and passed as friends. However, Mr Andrew Frazer, who lives in Cullybackey and who also has a hydro plant, put in a letter of complaint to Mr Allister of Fisheries Division. The last paragraph says

"I am sorry to bother you with this but this exemplifies the reason why there must be a representative of water power users on the FCB to try to ensure that this sort of thing does not continue."

My reply, dated 30 July 1997, asks

"Could this be a form of victimisation relating back to his own prosecution at Harperstown on 24/4/95 remembering of course his reference to having been visited prior to the court case by several senior officials of Fisheries Division?".


The Chairperson: We have a time problem. Clearly, you have much evidence to verify your claims. Without going into that in depth, could you tell the Committee what your claims are?


Mr Owens: The Committee would need to look through my evidence and examine it. I emptied a bucket of fish at the feet of Mr Louis Reford and Mr O'Neill in 1996. I have photographs; I would need nearly two hours to go through my evidence.


The Chairperson: I could imagine -


Mr Owens: My photograph shows the fish that I put at their feet on 8 October 1996. The Fisheries Act specifies the months of March, April and May. However, it also covers any other time when salmon or dollaghan are descending the river. I got the 39 dead salmon and trout parr at Willie Baird's fish farm.


Quite simply, section 59 has not been sorted out for the benefit of fishermen and the fish. I have photographs relating to Mr Anthony O'Neill and Mr Baird. I also have them for John Hanna Limited. I prepared plenty of prosecutions also and nothing has been done.


There is also a hotel in the Ballymena area that has a court case pending in the near future. I think that is thanks to your good selves.


The Department of Agriculture has said fingerlings would not survive the passage through the waterfall. How would they survive the 20ft drop in the bypass channel? How would they survive a tour around the fish farm and the discharge point for excrement?


There is a case involving Shane's Castle estate when a prosecution was served on 19 April 1998. They received an exemption on 24 April 1998. There are two more raceways on the Inver river where Mr Maguire has a turbine. I have had trouble with them also over several years.


The Chairperson: I appreciate that you have a tremendous amount of evidence here and it would take a long time for the Committee to go through it all, but Members are anxious to ask you a few questions which might help to sharpen up your presentation.


Mr Shannon: Thank you for your detailed introduction. Part of this question is to tease out some of the points you were trying to make. You indicated that you were reprimanded by the FCB for your efforts to enforce fisheries legislation. Could you explain the nature of this farm's failure to comply with fisheries legislation? When did it first come to your notice, and how serious was it? Some of the photographs have indicated that perhaps. As far as you are aware, how often has it occurred?


Mr Owens: I have been dealing with it for several years and it has been very serious. There is another fish farm in the area which has material which is easy and cheap to install. If I could show this, it would show you what I mean. Mr Baird seems to be able to do whatever he wished. This photograph shows the material which another fish farmer is using, which is really cheap and easy to install. This gentleman actually has an agreement to keep fish screens on 10 months of the year. He does his best but at the same time, if there is a flood, we have the flexibility to say that it is the gentleman's livelihood so we cannot have his farm blocked up because all his fish die. During a flood he takes the screens out because there is no power running. He keeps them in 10 months of the year and that is the material he uses.


This is a bag net, the only difference is that on Mr Baird's farm they are two foot square. There are 24 of them and the fish have to know not to go into them. The bag nets are there to keep out debris and leaves, but when the fish go in their gills are closed and they choke because of lack of oxygen.


I have a detailed map of the fish farm. It shows where the fish come in and where they have to pass the bag nets. If any fish actually survive, they pass into a consented discharge. This photograph shows the consented discharge where the chemicals go out and where the fish excrement go out, so new fish going back to the sea have to tour around the fish farm, and that is a detailed map.


Mr Davis: Mr Owens, could I turn back to the reprimand when you requested to meet your superiors to push your concerns? Could you explain the normal procedure for reporting such an incident to your superiors, and what would you expect to happen after reporting it? What happened in your particular case?


Mr Owens: I have been dealing with this now for several years as the Deputy Chief, the Chief, and the Board know. I actually rang the Deputy Chief and he sent me the following letter:

"Dear Willy, further to our telephone conversation on Saturday evening at eighth March 1997, I agree that a meeting is necessary to discuss Otterburn Trout Farm and any Section 59 exemptions and force. Mr Smith would first like to speak with Northern Ireland Officials regarding the matter, then I will arrange a date for you to attend board headquarters and discuss the implications. I have forwarded information on exemption and correspondence from DANI as promised".


I never did receive that meeting, and while in 1987 the England clubs were fitting in a large number of trout. In 1987 the Clough river put in 40,000 salmon fry, and 16,000 dollaghan bait, 188,000 salmon fry and 20,000 dollaghan. The Kells water put in 5,000 salmon and 90,000 dollaghan. They were put in at the top, and were dropping back within a period of time and going in through turbines or Mr Baird's fish farm, yet I could not get anybody to put a screen on.


Mr McCarthy: You indicate that you had made numerous representations to your superiors about infringement of the legislation at the Otterburn Trout Farm. This is legislation that the FCB is meant to enforce and yet no action was taken. Were you offered any explanation as to why this was the case? Where there any extraordinary legal circumstances that might explain why no action was taken, and did anybody put pressure on you to alter evidence?


Mr Owens: Section 59 of the Act states that there has to be a screen on in March, April and May. Obviously, a grid has to go on before the screen and it has to stay on all year. Mr Baird unfortunately, did not comply with either of these and at one particular time, he actually held the screens up so I would not see them. When Mr David Wright came down, I did not know what exemption there was as there were that many floating about. Once I was taking samples to Lisburn when I got a call from my wife. She is my go-between because we work from home. She said there was a serious pollution incident in the Sixmilewater and could I get there? I said it was not my area but as I was going past I took a statutory look at that time. I took letters that I should not have taken and I got into a row. There were fish gills on the River Kells water and I was brought before the board. Mr Smith and Elaine Hamilton told me to leave out that part and draw the map again. I was under pressure all day, knowing that there was nothing I could do. It was my witness statement, but he did not seem to like it. I also caught a poacher at the mouth of the Maine in 1988. I got a verbal warning whilst the poacher got a written warning not to do it again. I am really thankful for this meeting, because it gets things off my chest. I hope you are able to do something for me and for the fish. I have been treated very badly.


Mr McCarthy: Were you ever forced to alter evidence?


Mr Owens: It was said that parts were not right and that some things should be removed and others inserted.


Mr McMenamin: You have been a very busy man on our rivers, Mr Owens. Has any other bailiff confirmed your assessment of infringements at the Otterburn Trout Farm?


Mr Owens: It is in my area. I had the Deputy Chief and Mr David Wright from the Department with me and I pointed out deficiencies in the grids. I returned a fish in the presence of Mr Wright and I took him up to the weir and showed him a board, which was across the fish pass. That activity is also illegal. Our inspector went to the spot and found that Mr Baird had an exemption dated 22 May 2000 signed by Hazel Campbell. It contained six conditions. When the inspector checked the fish farm he found that conditions two, three four and five were not being complied with. That is contained in a letter to me from the inspector dated 22 June 2000. The Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions says that both the certificate and the permit may be made subject to conditions - the six conditions I referred to. That means that if the conditions are not complied with then exemptions do not apply. In such a case the activities of the individual concerned will still be subject to the prohibitions set out in sections 5, 58 and 59 of the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 and they could be prosecuted.


I do not know whether the inspector or bailiff prosecuted him for breaking the law again.


Mr J Wilson: You have reported your reprimand, and your relationship with your employer over a long period of time has affected your health. How has your health been affected by your work?


Mr Owens: It is a struggle to be with you today as you can hear by my voice. I do not like to talk about it, but I am taking this opportunity as the last hurdle. If you need any advice about my submission I will be delighted to help. This will take a load off my mind. My wife and children have had to put up with me. I am sure you have all visited the doctor. I do not like to do so.


The Chairperson: I think we should end on that note. The Committee is aware of the strain you have been under throughout this session. Telling your story could have produced considerable strain also. Thank you for leaving us your evidence. We will have difficulty providing members with access to it but we will keep it under the control of the Clerk. I would be very anxious to ensure that none of that evidence goes missing. Clearly, a lot of hard work has gone into compiling it.


Mr Owens: That would break my heart. It has been a lot of work.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much. Much of your evidence has been touched on at various times by other submissions, but your contribution will be of value and shall be considered alongside those other submissions. In November, we will compile a set of recommendations for presentation to the Minister and the Department. Thank you for giving us the benefit of your experiences.


Mr Owens: May I take this opportunity to thank you, Mr Chairman, the Ladies and Gentlemen of this Committee, my wife and the anglers in the Maine System. I would also like to thank Danny Brown and Harold Avery who are first class anglers. Here is a 1989 article from the 'News Letter' which states that anglers want to get their bailiff off the hook; that is a good way to end. Thank you once again.


The Chairperson: Thank you. For the record, by way of clarification, there are no legal proceedings concerning Mr Owens at present. This concludes the public session.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McElduff

Mr B Johnston


The Chairperson: Good morning, Mr Johnston. You are welcome. The Committee is ready to listen to your submission.


Mr Johnston: I have been involved in tourism for over 12 years, bringing continental visitors to Northern Ireland on shooting and fishing holidays. My problems with various Departments are about two separate issues, although they are inextricably linked.


The first problem concerns Lough Bradan, a public reservoir owned by the Department of the Environment. In 1996 the Department's Water Service led us to believe that it had no vested interest in the lough, as it was a derelict water, and that the rightful owners were the Gordon estate. We applied for and received a grant from LEADER 11, which was partly funded by the Department of Agriculture, for capital expenditure to develop a tourist amenity.


We stocked the lough with rainbow and brown trout with the full knowledge of the Fisheries Division of the Department of Agriculture. Indeed, I discussed the best stocking policies with a Mr David Houston on several occasions. We ran this venture for nearly two years without any major problems, attracting visitors from all over Europe. We attracted groups such as the Irish Ladies' Fly Fishing Team and the Irish Disabled Anglers' Team for practice sessions before the internationals. We are also involved in various interschool competitions.


It was not until 1998 when I acquired some shooting and fishing leases in the neighbouring townland of Scraghy that we started to encounter problems. In that year I questioned the Forestry Service of the Department of Agriculture about the validity of a lease made to a Mr Harry Johnston and to Lord Brookeborough, a lease which they had taken from the Department in 1993. They got it "under the counter", so to speak, as no one else was given the opportunity to bid for it.


I knew at this stage that their lease was about to expire, and I expressed an interest in bidding for it and wished to be afforded the same opportunity as Lord Brookeborough and Harry Johnston. At this stage the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service called a meeting with Lord Brookeborough and Harry Johnston, and their lease was not renewed. Things went pear- shaped. We were refused permits to restock Lough Bradan, and two months later we were told to vacate the fishery or face legal proceedings.


We knew that the Department of Agriculture's lease with the Department of the Environment was about to expire in February 1999. We were under the impression that we would be able to enter into an agreement for a management programme for the running of the fishery with either the Department of the Environment or the Department of Agriculture, and this was deemed to be a successful use of natural resources. They have similar management programmes with other clubs. The Department of Agriculture's Fisheries Division refused to enter into any sort of management agreement with us. I have letters here to that effect if anyone wishes to see them. We saw this as an opportunity missed for the much needed development of a rural area.


In May 1999 we discovered that high security locks had been installed on gates leading to our other waters on the northern side, which had been acknowledged to be in our possession. There was no dispute over these lakes, and I have several solicitors' letters relating to this fact. We requested permission from the Department of Agriculture to move our boats to this northern end, which was not in dispute. The gates to Lough Bradan had been secured, and we could not operate our fishery at that point.


Our second issue is access. We found that the various Departments were coming together against us. I have letters from solicitors, representing the Department for Regional Development, the Water Service, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Some are just from the Department of Agriculture and others which are probably the same Departments.


We found that the might of the Departments was closing down on us, trying to get us to walk away. After several solicitors' letters were sent it was accepted that this was a separate issue from Lough Bradan and on 5 July a meeting took place with Departmental Solicitors in Belfast. At this meeting it was agreed that it was unreasonable to expect visiting anglers to walk the five miles to Lough Lack and the other two lakes which were the property of the Gordon estate. The locks were changed back within a matter of days, allowing us vehicular access and we experienced no further problems for that season in this area.


In November 1999 I had a confrontation with Mr Harry Johnston at the fishing lodge at Lough Bradan where we were taking lunch with some French visitors who were the guests of Drumquin Development Association. The mayor of Pont-Rémy was present, a small French town which we work closely with and which is twinned with Drumquin. The confrontation was about ducks I had placed in a small pond in Scraghy. Within four days a new barrier and high security locks had been installed at the entrance into Lough Bradan leading to the fishing lodge and we were prevented access. On 28 January 2000 I had another confrontation with Mr Harry Johnston at Scraghy and within three days high security locks were placed on the barrier leading to Lough Lack, which we had agreed with the Department on 5 July 1999 and was not under any dispute. To date this situation remains the same. We are still trying to gain access to our other fishing lakes and properties on Department lands.


I knew Harry Johnston had a key. May I explain that every high security lock has six keys: one is given to the Fire Service, one to the local forester and one to the main office. Anyone that does work in that area has to sign for a key. If a key is lost the locks are changed. These keys are not handed out willy-nilly.


I knew that Harry Johnston had a key because I saw him using it. I saw him at the barrier, and I reported it to the head forester. My solicitor had written several letters to the Department asking why a third party had been given a key and why I was refused one when they had acknowledged all rights of access to these lakes. All along they have denied that this third party had one.


I have letters here stating that a third party was given access on request to lands where he claimed he had shooting rights. They offered me the same access on request, but my solicitor pointed out it simply was not working and we knew this third party had a key. I have a letter here, and I have underlined the fifth paragraph. This was a situation where I had four English anglers on a fishing holiday in Northern Ireland. The river fishing did not suit, and they were looking to fish on lakes. I was approached by Newtownstewart Development Association to see if I could provide fishing for them on the lakes. I thought it would be a simple matter to phone the local forest to get the barriers opened. I found that they were on holiday, or on sick leave. I phoned everybody including the Forest Conservation Officer in Belfast, who had a meeting in England, and the Crown Solicitor's to complain about it. The next day I had to turn anglers away. It had become apparent that if I wanted access, they would give me access, on request, for the purpose of moving boats or to restock the lakes with fish. They denied me access to actually fish the lake, drive up to fish the lake or take guests up to fish. It is a five-mile walk. What we found was, if I phoned on a Monday, I would be told the gate would be opened for me on a Tuesday at 12.00pm and would be locked again at 5.00pm. This was completely unacceptable to us, especially since we knew that a third party had a key.


Again my solicitor raised this matter with the Department. I have letters here dated 5 April 2000 and 2 August 2000. The first says that a third party will be given access on request, and the second admits that a third party had already been given a key on loan some time ago and that it was a possibility that Lord Brookeborough had a fourth key. We are trying to make inroads to investigate why this had happened, and we still have been denied access, denied a key to our property.


It has become quite clear to us that the Department of Agriculture is showing favouritism to this third party and that the Department has closed ranks against us in the hope that we will walk away. This has cost us one full-time job and two part-time jobs as well as a considerable investment. I would like to state that at local level I have never really experienced a problem. The ex-District Forest Officer said he was glad to see us there because it cut down on vandalism. We kept in touch with regards to keeping gates locked and secured with the foreman. Even at weekends if we found a gate open, or any vandalism going on, it was reported to him and the gates would have been secured. If we found a gate that had been forcibly opened it was reported and the gate was locked. The problems seemed to be coming from elsewhere. It is only recently (Feb 2000) that the matter of keys and access has arisen again. We have started to see what was actually happening. People have been saying to me, for some time now that I must have upset somebody and that they have really got it in for me. It is frustrating.


We are not being allowed to develop our business, and we feel that we are dealing with the same civil servants today as we were dealing with two or three years ago. Until there is some change in these Departments tourism in Northern Ireland cannot make any progress.


The Chairperson: Why do you think that you are having these problems?


Mr Johnston: I do not know. At the beginning we did not encounter any problems with the Department of Agriculture, but I know that Mr Harry Johnston is a friend of David Houston of the Fisheries Division. I have spoken to David Houston on several occasions on the telephone, and he has mistaken me for Harry Johnston's son, who shares my name, and from the way that the conversation started, I knew that they were friendly. I feel that there is some sort of pressure being put on somebody from outside the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to make us walk away from this issue.


There are people in the area who claim to own the shooting and fishing rights and have done so for a number of years without any hindrance. At the minute they have free access from the Department to come and go as they please, yet we are being denied access and the Department has already acknowledged this. I can only assume that this is coming from outside the Department.


The Chairperson: For the record, can you confirm that this matter is not under adjudication in a civil court.


Mr Johnston: To my knowledge, it is not. On 6 January 1999 I received a letter from the Crown Solicitor's Office giving us 14 days to vacate the fishery, otherwise we would face legal proceedings. The matter was raised and it was mentioned - but not to my solicitor in the last two years - that it was a subject of litigation. Apparently someone received a letter the other day stating that Lough Bradan and its ownership is under litigation. But there has never been any legal dispute, with the Department of Agriculture or otherwise, concerning the access to Lough Lack or the northern side of the road.


The Chairperson: Do you permit the Committee to have photocopies of the letters that you are referring to - those that you have circulated and the others that you have not circulated?


Mr Johnston: Yes.


Mrs Nelis: I congratulate you on your contribution to the tourism industry in Northern Ireland. You worked closely with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and several international tour operators, and as a result you brought business to the local hotels, restaurants and car hire firms in the Tyrone area, and that is to be encouraged.


You state in your submission that your permit to stock Lough Bradan was revoked by the Department of Agriculture Fisheries Division around May 1998 and that this permit and the stocking of Lough Bradan was essential to the business that you had built up. Has the Department ever given you an explanation as to why your permit was revoked? Is it common practice that a permit of this type is not renewed after it has been granted? The Department of Agriculture renewed the lease for fishing rights in January 1999, but you say that Lough Bradan is now a derelict water and is not being used.


Mr Johnston: Regarding the revocation of the permit, fish had been ordered from Harry Johnston for stocking the lake. Harry Johnston informed me that he had had a telephone call from the Fisheries Division of the Department of Agriculture, informing him that it was not going to give him a permit to put fish into the lake. I immediately phoned David Wright of that Department, who told me that it really was not up to him and that the girls who issued the permits also worked for David Houston. Perhaps it was something to do with this, but we were given no explanation. We still have not found out why the permit to stock the lake was revoked.


Mrs Nelis: Can you understand why the permit was revoked when the lake was a lucrative part of the tourist industry? It is now derelict. Explain that to me.


Mr Johnston: It is very hard to accept, especially since in 1998 I spoke to a senior official in the Fisheries Conservancy Board who told me that at that time the Department of Agriculture was trying to offload its fishing on these waters, and all the waters in Northern Ireland, to the Fisheries Conservancy Board, as it was making a loss in excess of £250,000 per annum on them, and that there would be a good possibility that it would enter into some sort of an agreement with us. I would like to have seen some use being made of the lake. I even approached Drumquin Development Association to see if it could take a lease on the lake and the Department refused. I found it very strange, especially as its lease was expiring in February 1999. In January 1999 I received a letter from the Department, asking us to leave. When I questioned this, I pointed out that the lease was not up until February and that I would like the opportunity to apply. I was told that the lease had been given back to the Department of Agriculture that this was normal practice and that it was not prepared to enter into any sort of arrangement with me.


Mr Davis: You made the point that Mr Thomas of the Department of the Environment had agreements with other angling clubs in relation to the fishing rights and that they could enter into an agreement with the Department of Agriculture. Could you explain what that would entail? In your opinion, would that have been a satisfactory outcome?


Mr Johnston: Yes, it would have been a very satisfactory outcome. Lough Bradan has reverted to derelict water. I visited it yesterday to take photographs, but unfortunately the Polaroid camera did not work very well. We had requested, through our solicitors and through Mr Gordon Pugh and his solicitor, to enter into some sort of agreement with the Departments. I have a letter dated 1 March 1998 from the Crown Solicitor stating that the Department had instructed him that it was not prepared to enter into any agreement with Mr Pugh or with me in respect of the lough.


That was just before the arrangement with the Department had expired. I was at a loss to know why this had happened, and to this day no explanation has been given.


Mr Davis: Was there no further consultation?


Mr Johnston: Not on the acquisition of a lease from the Department. It stated its position, arguing that it was the rightful owner and that we should leave. Basically that was it.


Mr McElduff: As my colleague Mrs Nelis has outlined, you have been very positive and helpful in promoting tourism in Drumquin and west Tyrone. What effect do you think the dereliction of Lough Bradan has had on local tourism?


Mr Johnston: Quite significant, I would say. My written submission includes a letter from Mr George Kerr of the Drumquin Development Association. I know, for instance, that there have been at least two bed and breakfasts grants made to customers for tourism in that area. I have letters from, perhaps, three years ago, about the number of visitors Lough Bradan was bringing into the area. I know there are now people with bed and breakfasts who have no people in the beds so it has had quite an impact on them. I know they would like to have seen something happening to bring people back into that area.


It is not only the Fisheries Division. I feel that the whole Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, including the Forestry Division, has closed ranks. There seems to be a knock-on effect, and we do not seem to be allowed to move anywhere or to develop any further.


Mr McCarthy: Other groups who have given oral evidence to the Committee have recommended that the existing and complicated licensing and permit structure in Northern Ireland should be overhauled and simplified. What are your views on this?


Mr Johnston: I totally agree with that. In the Drumquin area, if a visiting angler were to fish in Lough Bradan and two miles up the road in Lough Lack, he would need two different rod licences from two different Departments. He would need a Foyle Fisheries Commission (Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission) licence for Lough Bradan which flows into the Fairy Water, the Strule and the Mourne. To fish Lough Lack just up the road, which flows all the way down into County Fermanagh he would need an FCB licence. It is complicated for tourists: they need two different permits to fish different waters in the same townland.


Mr McCarthy: It would be very inconvenient.


Mr Johnston: Yes, most definitely.


Mr McCarthy: Would you support a combination of the licences to be picked up from one source?


Mr Johnston: Yes.


Mrs Nelis: Mr Johnston, I have a general question, but it is one that surfaces all the time with the many groups and people who come before the Committee. In what way do you believe that pollution could be resolved in the current legal situation by the imposition of fines? Do you believe that the current situation is sufficient to discourage the many people who pollute our waterways?


Mr Johnston: The main polluters in Northern Ireland tend to be the Government Departments. I refer to Lough Bradan where there is a water treatment works. The water in Lough Bradan is fairly peaty, fairly coloured, and they have to use a lot of aluminium and things like that to clean the water. I am not sure about the process used. After the water leaves Lough Bradan, it goes through the treatment works and enters the stream at the bottom. From there to the Fairy Water is completely dead of any life. You will get a black glar on the stones, whether it is from aluminium or whatever. Farmers will tell you that 40 years ago it used to be brimming with trout and they tell me that "bradan" is Irish for salmon. I do not know if there was any salmon in there at any time but there most certainly are not now. Nothing lives in the Fairy Water from the Strule right up, except pike. There are no trout. Pike seem to be fairly hardy and are able to stand it. I feel that until the Government Departments are made accountable for the pollution that they cause, it is a really a non-starter. It will be very hard to resolve.


The Chairperson: It has often been argued in the submissions we have received that a single co- ordinating body should be established to look after the conservation and development of inland fisheries resources. Do you agree with that suggestion and, if so, what powers should that body have?


Mr Johnston: If there were to be such a body, its membership should be drawn from other bodies. There should be input from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board as far as marketing is concerned. I can only speak about the rivers in my area, the Strule and the Mourne, which run into the Foyle.


There are lots of small clubs, some of which are under management agreements with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for day permits. The system means that an angler can fish for a mile or so on a river and then may have to skip a bit before he can resume fishing. There does not seem to be enough agreement between clubs and private owners, particularly about promoting tourism. I do not know what powers could be brought in to improve that situation. However, the tourist board should be more involved.


Mr McCarthy: You say that Lough Bradan has reverted back to being a derelict fishery. Has the Department of the Environment indicated that it intends to manage Lough Bradan as a going concern, or if it intends to offer the fishing rights to outside interests?


Mr Johnston: No. As far as I am aware this year, the Department has not restocked Lough Bradan. I do not know of anyone who fishes it because there is a barrier preventing people from driving down to the lough. I was told it was erected to keep me out. Two years earlier, I requested the erection of a barrier, which could be opened during the day and closed at night, to protect boats and for security. The Department of Agriculture told me that that could not happen as the public had driven down to the edge of the lough on Sundays for 20 years, looked out over the water and admired the scenery, and the erection of a barrier would create an outcry.


However, when pressure was put on the Department from outsiders, which I believe happened, a barrier was erected and the public was given no consideration. I know the Department received letters of compliant from disabled anglers who wanted to fish with us but who could not get access to the lough.


Mrs Nelis: I would like to ask about something that is puzzling me. I have just quickly glanced at your letters. You have established that there is no litigation involved, but are you prevented from gaining access to the area except on foot?


Mr Johnston: That is correct. There is no litigation involved on the northern side. Only last year the Department acknowledged our right. In a letter dated 5 April 2000 it acknowledged our right of access on foot in order that we could exercise our rights over the lakes. However, it denied us vehicular access. It said it would grant us vehicular access on request, but that is not feasible for visiting anglers because when you go to a boat you have to bring an engine, a battery, equipment and gear. Nobody is going to walk five miles to fish a lake. It is just not feasible.


At a meeting on 5 July 1999 the Department agreed with us and changed the locks. We have asked it on numerous occasions to tell us why it allowed us vehicular access and then took it away on 1 February 2000. I can only assume that it was due to a confrontation I had with Harry Johnston on 28 January 2000. Within three days of that, there was a high security lock on the barriers.


Mrs Nelis: I see you raised this matter with your Assembly Member, Mr Gibson. Did he receive any explanation?


Mr Johnston: Last year, he accompanied us to the Department for the meeting. However, every time he wrote to the then Department of Agriculture he got no joy. I have raised the issue of access with another local councillor, Joe Byrne. I have asked him if it would be possible to arrange a meeting with Ms Rodgers to discuss the matter. To date I have not received any word back.


The Chairperson: You could also write to the Minister yourself, or through one of your representatives, to request a face-to-face meeting. Thank you for your evidence, Mr Johnston. The inquiry is approaching the final stages of public session, and we will soon start to compile our report, as well as producing recommendations for the Minister and the Department. Many aspects of the evidence you have given today will help us formulate some of our recommendations.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McElduff

Mr C Mellon ) Royal Society for the
Mr N Johnston ) Protection of Birds


The Chairperson: Good afternoon, Gentlemen. You have ten minutes in which to make a presentation, and then we will have a question-and-answer session.


Mr Mellon: We will present a five-minute summary of the written representation we made to you earlier. We are grateful for this opportunity to present both written and oral evidence to you. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a charity which campaigns for the protection of wild birds and their habitats. The RSPB is the UK branch of a global conservation network, Birdlife International. We work very closely with the Irish Birdlife partner, Birdwatch Ireland, which is based in Dublin. We are a voluntary organisation with over one million members from across the United Kingdom, including nearly ten thousand members in Northern Ireland. Habitats such as lakes, rivers and their adjacent wetlands are extremely important areas for birds and other wildlife. This is why the RSPB prioritises these habitats in its conservation work in Northern Ireland. Poor water quality and drainage, development and disturbance are among the issues that can have an adverse effect on those habitats. A number of wetland bird species, including curlew and lapwing, have declined quite dramatically in recent years.


Because the RSPB considers these wetlands to be a high priority for work, that really is one of the main reasons why we are here, and we hope that protection of these wetlands will be a high priority for the Northern Ireland Assembly's work in the coming years too.


It is worth pointing out that we have a number of common objectives and goals that we share with the fisheries interests, particularly in relation to water quality issues and water resource and quantity issues.


In our written evidence we made three key points, and I want to summarise these very briefly now.


The first was the need for holistic or integrated management of our lakes and rivers for the benefit of fisheries, wildlife and all other interests as well. This means that all activities in a wetlands system, including fisheries, nature conservation, agriculture, developments, tourism, and so forth, must all be managed in a co-ordinated way, so that one activity does not act to the detriment of any other. For obvious reasons, therefore, the RSPB has consistently advocated that there be an integrated approach to the management of these wetland systems.


The good news from our point of view is that the EU Water Framework Directive will, in fact, require all member states to produce things called "river basin management plans" for the key river catchments. While much of the responsibility will fall on the Department of the Environment, other Departments will have a major role to play as well. We are arguing that the Government should certainly be making preparations for implementing the directive as soon as possible, because a great deal of work will need to be done to get this up and running. We will ask the inquiry team to recommend that the Northern Ireland Government equips itself urgently, otherwise there is a real danger we might be left behind, not only by the rest of the UK, but also by the rest of Europe.


The second issue we raised was that there was an immediate need to address poor water quality in our lakes and rivers. We are in a situation where we now have a wide range of strategies, for example, the eutrophication strategy water quality management plans for the Erne and Foyle systems. We also have recommendations made by the Northern Ireland Comptroller and Auditor General. Very few of these strategies or recommendations have been implemented, so there really is a need for a clear programme for implementation of these measures, and again we will ask the inquiry to recommend that such a programme be developed.


It is well documented that the diffuse source pollution, such as we addressed in our evidence from agriculture, is one of the major contributors to water quality problems, but there are other sources that should also be addressed. In our evidence we drew attention to the fact that the planning system must ensure that major new developments should be avoided in areas where the sewerage infrastructure is simply not adequate.


The third issue we raised relates to the new Northern Ireland biodiversity strategy, which will be launched by the Minister of the Environment on 4 October. This strategy identifies the wildlife and the habitats which are most in need of urgent conservation action. The strategy paves a way for action plans to be produced, which will address the conservation needs of these species and habitats.


In terms of fisheries, priority species include things like the pollan, while Atlantic salmon and brown trout are also listed as species of conservation concern. Conservation measures for these species would also benefit a range of other plants and animals. Birds can piggyback on the back of action plans for fish and vice versa.


Again we will be asking the inquiry to encourage rapid progress towards the implementation of these action plans, not only the ones that are beneficial to fisheries, but all the others as well. We also hope that the inquiry will promote the allocation of sufficient resources so that these action plans and the biodiversity strategy in general can be implemented.


One final issue which we did not actually touch on in our submission but which I think is relevant, is to do with fish-eating birds.


There is a perception in Northern Ireland that cormorants can affect fish stocks, and we are aware that some fisheries managers are calling for changes to the legislation in relation to cormorants. The current situation is that cormorants are fully protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. The RSPB would strongly argue that this situation should not be changed.


The Department of the Environment issues a number of licences each year to fisheries' managers to shoot a specified number of cormorants. I recommend that the Committee discuss this in more detail with the Department of the Environment to ascertain what the procedures are. However, as I understand it, licences are only issued where there is proven damage from cormorants, and where all other solutions have been tried and have failed.


We base our views on a plethora of current research - some of which is local. Studies were carried out at the River Bush fisheries in the 1980s, which demonstrated that cormorants could have a localised effect on some fisheries. More recent research was carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in the mid-to late-1990s. That research was supported by both conservation and fisheries interests, and it confirmed that where there are problems, they relate to specific fisheries, rather than being a widespread problem for the total fisheries' catch. That demonstrates that the current approach that we have in Northern Ireland is the appropriate one.


It is important to recognise that the research also found the determining of the causes of poor fishery performance to be a very complex issue. There are other factors that may be more influential than predation by cormorants - for example, climatic issues were discussed in that research.


A variety of management techniques are at the disposal of fisheries' managers, including the shooting of blanks, the use of fish refuges and habitat management measures. It was concluded that the shooting of live rounds was only one possible method of control and was not always the most appropriate or effective. If any Committee members would like more information on that research I can provide summaries at a later date.


The Chairperson: That would be helpful. We now move to the questions.


The opening question relates to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 - the equality legislation. Does your organisation have members who are representative of a cross-section of the local community and local groups such as disability groups and Age Concern?


Mr Mellon: Yes, it does. Our 10,000 members represent a very wide cross-section of the population.


Mrs Nelis: Thank you for your submission. I like birds, and I commend you on the work that you are doing to preserve the various species that give us so much pleasure. I previously commended the work done to try to preserve the wetlands in the Foyle basin area against Derry City Council's proposed airport runway extension. It was very interesting because it directed councillors' attention to the excellent and vital work that the RSPB is doing in the preservation of the ecosystem.


In your submission you point out that there are a number of Government Departments that have responsibility for the different aspects of freshwaters. It mentions documents that are probably sitting gathering dust on shelves and emphasises the importance of implementation.


Do you think that an overarching body, such as a river basin management group, should be established by the Environment and Heritage Service? It could take overall responsibility, or responsibility could lie with a committee comprising representatives from Government Departments, non-governmental organisations, or with a wider group involving Government, local councillors and regional committees. What sort of body would you like to see set up to implement some of the proposals contained in your submission?


Mr Mellon: It is right that there should be one lead co-ordinating body to prepare these river-based management plans, and these plans should draw together all the disparate strategies that we have referred to. It is likely that that body will be the Department of the Environment because of its water quality remit. Having said that, these plans should not be drawn up in isolation. There should be a very close joint effort with a whole range of other Departments and agencies, including the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department for Regional Development. They should also include our counterparts in the Republic of Ireland, because a number of our river catchments are cross-border, and that is an important issue.


Regarding whether organisations like ourselves should be involved - and we would very much like to be - I am not sure if we need to sit on a committee to draw up these plans. Certainly, the EU Water Framework Directive, which will introduce these river- based management plans, is seeking enhanced public participation. It will require member states to introduce measures whereby not only non-governmental organisations like ourselves, but the public at large, will be much more involved in all stages of these river-based management plans, including their preparation and implementation.


It is probably worth saying a little bit about the work that the RSPB is presently doing. In co-operation with some Government bodies we have undertaken a project across the United Kingdom, with a sub-project in Fermanagh based on the Erne system, which is testing different methods of involving the community in such decision making. It is to be hoped that these results will be useful when the Government do it for real.


Mr McElduff: Your submission refers to the 1998 Audit Office report, 'Control of River Pollution in Northern Ireland', which specifically mentions the polluter pays strategy. You indicated your support for that. Does this differ significantly from the current approach taken against polluters? Do you feel that the present legislation adequately addresses the seriousness of water pollution incidents?


Mr Mellon: The second question is easier, but I will come back to that. In relation to the first question, the main difference is the way in which industry can be charged by Government for the issuing and monitoring of consents for discharging pollutants, and so forth. As far as I understand it, in Great Britain there is a system whereby industry, or whoever is creating these pollutants, is charged for any monitoring which is done, and also for the issue of the consents. That is not, as far as I know, the situation in Northern Ireland. There is legislation coming through under the new Water Order, which will introduce a charging scheme, but that part of the Water Order has not yet been enacted. An interesting statistic from that Northern Ireland Audit Office report estimated that between 1992 and 1998, when we were still waiting for this legislation to come through, the delay cost the taxpayer £5 million. This was because the taxpayer, rather than the polluters, had to foot the monitoring bill. That is one of the main differences, and it should be addressed as quickly as possible.


The second part of your question related to the adequacy of the legislation. The Northern Ireland Audit Office said that the fines which were imposed by the courts were inadequate, and we agree. One of the problems is that pollution incidents are not costed in a strategic or comprehensive way. The Department of the Environment does not have a written policy framework or procedure for recovering costs. Therefore, things such as the cost and damage to fisheries and the environment are left out of the equation. These things are not translated down to court decisions, which means that the fines being imposed are often derisory.


Mr Davis: Independent environmental protection agencies - that has a nice ring. In your submission you called for the establishment of such an agency. What advantages would this organisation have in the investigation of water pollution incidents and enforcement of legislation, compared to the current approach?


Mr Mellon: It largely depends on the powers such a body would have. The RSPB image of such a body is that it would be a watchdog with some teeth. This body would be monitoring the performance of Government against its obligations deriving from national and European legislation. It could make recommendations as to how any shortcomings could be addressed and, if it had sufficient power, it could, perhaps, initiate appropriate structures whereby increased co-ordination could be brought about and remedial measures introduced. It really depends on the powers this body ends up with. The principle is that we need some sort of independent watchdog, because the well-known poacher/gamekeeper situation is unacceptable.


Mr Davis: Has the poacher/gamekeeper syndrome contributed to the degradation of the water quality?


Mr Mellon: It has undermined public confidence in the transparency of what is happening. There is certainly a perception - and it may be true - that the Government itself is one of the greatest polluters. As I said earlier about the water quality of the likes of Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, agricultural-based pollution is, perhaps, one of the most serious problems. Having said that, there is also the issue of pollution from sewage treatment works, and so forth. The introduction of an environmental protection agency would certainly help to restore public confidence by introducing more transparency into the system and ensuring that there are clearer targets and objectives that the Government itself has to achieve.


Mr Davis: Do you as an organisation keep records or have records of pollution caused by the Department of the Environment or others?


Mr Mellon: We did at one stage, but we ran out of space. The sheer volume of newspaper clippings about incidents from sewage treatment works and fish kills was overwhelming us.


Mr McCarthy: I congratulate your organisation on the work that you have been doing and continue to do. I live in Kircubbin and had the pleasure of travelling from home this morning. It was a pleasant morning, the tide was out, and the place was amass with birds of all descriptions. I do not know the difference between most of these birds, but it was a pleasure to watch them. There were so many of them I do not know how they all get food. Keep up the good work.


Your submission mentioned planning problems and recommended a restriction against development in areas where there is no access to adequate sewage treatment infrastructures. Considering the rural nature of Northern Ireland, are you not ignoring the aims of rural development programmes of maintaining a rural population, economy and culture, thereby undermining the integrated approach to catchment management planning that you so strongly advocate?


Mr Mellon: I apologise if the wording of my submission was slightly misleading in that respect. The RSPB is strongly supportive of maintaining strong and vibrant rural communities across Northern Ireland. We have been well documented on making the link between the continuation of agriculture and the maintenance of biodiversity, because certain bird species require farming to provide their habitats.


I was really driving at the recent plethora of proposals for large-scale housing developments in green-belt rural areas where there is inadequate sewerage infrastructure and obvious temptations to grant planning permission because of the housing need. We must ensure that the sewerage infrastructure is capable of dealing with these developments first. I was not trying to draw attention to scattered development or individual rural dwellings as such.


Mr McCarthy: I agree with you wholeheartedly in your approach to that.


Cormorants have been mentioned in many presentations here, and I will leave it to you to imagine what was said. Many anglers are concerned about the impact of cormorants on inland fish stocks. These birds have traditionally used inland loughs as feeding grounds. What is your experience regarding their impact on fish stocks, and why do you think there is an outcry about their impact now at this stage? Are cormorant numbers increasing, and what methods other than shooting would you suggest to minimise their impact on fish stocks?


Mr Mellon: Regarding our experience of the impact of cormorants on fisheries, research does suggest that there can be localised impacts in specific areas, but it is not an issue in terms of the overall fish catch in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. I am not sure why it has been raised as an issue now, because, from what information we do have, the population of breeding cormorants the north coast seems to have reached a plateau and is now in decline. However, the population of breeding cormorants in County Down seems to be on the increase.


What we cannot categorically say is what the population is across Northern Ireland. There is a major seabird survey taking place called "Seabird 2000", which is really a misnomer, for it will take place next year as well. After next year we will have a clearer picture as to what the cormorant population is around Northern Ireland, and we will be able to tell whether it has increased or decreased. The last full survey of this sort was done in 1985, so it would be very dangerous at this stage to draw comparisons.


In terms of what other methods can be used to minimise their impact on fish stocks, I have mentioned one or two of them, but perhaps I can mention some others. The shooting of blanks instead of live rounds at cormorants has been tested, but it requires more research to see whether it is as effective as using live rounds.


One of the most effective methods which has been drawn to our attention is the use of fish refuges, which can be constructed underwater and to which fish can gain access but cormorants cannot. Where these have been put in place they have proved to be very successful. Cormorants can sometimes cause stab wounds, and it has also been noticed that the incidence of injury to larger fish has decreased dramatically where refuges are used.


Laser lights have been used to upset cormorants from where they roost, but these only work where there are not any other roost sites available, because they can just relocate somewhere else. The use of lasers has raised some issues to do with public safety, so that method has not been progressed.


Wires over small fish ponds are said to be 100% effective, although obviously they do not work for larger lakes, as you cannot really put wires over lakes that are quite large.


Another interesting method is called "conditioned taste aversion" whereby cormorants are actually persuaded to have an aversion to the quarry species, whether it be trout or salmon, through a whole serious of tests and experiments. This has been done in captivity and has proved successful on captive cormorants, but it has not yet been tested on the wild ones. Perhaps that is something to consider for the future.


Mr McCarthy: You said that you could provide us with more information. That might be useful.


Mr Mellon: I apologise that I do not have it with me today, but I can certainly make it available soon.


The Chairperson: I would like to pick up on some information that has been given to us in other evidence sessions.


First, one of the main cormorant breeding grounds is Sheep Island from where the rat population was removed a couple of years ago. As a result of that, there has been a phenomenal increase in the breeding of cormorants on Sheep Island.


Also, evidence has been given to us that clouds of cormorants can be seen in the early hours of the morning - when they do most of their fishing - on Lough Neagh, where the River Bann meets it. Then they are not normally seen again in such large numbers for the rest of the day. A cormorant can take as many as six salmon smolt a day. The conclusions of some of these arguments were that the loss of salmon smolt was increasingly severe as a result of this predation.


Mr Mellon: On the rats issues, you are quite right. Sheep Island used to have rats on it as well as cormorants, and, in fact, the rats quite regularly ate the contents of the cormorants' nests, and the population was kept at a low level.


I think it was as far back as 1967 that the National Trust eradicated the rats from Sheep Island. It is true to say that after that time, in the 1970s, the population of breeding cormorants on Sheep Island increased. As I hinted earlier, that increase stopped and reached a plateau for a while. In more recent years, the numbers have declined, because Sheep Island is one of the colonies that is monitored quite regularly, and the numbers are now in decline again. There is a known increase in some of the colonies in County Down, but we do not know the reasons at this stage.


The Bann is where most of the work on cormorants and fish stocks has been done in Northern Ireland. It is one of the areas where a licence is granted annually to shoot a certain number of cormorants. We would say that this is the way to deal with a specific problem on a specific fishery rather than the removal of the protective status of these birds and the introduction of widespread culls. One point I would make is that there is a very important distinction to be made between the birds which breed in Northern Ireland and an influx of birds which migrate into Northern Ireland after the breeding season, and in winter. Our population is augmented by these wandering birds after the breeding season.


It is probably worth noting that a complicating factor is that many of these incoming birds are actually a different race of cormorants called "Sinensis" cormorants. They are especially protected under annex 1 of the Birds Directive, so there is an issue there too. Nothing is simple. I would caution against our tarring all breeding birds with the predation brush, because there are these incoming birds which are adding to the issue.


The Chairperson: Would you accept the other point about the number of salmon smolt that an adult cormorant might take?


Mr Mellon: I am not sure of the exact figure, but I am quite happy to accept that. Cormorants do eat fish, and they eat a great deal of fish. There is no doubt about that as far as the RSPB is concerned.


Mr McElduff: Should there be a fine system for the cormorants? I have a bird in my attic, and I want rid of it.


Mrs Nelis: The cormorant and rat problem makes my mind boggle. There is an interference in the ecosystem. I wanted to ask you about the new body, Waterways Ireland, which you mention in your submission. This is yet another body to add to the confusion at the plethora of departmental and cross- border bodies that exists. It is sometimes very difficult, even for us, to find out which is the relevant one. Because of the different statutory and judicial arrangements and policies relating to the environment between the two jurisdictions, you said that both these bodies, especially Waterways Ireland, should co-operate. It would be better if all the functions were integrated, which I think seems a sensible thing to do. Have you made a submission to Waterways Ireland recommending that?


What functions do you envisage Waterways Ireland having? How do you see them being implemented? We have Waterways Ireland, we have the Loughs Agency, we have the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, we have the Department for Regional Development and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. I am sure there are a few others that I have left out. In respect of the work that you are doing, and the work that we want to do, for the protection of the environment, it would be ideal if we could all sing from the same hymn sheet - if I may put it that way. How do you think this could be achieved?


Mr Mellon: There are two elements to this answer. First, we have not fully singled out Waterways Ireland as such. However, we have requested a general increase in the type of nature conservation duty that bodies like Waterways Ireland should have. In our response to the new Water Order, we have called for a stronger nature conservation duty, so that statutory bodies would have to further such conservation in the course of their duties.


At present, the only regulative duty is under article 4 of the Nature Conservation Amenity Land Order 1985, which is a duty to have regard to the conservation of flora and fauna. However, this is not a very proactive regulation. It is not likely to create a great deal of environmental enhancement or management, although there are a number of bodies in Britain - quite similar bodies, like British Waterways and the Environment Agency - which have a stronger duty.


The second part of my answer is that having this duty would be vital for these organisations when implementing the biodiversity strategy, which, in my opinion, would bind these bodies together. There would be a common obligation for these agencies to contribute to the fulfilment of these recent, biodiversity objectives which are being set. That is going to be very difficult, even impossible, without a greater duty to further nature conservation. It would be beneficial for Waterways Ireland, which will be involved in the promotion and development of the Ulster Canal. There are many opportunities and so much scope for habitat enhancement and creation when working towards reopening the canal. That could all be lost if a specific duty of conservation is not implemented throughout the course of that work. If that duty is not implemented there may even be a net loss of biodiversity or wildlife as a result of such a scheme.


Mrs Nelis: That is not high up on our agenda in respect of the submissions that we have.


Mr Johnston: The majority of publicity surrounding the Loughs Agency has been with regard to the promotion of aquaculture. However, there has been very little mention of any duty whatsoever towards nature conservation. When this comes forward in the legislation, we will push for an agreement supporting the provision of that duty.


The Chairperson: That concludes our question- and-answer session. Thank you for your evidence and your submissions. We are now coming towards the end of our public inquiry session. We can now start preparing a report containing our recommendations to the Minister and the Department, and we will ensure that your evidence is reflected in that. Thank you once again.


Mr Mellon: Thank you, Mr Chairman.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mr Davis
Mr Hilditch
Mr McCarthy
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr P Johnston )
Dr P Boaden )
Mr P Sibley ) Ards and Down Salmonid
Mr J Milburne ) Enhancement Association
Mr J McKnight )


The Chairperson: Good morning and welcome to our Committee this morning. Although we are running a little bit late, we will still allocate half an hour to you. I understand that you have a presentation which should last about five minutes. After that there will be a question and answer session.


Mr Johnston: First of all, on behalf of Ards and Down Salmonid Enhancement Association (ADSEA), I thank the Committee for the opportunity to meet here today. I will introduce the members of the deputation. There is Mr John McKnight, director of leisure services at Ards Borough Council; Dr Pat Boaden, ADSEA's treasurer; Mr John Milburne, ADSEA's secretary; Mr Paul Sibley, an ADSEA committee member; and myself Philip Johnston, chairman of ADSEA.


ADSEA was formed in 1995 with the aim of developing a sustainable marine-based trout fishery. Sustainability will be achieved by generating revenue from service-provider networks, angling permit charges and a put and take fishery.


We aim to enhance the native populations of sea trout by release of hatchery-reared fish - 250,000 fry and 100,000 smolts. This would require a dedicated hatchery to be built. Habitat improvement of water courses is very important, and we work closely with Government agencies on that. Overall we wish to promote angling tourism in Northern Ireland by heightening its profile in the international market place. The question may be "Why sea trout"?. They are a highly prized quarry species. Many anglers consider them to be a better sporting fish than salmon. They are a good investment species, unlike salmon, which migrate to the international fishing grounds of the north Atlantic; sea trout remain in our coastal waters. For that reason we have the ability to manage their total life cycle. They are catchable throughout the year unlike salmon. They are readily caught at sea. Weather conditions are much less significant in a marine environment for catching fish than they are in freshwater systems. In the marine system sea trout are actively feeding, rather than in spawning mode, when they are running up the river to reproduce.


We are aware that salmonid populations of sea trout and salmon are in decline. This would give us the opportunity to address the sea trout situation. We are suggesting that a marine-based sea trout fishery would represent a very affordable fishery, and a new and exciting challenge for anglers.


This is the target area in which we propose to operate the fishery - an area running from Newcastle to Holywood. This would take in Dundrum Bay and Strangford Lough.


Why target Strangford Lough and Dundrum Bay? Existing populations are good. There are populations of large sea trout. The numbers of fish are low, but the quality is good. The area is suited to sea trout because they already exist there. Funen, the Danish project, had no existing native sea trout left. We have suitable shorelines, which are biologically rich feeding grounds, and offer a wide range of suitable habitats. The shorelines are safe to fish from - gently shelving shores and sheltered smooth waters within Strangford Lough. There is no salmon farming in the area. Therefore the area is not susceptible to the associated sea lice problem which has devastated fisheries in the west coast of Scotland and Ireland. There is an extensive shoreline. It takes in approximately one quarter of the Northern Ireland coastline, 353 kilometres of shore offering many secluded bays and islands for anglers to enjoy. Overall the area is a good place for tourism and very picturesque.


I come now to tourism development and employment opportunities. The project will bring about a much needed extended tourism season. Under present licensing law that would be from the beginning of March to the end of October. If we could look forward to a year-round fishery, that would have major implications for tourism in the area. It would bring about expansion in the accommodation sector, in self-catering, bed and breakfast and village hotels. There is a great demand for self-catering in this activity, and it would give opportunities for diversification in the farming industry in the area. Local retailers would benefit- restaurants, pubs and gift shops. It must be a guilt trip with anglers, and they have to bring back a present for their wives or partners.


Next is the boat gillie hire sector. This would be totally new, as there is no boat gillie hire sector at all in Strangford Lough. We envisage up to 60 boats operating from four locations. There would be expansion in areas such as tackle shop, hire, and so on.


The ADSEA economic appraisal was produced by Capita Consultants in 1998. On the basis of 10,000 local anglers, 20,000 tourist anglers per year, it was identified that the project has a potential revenue, from anglers only, of £6·7 million, creating 240 full-time equivalent jobs.


An additional £2 million to £3 million has been identified as family spend, that is money spent by families who accompany a husband or partner on a fishing trip.


In summary, we are looking at a marine fishery which would be a new, unique concept in the United Kingdom and Ireland. This has been proven to work in Funen. They started from a low base, and now they have a fishery that is highly successful in generating jobs and millions of pounds of revenue for the area.


There is a market niche, so it is time to develop a top-quality sea trout fishery, as stocks are depleted elsewhere. According to Bord Fáilte figures which I received in 1996 the industry in the South of Ireland was worth £2·5 million before the sea trout collapse.


Irelands "green image" has helped it to be the premier game angling venue in Europe, and it would be easy for us to build upon that image. Sea trout are an easily managed species; they are available all year round; they are actively feeding in sea water; and they are caught in sea in the coastal waters. It is not a great deal of money to get such a wonderful project as an affordable prime quality fishery off the ground.


A much needed landmark project for a tourism flagship in Northern Ireland would help to pump-prime game angling in the North. The environmental improvements that would come with it would secure the future of native stocks, and we would look at eco-sensitive developments as a result of this project.


The Chairperson: Under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 I am required to ask if your organisation is representative of a cross-section of local and community groups, the disabled and the elderly. Do disabled anglers face any specific problems, and do you plan any improvements to deal with these?


Mr Johnston: Ards and Down Salmonid Enhancement Association was formed by five clubs with shared interests and objectives. These are fishing clubs which are interested in developing the project. We do not really have any formal sea trout fishery in Strangford; we have some fishermen who fish sea trout.


Dr Boaden: Members of ADSEA come from all sections of the community. It is important for the disabled to have access to fishing, but we have not got that far as we have yet to establish the fishery.


The Chairperson: But do you have plans to?


Mr Johnston: Yes.


Mr J Wilson: You seem to suggest that a single body should be set up to manage the angling estate. Do you believe the present structures to be complex and ineffective? How should a single, all-powerful board be structured and should it have any structured links to other existing boards throughout Ireland?


Dr Boaden: There needs to be some reorganisation. The Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB), for example, does a very good job.


The problem with management of a resource such as fisheries is that different Departments are being dealt with. The agriculture and agricultural owners need to be considered. The environment has to be considered because fresh water is very important environmentally. In addition to those we need more input from the users of the environment, from the angling clubs and perhaps from the Northern Ireland Federation of Fly Fishers. It would be a good idea to occasionally have a body that would deal with the use of fisheries. ADSEA would like this extended in some way, because, obviously, marine fisheries are different.


It is also important that such a body has an independent chairman rather than having one from one of the Departments. I recommend this from having had many years experience with ADSEA and other such committees. This is a case where a good balance is needed between the various interests including tourism and the anglers themselves.


Mr J Wilson: On the question of a formal or structured link with the existing boards, of which there are five in the island as a whole, do you see any need for closer co-operation or for a formal structure?


Dr Boaden: Sorry, but would you explain what you mean by "the island as a whole"?


Mr J Wilson: I think that there are five boards in Southern Ireland, and it is no secret that anglers in Northern Ireland are voting with their feet and travelling out of Northern Ireland to find quality fishing. When you pursue that, you find that Southern Ireland has very powerful boards such as the Southern Board, the Central Fisheries Board and the North Western. If a board were established here, whatever it might be called, do you see any need for a structured link between whatever would be established here and the existing boards in Southern Ireland?


Dr Boaden: That would be a very good idea, and I would look to the Foyle Fisheries Commission, for example, as a way that this can function very well. All- Ireland marketing would be a good thing, particularly for the tourist potential.


Mr Davis: You outlined in your submission the advantages of a sea fishery over traditional freshwater fisheries. You then indicated that the natural populations of sea trout will need to be enhanced by establishing a freshwater sea trout hatchery while the rehabilitation of various streams and rivers is undertaken. To what extent would this project rely on the quality of fresh waters and habitat being improved?


Mr Johnston: First of all, a marine fishery is not as susceptible to pollution. If we can get the head of fish up in Strangford Lough we have the opportunity to have a fairly pollution-free fishery, which is a massive bonus.


In terms of the actual advantages of running a hatchery, provided it would be something like a recircu- lation system with a safe source of water, the hatchery would be adding large numbers of smolt that would then smoltify and become sea trout. By doing so we could avoid the problems of pollution incidents in rivers.


If we were sowing out just fry and had a lot of pollution incidents, we could loose those fish. The benefit of smolt is that they are ready to go to sea, so if they go from the hatchery straight into the sea, the stock of fish in the fishery goes up each year by the addition of the smolt. Therefore there is a safeguard in running a proper hatchery.


Mr Shannon: Strangford Lough is a conservation area. There are various organisations around the lough, including the local authority, Ards Borough Council and Down District Council. Are they aware of the project, and what support have they given you?


Also, you mentioned in your introduction that the fishery itself would attract large numbers of anglers to Northern Ireland, and you mentioned the revenue and the advantages in relation to that. Do you see the project itself being run by your committee or in conjunction with other groups?


Mr McKnight: I represent Ards Borough Council. The council has been apprised of developments from the embryonic stage to the stage we are at now. Ards and Down councils have supported it both financially, in the appraisal which was carried out, and in kind, and would be supportive of the scheme being up and running. North Down Borough Council has also come on board, but the two main councils, Down and Ards, will have the land which runs round Strangford Lough.


Mr Johnston: You are really asking how it would be run. First of all, we want to see this project set up as a charitable trust. That has always been ADSEA's view. In terms of how it is run, we can see an over arching board which would meet as necessary, but the day to day running of the project would be handled by our management team, and ADSEA would be closely involved in that. The board would involve just about everybody that is a player: ADSEA, Government Departments and the Federation. It would involve all conservation interests, and we would have to make sure that the board encompassed them all. That is how we would see this project being run.


Mr McMenamin: In your submission you raised the issue of commercial netting. What effect do you believe commercial netting is having on salmon populations in our fresh waters?


Mr Milburne: Commercial fishing for salmon, off the County Down coast, is carried out by tidal draft net operators. They are the only people who operate in the area. Nets can be fished anywhere around the Northern Ireland coastline, except within one mile of the defined mouth of a designated salmon river. There are currently six licences for tidal draft nets issued each year, five of these are operated exclusively throughout the County Down coast.


The numbers of fish that these nets catch is a different question. They report under the terms of their licence to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, but the information that is reported seems to get stuck in the system. Nobody else knows, or has ever known, how many fish these people have caught. We therefore have no way of knowing the effect they have on the fishery. We know reasonably well how many fish are caught in inland fisheries, because it is reported to the FCB but to be able to compare that to what the commercial fisheries catch is impossible.


ADSEA, and its affiliated angling clubs, would make the case that these fisheries must be commercially viable, otherwise the operators would not take out the licences. It must therefore follow that the catch made must be significant. Furthermore, clubs affiliated to ADSEA have expended a considerable amount of effort and used the Salmonid Enhancement Programme (SEP) funding to improve the rivers in terms of salmonid breeding habitat and stock enhancement over the past five years. My own club, Dundrum club, has worked for the last five years and spent some £40,000 of SEP money improving the breeding habitat for the fish.


It does seem unreasonable to us that much of the benefit of the club's efforts in returning adult fish should be taken by the draft net operators, who have contributed nothing to improvements made. I therefore urge the Committee to consider the discontinuation of this draft net fishery on the grounds that it benefits a very small number of operators, none of whom rely on the fishery as their main source of income.


Mr McCarthy: It is good to see some local faces around. Up until now I thought that all the fishing and angling was contained in Antrim and Tyrone.


In your submission you indicate water pollution as being a major concern, but you suggest that the Government are not taking the situation seriously enough and should penalise the polluters more severely. What would constitute a fair legal response to a pollution incident? Should a judgement be based on the number of fish killed, for example, or the length of the river polluted?


Often fines for polluting waterways are small. Would you advocate a custodial sentence for offenders if they have been convicted of causing pollution on previous occasions?


Mr Milburne: When the responsibility for pollution is determined, the compensation demanded from the polluter should be sufficient to restore the watercourse to the state that existed before the pollution incident occurred.


It must be accepted, however, that where the indigenous population of salmonids is completely removed by pollution, that unique population can never be replaced. The best option, therefore, is to take brood fish from the succeeding year's returning fish, which would presumably have been at sea when the pollution occurred, and replace the progeny of those fish into the watercourse. The pollution will have killed all juvenile salmonids present in the watercourse so there will be no naturally returning adults for at least the next three years. Stocking the river with wild fish from another wild population should be considered to ensure the effect on the continuity of returning adult salmonids is least affected. The process involves a lot of work.


The current level of fines imposed for pollution offences does not appear to reflect the seriousness of the damage caused to the environment by agricultural and industrial pollution. The level of fines in Northern Ireland does not seem to be sufficient deterrent to reduce the number of pollution incidents that occur year after year. ADSEA therefore considers that the imposition of custodial sentences, particularly for persistent offenders, should be introduced.


The Chairperson: That is a clear recommendation. Is the process you referred to in your submission?


Mr Milburne: Not yet. I have an initial draft submitted to which the Committee can refer.


The Chairperson: If you table that we will take it as additional evidence.


Mr Hilditch: Following on from Mr McCarthy's angle on pollution, you state that the law should be applied impartially to both private and public sectors. Do you think that the exemption from prosecution of Government Departments is contributing to ongoing pollution of waterways, and, if so, how extensive is it?


Dr Boaden: I see no reason why the Government should be exempt, especially as they make the laws. It gives an extremely bad example to the public. Government should be held responsible.


The Chairperson: You have made several useful recommendations in your presentation and your submission. To become the company you hope to be, what help would you need from public authorities, other than local government?


Mr Johnston: We are at the stage now where we have an economic appraisal produced. This has given the members of the committee, and others, the enthusiasm to carry on over the last five years. It is now down to funding. The project will not happen without funding lines being identified and the funding coming in to make a hatchery happen, We have to put in place the structures and staff we need to take this project forward. We have to increase the sea trout population in Strangford, bring in the marketing activity and then open the doors - get the angling correspondents and such in.


We would like the Committee to help us to source the funding to make the project go forward. Otherwise it stays in a state of limbo - a brilliant concept that will not happen. We do not have the power. We can apply for funds, but this is such a large project that we really need to have the enthusiasm from the Assembly. This will be a flagship project in quite a number of ways for Northern Ireland.


The Chairperson: What kind of funding are you talking about, and where would you see it coming from?


Mr Johnston: The funding is identified at around £800,000 for the project. In 1998 £500,000 plus was identified for the hatchery. That is to sustain the project over a four-year period, although that would not pay for the development of the project in terms of employing, say, an overall manager and marketing person. That could come a little bit later, but it would have to come within the four years, possibly in year two. Because of the funding constraints at the time we had to stick within a total budget of around £800,000. It is obviously going to come from a mixture of sources. EU funding is likely to be a major source, and it is a matter of interpreting and identifying the right package. The Rural Development Division is important. But because there is a freshwater hatchery involved and £540,000 I thought it was appropriate for this Committee to hear what we are about. OK, the angling activity happens in sea water, but if there is no hatchery there is going to be nothing. We cannot, with our hands on our hearts, stand up and say that we can restock the rivers and then flag up an international fishery which collapses because the recruitment is not occurring from the streams and rivers. That is why a hatchery is absolutely pivotal to the project.


The Chairperson: It just remains now for me to thank you all, gentlemen, for your full and frank submission, as we say. All of the information that we are collecting will be distilled and produced in a series of recommendations in our report, which we hope will be available sometime towards the end of October or the beginning of November. We value very much the contribution you have made, both by written submission and this morning. Thank you very much.


Thursday 28 September 2000

Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mr Davis
Mr Hilditch
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr N Armstrong


The Chairperson: Good morning, Mr Armstrong. You are very welcome. My name is Eamonn ONeill, and I chair the Committee. I shall introduce the members.


As you have been informed, we like to give witnesses at our public hearings the opportunity to make a presentation of their point of view before we have a question-and-answer session. We have about half an hour, but usually the presentation takes five minutes or so.


Mr Armstrong: I should like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to speak. My written submission spoke for itself, but, as it was written in February 2000, I feel I could add some points.


"Young anglers are always told that fishing was great years ago. After years of hearing the same thing, cynicism makes one feel that rose-tinted glasses may influence people when they look back. That was my feeling until I started to read Jonathan Bardon's book, 'A History of Ulster'. I am sure there are other historians present apart from myself. I tend to read history books by looking up the indices to see if they refer to fisheries, and that is what I have done in this case. This book is regarded as the standard history text in Ulster and is considered a reasonable reference work. I shall pick out some references of historical interest for the Committee. On page one is written:

"Here, where the Bann meets the tide, are reminders of Ulster's history: locks and sluices of nineteenth-century enterprise; quays from which Ulster Presbyterians set out to face the perils of an Atlantic voyage in the eighteenth century; fish weirs close to where sixty-two tons of salmon were netted in one day in 1632".


The book gives some idea of historical salmon catches. Sixty-two tons in one day is a huge quantity of fish in comparison with what is caught now. On page 146, the book describes the area around Coleraine and Derry at the time when the planters were clearing large amounts of woodland, but it also refers to the salmon fishery.

"The salmon fisheries were self-sustaining and remained profitable; salted salmon was exported as far as Venice and Bilbao, and in 1684 Spain imported 1,885 barrels of salmon from Derry alone."


That also represents a huge number of fish, and a commercial enterprise generating large amounts of money. I hope my last quote gives some idea of the history involved. In 1744, Walter Harris wrote:

"On the Shores about Hollywood are found great vast Quantities of Muscles, (but not the sort that breed Pearls) on which the poor Inhabitants feed much without feeling any Inconvenience, dressing them when shelled with Butter, Pepper and Onions."


At the same time, Lough Erne salmon cost only 1½ d per pound, but Arthur Young observed trout, perch, pike and bream to be so plentiful as to have no price. At Coleraine, Young just missed seeing 1,452 taken in one drag of one net, but he "had the pleasure of seeing 370 drawn in at once". Once again, we see reference made to a huge number of fish being caught.


From these references, it can be accepted that fisheries have changed greatly, not just with the poor eating mussels in Holywood, but with salmon returning in much smaller numbers to rivers. The rivers are the same size, but water quality has changed greatly. If any member of the Committee were prepared to eat mussels collected from the rocks at Holywood now, I should be very surprised, for I should certainly not be willing to do so.


We acknowledge unconsciously that our rivers are polluted and realise that they have been used as a conduit for removing unwanted waste.


On a positive note, I think that the outbreak of cryptosporidium in Lisburn will lead to a much-needed upgrade in Water Service infrastructure. The political will to fund such measures will, I believe, see the introduction of a Water Bill as well as a Rates Bill. Given that all the parties were opposed to privatisation when it was discussed a few years ago, without the public health problem, I fear finding the funds to upgrade the Water Service infrastructure was a circle that could not be squared. Huge sums are required for the upgrading - I believe Gregory Campbell spoke of £3 billion - but I see a water Bill as the only practical way to find the sums required.


A more positive note comes from the recently published Northern Ireland River Conservation Strategy, released by the Environment and Heritage Service. The whole document is very positive, addressing and acknowledging problems I have written about in my submission. It goes on to suggest mechanisms for dealing with these, based on a grading system to prioritise action. The strategy accepts the river basin as a unit of management, which is only right.


This concept will test the resolve of everybody, North and South, to co-operate in areas of mutual interest like fisheries and I look forward to action in this area, not for any party political reason but for good scientific reasons.


Finally, I wish the Committee success. This part of Ireland can have an angling product which would have an economic and recreation benefit for many. Do a good job. By all means, make the beneficiaries of such improvements pay more. You really do get what you pay for in life, and anglers know that as well as anybody.


The Chairperson: Members will now begin the round of questions.


Mr McMenamin: I would like to ask you a question on licence fees. You suggested that the cost of rod fishing licences in Northern Ireland may be too low, and that anglers may be willing to pay more for a proper system of fisheries management. What would you describe as a proper system of fisheries management, who would administer it and what would their powers be?


Mr Armstrong: That is a difficult question. In terms of fisheries management, there needs to be some clarity about what should happen. At the moment there are fisheries, the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB) and the Environment and Heritage Service, and there may be considerable areas of overlap. I do not think there is a great deal of co-ordination among those bodies and a structure that addressed that and had a co- ordinated course of action would be helpful.


In terms of licensing, the Loughs Agency (formerly Foyle Fisheries) has one licence, and the FCB has another. We are in County Armagh and just over the border a different system operates.


We are talking about the unit of management being the river basin. The nearest large catchment to me would be the Blackwater and it has cross-border tributaries. If we are going to accept that the unit of management is a river catchment area, then such a strategy needs to include bodies outside Northern Ireland to try to co-ordinate an approach that way. There is a similar system on the Erne where you have cross-border tributaries. There must be co-ordination, otherwise one party is acting on its own and by others doing something outside its parameters could destroy what it is trying to achieve.


Mr McMenamin: By how much would you be prepared to see the cost of licences go up?


Mr Armstrong: This is why I made a submission as an individual. I think that people are prepared to pay more; that is my personal feeling. I do not know whether I would get three anglers to agree with me on that. You do get what you pay for. People complain about not seeing bailiffs. They complain about bailiffs not doing enough, but bailiffs take a wage and work anti-social hours through the night. I do think what an angling club charges for its annual membership could be a comparable issue. Clubs manage a small lake or a number of small lakes, and members accept that there are considerable costs in that. The angling club that I belong to charges about £60 a year, and I am not saying that costs could go up in one lump sum or one jump. My feeling is that it could go up, but I am not prepared to set a level for it.


Mr J Wilson: You have addressed the question which I had in mind, but perhaps I could take you back to the question of your support for the concept of a single, powerful body to manage the angling estate. Every submission we have received has been in support of that concept as well. What is wrong with the present structure? It seems to be complex and ineffective. How do you see a single body taking it all over? How could a single body be more active and more easily understood?


Mr Armstrong: Is the Department of Agriculture's Fisheries Division a provider or a facilitator? That is one of the problems. I think it falls somewhere between the two. It would be helpful if the Department were given direction, or it decided that it was going to be either a major provider of a recreational and tourism resource or a facilitator using the expertise of its staff to help voluntary and private groups, companies or angling clubs to develop their waters to a level of standard.


It would also be helpful if there were some assessment of the current fisheries. We need a baseline against which we can grade potentially good assets, currently good assets or top-class assets that can be marketed. We then need some sort of strategy to take some fisheries to a higher level and to identify those that are ready to be taken to the market and promoted. We also need to identify those that we dare not bring visitors to in case it would have a detrimental effect. Some clarity about what the Department sees its role as being would be helpful. The policing of fisheries is an issue too - whether it sits with the Department or an outside body, or with a body such as the FCB, being funded by licence fees plus another element. The FCB had a role in purchasing or acting on behalf of the Department of the Environment. It was getting some moneys from the Government, but it was for providing a role. It was also trying to supervise what the Water Service was doing.


Mr Davis: You referred to local empowerment coupled with regional government being a powerful engine for change. How do you envisage concern for freshwaters at a local level being translated into action on an ongoing basis? Can this happen with the structures that are already in place?


Mr Armstrong: The one thing that has happened over the last five years in the local fisheries is that people have started to get involved. There was apathy and disinterest, but that has changed at little on the back of Salmonid Enhancement Programme, and people have become more involved. It is no longer a case of "them" and "us"- certainly in some areas. There is a greater willingness by angling clubs and fishery owners to become involved with the Department. Rather than criticising and saying that it has nothing to do with them, they are becoming more involved and working together.


Local councils are more aware of the potential of rural tourism.


Mr Hilditch: You mentioned the need to develop a rural strategy. What are the main problems that need to be dealt with?


Mr Armstrong: There are certain key issues that run through the problems we have. One is water quality, and it needs to be addressed in an overall strategy. Nothing will happen if the water quality is poor. It does not matter how many fish get back. If water quality is not improved, the fishery will not be improved. There should be an overall strategy.


Regarding habitat and the control of netting, we need local solutions for local problems. I support using fish counters to determine where fish are being held back and where the problems exist. Only by knowing where the problems exist can local action be taken. The key issue, however, is water quality.


Mr McCarthy: You made several references to the Water Service in relation to pollution, stating that it must find the resources to put its house in order. Can you explain what you meant by that?


Mr Armstrong: The Water Service itself would tell you that there has been serious under-investment for a number of years. Small towns serviced by small sewerage stations have doubled or tripled in size and the sewerage station has not changed at all. In times of high flows of water coming from drains et cetera, the sewerage station simply cannot cope, and the water has to go somewhere - it ends up in the nearest river. That is one of the problems. When there is a water shortage, water is taken from the rivers to stop the reservoir levels getting too low. Agricultural pollution has a more serious effect when the river flow is low than when the flow is high.


Mr McCarthy: How should the Department put its house in order? Should it invest more?


Mr Armstrong: It has become a public health issue. If it were simply a fisheries issue then I do not think that the £3 billion would be found. However, I suspect that we might see some form of fundraising coming from a different area.


Mr Shannon: You mentioned that angling clubs should be encouraged to exploit the potential of their rivers to boost the rural economy. If, as you say, there is a parochial approach to promoting fishing in Northern Ireland, how do you see that potential being realised?


Mr Armstrong: There are two ways to look at this. Clubs can be encouraged not to see the tourist angler as a threat; there is enough room on the water system to accommodate them. That is an educational exercise. The other side of it is more carrot and stick, which is what happens in the South. The Central Fisheries Board assesses a fishery and says if it has the potential to be a rural tourism product. The Board then sits down with the angling club and thrashes out a strategy and puts a development plan together. The development plan accompanies a marketing plan, and if the angling club is not prepared to go with the whole package then it does not start. The funding for development is linked to the end product. That is the hard approach taken down South. There is no point in investing large amounts of money to benefit a small rural angling club - it has to benefit Northern Ireland plc.


Mr Shannon: Who funds that process down South?


Mr Armstrong: It is the Central Fisheries Board but I am not sure whether they draw in the funds from Central Government or use European funding. I know of at least one project in Donegal, on which £500,000 was going to be spent. It was abandoned at a late stage because the angling club could not dot the i's and cross the t's.


The Chairperson: In your submission you advocated the use of fish counters on all the major systems close to the sea, and on major tributaries, to track fish as they return to spawn.


How could information be collected as a result of those counts? How could it be used to target action on a specific river?


Mr Armstrong: If, for example, on the Bann System fish went through a counter at Portna, near Kilrea, in June or July, and they then did not appear in the counters on any of the other tributaries by October - the Maine, Moyola, or Blackwater rivers - you would look closely between the two points and ask why the fish did not appear. If 20,000 fish went through the counter at Portna and 6,000 ended up in the rivers, you would have to wonder what happened to the other 14,000, because anglers are not taking that quantity of fish. You would compare that number with the returns on the nets and identify the void.


The problem may not be in Lough Neagh. However the fish are getting into the system and going through the counters on the Maine, Blackwater and Moyola, yet you are not seeing big runs. If the runs of fish are decreasing despite good escapement into the spawning areas, as assessed by electro fishing - assessing the stocks on the gravel and in the wee pools - then is it due to a water quality problem in the area. Alternatively, it may be that the adult fish are not able to reproduce even though they are getting through in reasonable numbers. It is a way of targeting and of trying to identify where the problems exist, rather than a broad-sweep approach. It would direct the policing in the right direction.


Mr J Wilson: I agree with you; the arithmetic is quite simple. However, where it does not add up, and where the fish have not moved upstream, there may be a number of reasons for that. Would you comment on the possibility that they are being held back artificially?


Mr Armstrong: I suspect that the flows into Lough Neagh or down the Lower Bann from Toome discourage the fish to run. If there were a method of releasing water at the same time as there is a flood on the rivers running into Lough Neagh, it would encourage fish to run through Toome and up into the tributaries. I have no doubt about that.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your evidence, both in the written submission and in oral form today. It was particularly interesting and timely to remind us of the findings of Bardon's research. Compared to what we have now, it is a cause for concern.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Davis
Mr Hilditch
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson
Mr Agnew


Mr M McCormick )

Mr G Browne ) Northern Ireland Tourist

Ms K Hope ) Board


The Chairperson: Good morning, you are very welcome. We only have half an hour, but you have five minutes to make an introductory presentation after which we will have a question-and-answer session.


Mr McCormick: I am Michael McCormick, marketing operations director with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. I am joined by Mr George Browne, the marketing policy manager and Ms Karen Hope, the product marketing executive.


On behalf of the board, I would like to thank you and your colleagues for giving us this opportunity to have an input in inland fisheries matters.


By way of overall clarification, the Tourist Board is a non-departmental public body of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. We are responsible for developing tourism in Northern Ireland and are closely involved with all the other branches within DETI.


We acknowledge that an unspoilt environment is one of our greatest assets and are committed to developing a sustainable approach to tourism. Although not directly responsible for the protection and management of the environment, we are committed to working in partnership with all other agencies who do have a role in maintaining the integrity of the overall resource base.


Activity tourism includes a wide range of pursuits and generally depends on access to natural resources. For some visitors, participation in a particular activity constitutes the main reason for visiting Northern Ireland. For many others, it is a secondary activity, and only one of the reasons for the visit.


Indications from our product research suggests that the potential for activity tourism is far from exhausted and indeed constitutes an area for significant growth. Activity tourism involves such major issues as maintaining interest in and increasing public awareness of all environmental matters. Unless these issues are properly managed, our outdoor activities could exert significant pressure on our very fragile landscapes and resources.


Overall demand for activity tourism is forecast to grow significantly, this being a global trend in tourism terms. There is now a demand for shorter stays, of one week or less, and for off-season holidays which have become more popular. Activity tourism is tied in with all of this.


Coarse, game and sea-angling are also important recreational features of activity tourism. One of the main attractions at a game angling venue is the wide range of fishing available within a relatively small area. This is an important issue for all of us. In addition to all the fine quality salmon, sea trout and so on, we have a number of indigenous fish which are unique to Northern Ireland, such as the sonaghan and the gillaroo.


Angling opportunities draw around 8,800 visitors to Northern Ireland each year, and they spend over £1 million during their stay. This is of great benefit to tourism and the economy. In comparison with our competitors, there remains significant room for growth in this market.


Coarse angling was a cornerstone of tourism in the 70s and the 80s. This resulted in attractions, such as the Guinness Fishing Classic in Fermanagh, which became very important in delivering tourism to Northern Ireland. It is important to preserve our environment, means of access and natural habitats, so that tourism is not ruined in the long term by overdevelopment at an early stage.


In our briefing, we supplied information about the tour operators in Great Britain and throughout the world who deliver tourism to Northern Ireland. We work very closely with them, and they need to see much more development in order to satisfy themselves on certain issues which are important to them.


The overall product is exceptionally good - there is no question of that. There must be a match between the product promoted in the international markets and its delivery on the ground. It was in recognition of this that we established a product- marketing group some years ago. This was to develop strong co-ordination and co-operation between all the players: regional and local authorities, tourism interests, local operators, independent consultants and all the statutory bodies.


Its broad objective is to promote the product nationally and internationally. Having a mature product, and established angling destination requires some repositioning. This would increase visitor levels to their full potential.


We have a wide variety of fish including species unique to Northern Ireland; we also have a very clean, green environment. Those are very important marketing assets. International perceptions of Ireland - and that is how tourism is increasingly being marketed - are of a land full of lakes and rivers, and there is a strong preconception that it is a good angling destination. This means that our angling facilities have great credibility for the tourism market and for promotional opportunities. There is great potential for developing it further.


Mr Davis: You say that one of the main issues affecting the marketing and promotion of tourism angling is the complicated licensing system. How could that be made simpler? Has the establishment of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission complicated the issue?


Mr McCormick: The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission is a relatively new body, so it has yet to make a significant difference. We acknowledge that it is a very complicated system, but we have to wait and see what changes it makes.


Northern Ireland is not unique in having complicated licensing and rod permits. It is complicated further by the fact that there are two fishery licensing authorities: the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, which has responsibility both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. That does not help matters.


In order to deal with these complications, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board produced a brochure in 1997 to bring together all the different aspects and to give details of the various permits and licenses that are required to fish in Northern Ireland. We carried out widespread distribution through the international tour operators, and we encouraged them to forward it to visitors before they come to Northern Ireland, so that they know what they have to do if they intend to fish legally.


The ideal opportunity would be something as simple - and it may not be that simple - as a tourist permit licence. That is the ideal. This could also be distributed, through operators, and possibly purchased through operators. It would make the system a lot easier for visitors to Northern Ireland.


The Chairperson: You mentioned a list of licensing rates. Please table that when you leave, if possible.


Mr Agnew: Can Northern Ireland exploit the potential of year-round sea trout angling?


Mr McCormick: In some ways, sea trout angling is a minor issue, in terms of the development of angling from a tourism perspective. We see it as a niche market opportunity with great potential for development, but the development of other aspects of angling must not be excluded. Our understanding is that there is reasonable demand from Great Britain and some European countries, in particular Germany, which have always been very strong supporters of angling in Northern Ireland.


Our current market intelligence suggests that the anglers who are interested in this are similar to those who are interested in salmon. What is not yet clear - and before any major decisions are made - this needs to be established is whether salmon or sea trout angling has the greater potential. In terms of basic assets, we are led to believe that the natural habitat in Strangford Lough, for example, is very good for sea trout angling. At this stage we do not have enough information to actually suggest that it should take priority over other areas of angling.


Mr J Wilson: I am pleased to see the Northern Ireland Tourist Board making a submission to the angling inquiry. However, my question does contain some criticism. I hope you accept it as constructive.


I try to find time to read most of the quality game angling magazines, such as 'Trout and Salmon' and 'Angling Ireland'. I enjoy reading promotional material which invites and directs me to quality angling. I seldom see Northern Ireland Tourist Board promotional material in game angling publications. Try finding literature on a cross-channel ferry directing tourists to Northern Ireland for fishing! However good advice about fishing in other parts of Ireland can be found everywhere - in reading material, on ferries, and in airports. I suggest, constructively, that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is not in the same league as Bord Fáilte. Is my criticism fair, and if not, why not?


Mr McCormick: We acknowledge that in some respects Bord Fáilte has had a lead on us. Tourism is very significant in the South of Ireland. We recognise that potential and want to develop tourism in Northern Ireland. Our problem has been that we did not have everyone in the industry working together. That applied not only to angling, but in other areas as well. That is why we established the product marketing group, to try to bring all of the parties together and initiate marketing activity. There is no point in initiating marketing activity if we do not have the supply side working together to make sure they can deliver. That marketing activity has really started to develop over the last year, and we are looking forward to the coming promotional season.


As regards game angling specifically, the focus of the Tourist Board has historically been on coarse angling. This is partly because it was an accessible market to us. We were able to usher in large numbers of visitors from the north of England, so that was where we concentrated our marketing resources.


Some of our exclusive game angling waters have really opened up over the last decade. We have worked more closely with those involved to carve out a real opportunity for development. In this way, we can upgrade the market, and see tourists coming to Northern Ireland because they know that we have something unique.


We believe that tourists can catch unique indigenous fish in Northern Ireland. We also believe they can enjoy a broad range of angling within a very small geographical area. We accept some of the Committee's concerns. However, we established this marketing group to deal with those issues, and our initiative is still in its early days. For example, some of the promotions have concentrated on five key markets: France, Germany, some of the Benelux region and Great Britain. Over the last year we have devoted quite large resources to attending key promotional exhibitions and consumer and trade days in each of those countries.


We have further developed some of the generic marketing literature we use for angling. As we move into an environment where we use the Internet much more, it is becoming a very significant tool. We have recently introduced a new web site containing more detailed information on angling and helping to maximise our use of the Internet.


I hope we will be able to develop the profile of angling, and of game angling in particular.


Mr Shannon: I echo Mr Wilson's point, I want to pursue that made by Mr Agnew. You indicated in your presentation that the game-angling product in Northern Ireland has been undervalued. You also indicated in your response to Mr Agnew's question that, in your opinion, there was not a big demand for sea trout angling.


Today, we had a presentation from a group who said very clearly - and at odds with what you have just said - that there is a great demand for sea trout angling. According to them it would return £6.7 million into the Northern Ireland economy, and they have a suitable business plan for such an initiative.


I do not want to be disrespectful to you or make you feel that you are being criticised. However, when such people present a project that has been partly self-financed, thoroughly researched, and for which they have a business plan that proves that there is a demand for sea trout fishing, I must ask you where you are getting your facts from. How did you make your decision? Part of the evidence they used to support their case was a Dutch project that started as a hatchery and sea trout fishery and is now one of the best in Europe.


They have also done their homework on the numbers of tourists it would bring in. This group is so much at odds with yourselves that I am convinced a vast chasm lies between yourselves and reality.


We also had a deputation that said - and I put this to the Tourist Board - that it had asked to be included on your web site to advertise its sea angling but that you were unable to accommodate it. To what extent are you in touch with fishing? How responsive are you to the demands and requests of fishermen and their views on developments? You seem to be at cross purposes with them.


Mr McCormick: Let us return quickly to the Internet issue. A number of years ago there was a policy decision to the effect that there would not be hyperlinks from our web site to other web sites. That policy has now changed through necessity, and we are in the process of establishing mechanisms so that any tourism business, whether it be angling or any other, will be able to have a link directly from our site. I hope that it will be in place and active towards the end of this year.


The key reason we established a product marketing group was to bring together all the key suppliers and players and above all to be in touch with the industry. We work very closely with that product marketing group, and through the regional tourism structures, to ensure that we are getting the best information from the market place in Northern Ireland. We then match that with information from our external offices, which deal with the operators and, ultimately, consumers.


We believe there is potential for the development of sea trout angling, but the Northern Ireland Tourist Board cannot quantify this at the moment. More work must be undertaken to establish the overall position, vis- à-vis the other elements of angling.


Mr Shannon: Are you aware of the ADSEA Project?


Mr McCormick: Is this the project in Strangford Lough?


Mr Shannon: Are you aware of the facts and figures on it? You referred to sea trout as playing a small part, but it is a very integral part with a large potential for job creation. As the Tourist Board you have to play an important role in that. They have done their marketing. Have you looked into the project?


Mr McCormick: I have not seen this project. I know a number of my colleagues have, but unfortunately the one who was actively involved and met with the operators was not able to be here today. I cannot go into the detail of it because I have not seen all of that detail.


Mr Shannon: Your policy is at odds with the demands.


Mr McCarthy: Other issues stated affect the marketing and promotion of tourism. Angling has restricted access granted by agricultural land owners, and the threat of pollution. Have you had any contact with either the farming unions or the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to address these issues? Would it be beneficial to have representatives on the angling marketing group from the Department of Agriculture and other farming unions?


Mr McCormick: There is no doubt that access is a major issue. It is not just restricted to angling. Following reports on Access to the Northern Ireland Countryside by the Tourist Board, the Department of the Environment and the Sports Council in 1994 there was an initiative to establish a Northern Ireland Countryside Access and Activities Network. The Tourist Board has a place at this table, along with the consortium of other bodies which include DARD and the farming unions. This body is best placed to deal with these issues. We accept that some of the more localised problems, or conflicts, could be dealt with through representatives of the angling product group. As we move into a new European funding period it is clear that DARD will have an increasingly important role to play in this area. It is our intention to invite representation from DARD onto our advisory body.


Mr McMenamin: Thank you for your presentation. I have one question. There are a number of Government Departments with responsibility for the management of fresh waters. Would a single body acting in a co-ordinated manner to address diverse issues that affect our fisheries represent a step in the right direction?


Mr McCormick: We are looking at this from a consumer perspective and from the perspective of a prospective visiting angler to Northern Ireland. What is important to such visitors is not the number of Government Departments involved but the quality of the product and the infrastructure that enables them to buy that product. What it really comes down to is making sure that the often-used description "joined- up Government" is a reality rather than an aspiration.


As long as all of the bodies work together - and we are continuing to develop our product marketing group through bodies like the Access Network - we can ensure that these issues are properly dealt with. So, whether it is one particular body or a number of bodies is not the issue. As long as they actually work together, we can achieve that common goal of developing the angling product.


Mr Hilditch: Given the budget and the many issues surrounding fishing, where would you direct these funds to optimise the long-term economic benefit?


Mr McCormick: Again, we are focusing on consumer interests. What we are being told by international operators is that anglers are looking for a quiet quality experience, easy access and good stocks. This relates to a number of previous issues as well. If we achieve joined-up Government - and DARD and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) will play an important part - and if we can all work together, we can start to use those budgets much more effectively.


We will continue to bring to the table the consumer information we are collecting in the market place. We intend to maximise our funding for marketing.


Mrs Nelis: Thank you for your submission. You said earlier that the number of anglers coming into the North is about 8,800. Have you any idea how many go to the South of Ireland?


Mr McCormick: Yes. Unfortunately the figures are significantly different. In 1998 approximately 139,000 anglers went there, and a significant proportion was purely for angling. They generated in excess of £60 million. That is how we know that there is huge potential for the development of the angling product. This product is no different from many others as we see when we compare our tourism revenue to that of the Republic of Ireland. We are really just at the starting-blocks, and that is where we are seeing the real opportunities to catch up as we move closer to all-Ireland tourism marketing. We hope that we can play our part.


Again, by having effective joined-up Government, North and South, we can make sure that some of the logistical issues which may have precluded people from coming to Northern Ireland will disappear, thereby making it easy for visitors. We really hope we can develop that aim more extensively.


Mrs Nelis: We certainly hope so. It seems we are losing out on a great deal. In the light of the figures you have just given, your submission indicates that sighting commercial netsmen - I do not know if there are any commercial netswomen - has an impact on holiday anglers, the few people who come here. I am not being blasé. I am very serious about this question. I am very concerned about the level of your operation in trying to attract visitors to our excellent rivers albeit under the authority of the excellent fishing organisations. You said you had discussions with them on the issue of commercial netting. Would the prohibition of commercial netting be of marketing value? Would it attract more people? I am sure the South of Ireland has commercial netting also. How does it deal with it?


Mr McCormick: Commercial netting is a very big issue. One of the other organisations that has taken a lead in this issue is the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, and it is best placed to continue to deal with this. It has been involved in the area of buying-out the commercial nets with a view to conserving the stocks. The Tourist Board very clearly recognises the importance of this and continues to support and endorse the fund's activity so that we can conserve our stocks much more effectively. I cannot give an exact answer with regard to the South of Ireland.


Mrs Nelis: I am trying to assess the impact.


Mr McCormick: It is an issue that we can and will look into.


The Chairperson: In an earlier answer to Jim Shannon you appeared very concerned with the hyperlink problem. To clear up another aspect of the same issue, there are no details of game angling on the web site. Are there any plans to do anything to address this problem.


Mr McCormick: We have just introduced a new web site, This site has much more substantial detail on all elements of angling. We will continue to use the product marketing groups, local information and other sources to ensure that the maximum amount of information is put on the web site. This site is now in place. Previously there was not the same level of information on the web site but there is now. It is going to be one of the key tools that will ensure the accuracy of information given to visiting anglers.


The Chairperson: You have probably detected the Committee's concern about the amount of tourism in the area that we are presently focusing on. It is hoped that you accept Mr Wilson's earlier comments about the Committee being anxious to see a constructive approach and positive responses.


The issue that Mr Shannon raised is a concern for us all. I would appreciate it if you addressed the points that he raised so well in a detailed reply to the Committee stating how the Tourist Board handled the information that was available on that project. This is the kind of thing that we should all be working on. We should be trying to capitalise on the imagination and ideas available to address the imbalance that was so well exposed by the question from Mrs Nelis about the number of anglers we have and the number that goes to the South of Ireland.


These are big issues and they weigh heavily with the Committee. Please try to respond to as many of them as possible so that we can have a positive outcome for tourism.


I am very grateful for your attendance today. I particularly thank Mr McCormick, who has had to brave the rigours of the last hour, and he did so quite well. I hope that we will continue to be in contact with you.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Davis
Mr Hilditch
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Dr P Johnston )
Mr O Vigfusson ) North Atlantic Salmon
Mr J McBride ) Fund (NASF)


The Chairperson: Good Morning gentlemen, you are very welcome.


We would normally allow a period of time, around ten minutes if necessary, for you to make a presentation and then we have a question and answer session and we hope through that debate to get at all of the points that we would like you to highlight, in order to allow us to get as much information as we can at this stage.


Dr Johnston: Chairman, members of the committee, thank you very much for the invitation to appear here today, to give a verbal presentation to the committee. Can I first introduce the members of my team. On my right is, John McBride, who was formerly in the fishing tackle business. He is now treasurer of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund, Northern Ireland. He has more recently been involved in arranging high quality fishing and shooting holidays, and he has also been involved in the successful development of a rod fishery in the west of Ireland.


I am Dr Paul Johnston. I am a fisheries consultant, specialising in the area of salmon, and I have spent nine years working at the River Bush salmon station. I now operate as part-time development officer with the NASF, Northern Ireland. On my left is Mr Vigfusson, from Reykjjavik in Iceland. I am very pleased that he could be here as he is the founder and chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF).


First, I would like to briefly outline our position and I will then hand over to Mr Vigfusson who will describe what NASF has achieved in some countries and in the North Atlantic. John McBride will then outline his perspective of the development of the salmon fishery in the west of Ireland. I placed some documents with you, which I will refer to in my presentation.


I am sure you have listened to a great deal of varied argument, some complicated some maybe straightforward, over the period of this inquiry. We believe that our case is essentially simple and straightforward, and will show immediate benefits. Salmon stocks internationally are at a historic low, but we believe that there are possibilities in Northern Ireland for recovery and development. I would ask you to look at the first page please.


The upper graph shows the nominal annual catches of salmon in tonnes since 1960. There has been a dramatic reduction to about 2000 tonnes per annum. We do not need to catch wild salmon. There is an enormous expansion in farming salmon now, and stocks of wild salmon are getting so low that it has prompted the World Wildlife Fund to list the species as endangered. The lower graph shows the expansion in salmon farming worldwide. In 1999, it increased to over 800,000 tonnes, and it is projected to rise to around 1 million tonnes for this year.


We now have a situation where, for every wild salmon caught, there are 500 farmed salmon available on the market.


The leaflet contains a simplified life cycle. The bulk of our salmon come into freshwater from the sea between June and September, or October. Spawning takes place over the mid-winter months, from November to January. The eggs are laid in gravel. The young fish hatch out and it takes them one or two years to reach what we call the smolt stage at which they migrate out to sea. The majority of smolts leaving rivers in Northern Ireland would be two years old but we do have some one-year-old smolts migrating. Once they go into the sea, they migrate to the feeding grounds in the north Atlantic where they spend just over one year and then they return to start the cycle again. It is normally a four year cycle. Some rivers in this country still retain a population of two sea-winter fish, which spend two winters out at sea and come back as larger fish, but those stocks are very much depleted and probably account for less than 10% of our salmon at present.


If you turn to the next page of the handout, there are two terms I would like you to remember. The first is an interceptory fishery, which is a fishery that catches or intercepts salmon at sea while they are en route to their home rivers. The second is a mixed-stock fishery, which is a fishery that catches salmon at sea originating from more than one river. The salmon nets which operate around our coast are a combination of these. They are from both interceptory and mixed- stock fisheries. We contend that it is impossible to manage a mixed-stock fishery properly because you do not know how many fish you are exploiting from each river.


The next graph illustrates the survival rates of young salmon leaving the River Bush. This work is carried out by the DCAL, in collaboration with DARD, and I acknowledge the value of this information. Without it, we would be very much lost. The average survival rate of young salmon leaving our rivers and coming back to the coast, prior to exploitation by the nets, has been around 30%. We can live with that. In the past couple of years, there has been a dramatic fall. Of the smolts that went out in 1997, only 20% came back to the coastline. Of the fish that left in 1998, only 13% came back. We are dealing with a diminishing resource. When the exploitation occurs on the coastline, it is having a much more significant effect, because the numbers coming back are reducing. This may be a temporary aberration, but continued monitoring should clarify the situation.


The next graph shows the exploitation rate of River Bush salmon in home-water fisheries and, when I say home water, I mean the Irish coast. The average here over the period illustrated is about 60%, but has been as high as almost 90% and as low as 26%. Most of this exploitation of the Bush fish - around 70% - occurs in our waters. That would equate to about 50% of the whole stock. The Bush is used as an index rover for Northern Ireland. The point I am making is that if this 50% exploitation were to cease, we would be doubling the returns to the rivers.


Where are these nets? Please turn to the next page. As you know we have two geographic areas of administration - the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB) area and the Foyle area. There are very many more nets in the Foyle area; we have a smaller number of long-established nets in the FCB area, particularly the fixed-engine variety on the north Antrim coast.


Our intention at present is to concentrate on the FCB area, because the Assembly can deal with that. The Foyle area involves a cross-border body and may be a more complex issue.


I would ask you to turn to the next illustration. In my original submission I had a graph of the Foyle catch and the FCB catch. The scales used did not emphasise the decline in the FCB area, but I think this illustration quite clearly shows that the coastal fishery is catching 25% of the fish they were catching over 30 years ago.


I would emphasise that we are not into the vilification of salmon netsmen. There are many causes and factors for the decline in salmon. The NASF has always operated on a friendly basis in that any schemes involving a cessation of netting have been entirely voluntary and no one has been forced into a position.


We estimate that the FCB could purchase all the nets for around £1.5 million. I would emphasise that we have not entered into any negotiations, but this is based on comparative negotiations elsewhere. The benefit would be immediate increases in runs to our rivers. We could then develop a sustainable tourist industry based on salmon angling with enormous benefits for the rural economy. We would also contend that a cessation in netting would reduce the need for costly administration.


Mr Vigfusson: Thank you, Dr Johnston. I start by submitting a report to the Committee. I am grateful that you have asked me to come from Iceland to talk to you. I come from a herring-fishing family and the only reason that has survived in Iceland is because of sustainable fisheries. If we did not have good fisheries management, no one would be able to make a living in the industry.


Ten years ago, when we were faced with a huge decline in the salmon population, we started getting worried. We decided to set up an organisation called the North Atlantic Salmon Fund. We tried to combine economic and social principles to restore and enhance salmon stocks - not just around Iceland but everywhere. We also thought that by doing this it would reduce the cost to taxpayers of managing the resource and we would be able to generate a lucrative tourist angling industry.


NASF's philosophy is based on abundance - to get enough fish, not just to sustain the species, but to generate a lucrative industry for the private sector. We decided to emphasise what could be done rather than focus all our attention on cyclical conditions. Temperatures go up and down; they have been doing so and will continue to do so.


We started brokering deals with the high-seas fishermen - from Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands - and we subsequently turned to commercial fishermen on coastal waters. The fund's schemes are voluntary. We never use force and anybody who wants to leave the negotiating table can do so. We try to provide generous compensation to fishermen - either direct compensation or by providing an alternative income, such as new sustainable fisheries. We study local conditions and help each individual licence holder to get the maximum benefit. Everywhere that we have been, we have seen fishermen walk away happy.


We have compared the salmon stocks of Northern Ireland to those in Iceland. They appear to have similar tidal runs of salmon, but in the past 10 years, while fisheries in Iceland have more or less maintained their long-term levels, salmon stocks in Northern Ireland have been reduced dramatically. Both countries have difficult conditions in river systems and habitat, but the real difference is that in Iceland we do not operate mixed-stock fisheries. Salmon can take a lot of heavy beating from adverse conditions in the sea as well as inland, but they cannot take a mixed-stock fishery. Mixed-stock fisheries and commercial fisheries cannot be managed properly by any scientist. We have seen what the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) has tried to do for the past 18 years.


NASCO was set up to divide the resource on the principle that a mixed-stock fishery was viable. In its 18 years of existence, NASCO has never been able to set sustainable, scientifically managed quotas. This year, in the face of advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea that there should be no fishing at all in Greenland waters, they still allocated 20 tonnes of Salmon to Greenland this year, where there are reports of overfishing. In the Faroe Islands they have never been able to set scientific quotas. This year, everybody walked away from the annual meeting in June without any decision on quotas. The Faroese are now able to set any quota they like. They have price arrangements with the NASF. We have given them generous compensation not to fish. Most of the Salmon tags found in the Faroese commercial fishery originated from rivers in Ireland.


Our policy is to safeguard the maximum number of salmon with the minimum amount of funds. In the last eight or nine years, we have raised about $7 million, as you can see in this report. Most of that is private money. We have received some public funding from a few countries. We believe that we have purchased freedom for about two million spawners at $3.50 - just over £2 - per fish. No other restoration or enhancement project anywhere can show such a high cost/benefit result.


In our statement, we show the different countries that have given us funds. We have received public funds from France, Spain and the United States of America. In all these countries, salmon are virtually extinct. In France they have caught less than 1,000 fish this year; in Spain, they have perhaps caught a little more. In all the rivers of New England, probably no more than 400 or 500 have been caught. Salmon are about to be put on the endangered species list in America.


We have been able to sustain our efforts thanks to voluntary salmon groups in all the countries throughout the North Atlantic range. At the same time, we think that if our project succeeds we will be able to generate a much healthier tourist angling industry. It will be much less costly for the public sector. We supported the Irish task force report in 1996, which recommended quotas and tagging. We are now unhappy with how it is working in the Republic. We think that the cost of tagging alone will be so high that it would be cheaper to compensate all the netsmen. The last thing we want to do is to burden the taxpayer with too high taxes.


Mr McBride: I am involved in a few fisheries in the west of Ireland that we have tried to develop to see what benefits there are for rural communities. If our project goes ahead and we buy off the netsmen - and most of them are prepared to walk away if the compensation package is correct - the return, in terms of fish in the rivers, is immense. Take my own wee village in the west of Ireland as an example. It is a very remote place. We only have 15 boats on the lake, with two people to a boat. We have six people on the river twice a day. That equates to 42 people per day. Over the 180 days of the peak season, 7,560 rod-days can be sold. The average spend is £IR75 - bed, breakfast, fishing licence, etc. That generates £IR567,000 in 180 days.


The Chairperson: That is an important statistic. I am required to ask all groups a statutory question, so I will ask that first and then we will have Members' general questions.


My question relates to section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Does your group have members who are representative of a cross-section of the local communities, including local groups such as Disability Action or Age Concern? Are there specific problems facing disabled anglers who wish to make use of your services? Have you thought about this or made any recommendations to improve access for disabled groups? As you can see it is a standard question that does not only apply to you, but we would like a response for the record.


Dr Johnston: We are a representative group. The NASF, Northern Ireland, grew out of an initiative started by the Ulster Angling Federation. That organisation is representative of 77 clubs and claims 10,000 members. So it is fully representative. As regards disabled angling, this group is not directly involved with that. On a personal basis, I have been involved in a number of projects which have contained the inclusion of facilities for disabled anglers.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much. We will now go to Members' questions.


Mr McCarthy: The central aim of your organisation - outlined in your submission - is the removal of commercial fishing nets around the Northern Irish coast in order to establish healthy salmon populations in our rivers and subsequently a sustainable salmon rod fishery. Do you believe that the removal of these nets alone will help attain these aims in the long term?


Dr Johnston: We believe that there will be an immediate benefit in the short term, and that this initiative is the most cost effective and practical solution to the current and long-term problems. The United Kingdom and Ireland are the only two countries in the world that still allow drift-netting around their coasts. While this produces an immediate boost to stocks, there are other measures that can help to maintain stocks in the long term. We believe that there is no other method that could kick-start the process so effectively.


Mr McCarthy: You indicate that the net catches in the Foyle have declined by about two thirds in the last 30 years. Last year, according to the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, approximately 40,000 salmon were netted in the Foyle. Although the catch has been as low as 20,000, it would appear that there are pressures in the marine environment - besides the commercial netting - adversely affecting the number of salmon entering our rivers. Is this the case? If so, would not stopping commercial netting simply be a short-term solution to what is a much more complex problem?


Dr Johnston: There are natural fluctuations, which we referred to earlier on. There may be a problem with marine survival at the moment. The very uncertainty of the situation convinces us how important it is to maximise the returns. We see our initiative as being crucial to this.


Mr J Wilson: Thank you for your submission and the clear way that you set it out. Netting, for those who have very little knowledge of it, is a very complex and quite confusing issue at times. Most clubs in Northern Ireland, and other fishing groups, would support the view that the money made available over the past 5 years through the salmonid enhancement programme has been wisely invested in carrying out in-river works, enhancement works and improvements to fisheries for their long-term future. Increasingly, I am hearing and reading that the money would have been better invested had it been directed into buying out nets and cleaning the water in our rivers. Would you like to comment on the correctness, or otherwise, of the two views?


Dr Johnston: At risk of repeating myself, we believe that the buy out of nets would produce an immediate benefit and increase runs of fish. Habitat enhancement tends to be a very long-term project and in many ways it is possibly too early to judge the results of the salmonid enhancement programme. Our body is really not in a position to judge. My personal view is that much of the work was very good but it will take quite some time for the benefits to fully accrue.


As Mr Wilson suggested, there may have been localised problems with pollution in some cases which have inhibited the full benefits being realised in the short term.


Mr Davis: You mentioned that salmon angling is worth about £2.5 million per annum. Could you broadly indicate the expected increase in the number of salmon from ending commercial netting, and the financial benefits to the local economy?


Mr McBride: I can give you the example of a similar number of fish caught in Iceland as in Northern Ireland. The revenue in Northern Ireland is approximately $5 million, but the same number of fish are generating $35 million in Iceland, almost 7 times as much. If we can stop the exploitation we will double the return of fish, and as soon as the fish are back, the improvement will happen immediately. The habitat has been improved; all over the world the habitat is being improved. As soon as the fish get through, the people will fish and pay the money to fish. But, you cannot get to the river. For example, it costs £189 a day to fish the River Bann and there are no vacancies. We no longer advertise our fishery in the west of Ireland because we are making a rod for our own back. We cannot cope with the number of people who want to fish. The people in the North of Ireland are voting with their feet. There were 5,025 licenses issued in my part of Mayo to Northern Ireland anglers last year.


Dr Johnston: I will just add to that. The figures produced leading up to that projection of £2·5 million for our current salmon angling expenditure had a very low tourist component - from memory it was about £120,000. We are starting from a very low base in tourism. That is where the real potential lies.


Mr Shannon: I will ask you a couple of questions in relation to the supporting revenues that you have. At the very bottom we have Canada. I thought Canada would have been a bigger contributor. Is there a reason for that since they would probably have some of the larger salmon fishing in the North Atlantic?


I am also curious about the peaks and troughs on your charts. The net catches are large in 1989, then they fall away. There is a distinct decrease in the years from 1977 onwards. Was that because more people were netting, or was there a bigger number of fish available? If there was a bigger number of fish available, why was that?


In relation to your purchase of the salmon netting station at Waterfoot, you mentioned earlier that that is what you would like to see happening. Do you intend doing anything similar elsewhere?


Mr Vigfusson: The Canadian Government spent about $120 million to purchase all remaining commercial mixed-stock business in Canada, so that does not go through our books. Our groups everywhere else have many more off balance sheet expenses, but these are not necessarily going through the funds in Iceland. We have some funds in escrow accounts in various places waiting to come in if and when necessary.


Dr Johnston: If I understood the question correctly, it was about the fluctuations in the exploitation rate.


Mr Shannon: There was a distinct drop in the net catches from 1978 to 1987, then there was an increase. I am curious to know why there was an increase in 1988-1989. Were there more fish available, or were more people catching? If there was an increase in fish at that time, why was that?


Dr Johnston: The first factor is a variation in marine survival, as I was able to show from the other chart. Some years, more fish will return just because the natural marine survival is better. The other factor is weather conditions. If we have a very dry summer - for example, 1989, if my memory serves me correctly - fish tend to hang around the coast and do not get into the rivers as quickly. They are then more subject to the nets on the coast, because they are milling around for longer, waiting for the right water conditions to take them upriver. They respond to floods in the river, and move up whenever the river is in flood.


In relation to the question about purchases similar to Waterfoot, we would like to purchase the whole lot. We are in discussions with the owners of a couple of other netting stations which have not been operated for a number of years.


The Chairperson: What steps do you take to decide the valuation of such an operation?


Dr Johnston: There are many different ways of doing that. In the case of Waterfoot, that fishery was rented out by the owner. The agreement had come to the end of its tenure, and in discussion with the owner, we took the rental value and capitalised that by giving him the equivalent of seven times the annual rent. We also have an agreement with him in which he is supplied with a small number of salmon each year. I would stress that we are not fishing the net. We procure the salmon from elsewhere - usually rod-caught fish - and supply them to him.


Mr Vigfusson: We try to assess the economic value of each fishery. We look at the catch record. If we are dealing with an individual we look at the value of his boat and his operation, and we try to determine what economic gains he is making. We try to make him an offer that increases his economic benefits, so we send him away happy.


Dr Adamson: Given greater numbers of salmon getting back into the rivers after the commercial netting has ended, you have suggested that a comprehensive salmon angling programme could be developed in Northern Ireland. Do you envisage existing organisations, such as the FCB and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, continuing to administer the fishery, or would you like to see a single new body with overall control of fisheries management? If you prefer a new body, who should constitute its membership?


Mr McBride: That is of no interest to us. I suggest that it falls more within the remit of the Ulster Angling Federation. We are not involved, but should any such organisation be established it should be lean, efficient and cost-effective. Private funds will be forthcoming as soon as the fish are there. New lodges and other accommodation will be built. Every person in every rural community the whole way along the coast to the Foyle will benefit once the fish are there. We do not care who runs it as long as it is run properly.


Dr Johnston: There is logic in retaining the division between the Foyle catchment area and the rest of Northern Ireland because the Foyle is such a high-profile salmon fishery and it has a cross-border element. Possibly there is potential for another organisation, but, as my colleague has said, we do not mind how it is done as long as it is done properly.


Mr McMenamin: You are very welcome, Gentlemen. A special welcome goes to Mr Vigfusson. You indicated that salmon fishermen on the north coast would consider a compensation scheme to enable them to cease fishing. You mentioned that the costs saved in not tagging fish could go some way towards this. Have you any indication about the level of enthusiasm among commercial salmon fishermen throughout Northern Ireland for such a scheme?


Dr Johnston: We held meetings with the two main representative groups of salmon fishermen in the FCB area last January. There was an almost 100% turnout, which indicated a strong degree of interest. We were able to issue fairly positive joint statements afterwards. This is a friendly scheme, and we are not trying to push anyone into a corner. We want the fishermen to be happy with it.


Mr McMenamin: Your submission also concentrated on the removal of commercial nets to immediately increase salmon numbers in Northern Ireland rivers. Can you suggest any parallel action that could be taken to complement that approach?


Mr McBride: There are many parallel actions that could be taken. We want everybody to show restraint. Salmon on the high seas travel across international boundaries. Fishermen are showing restraint in the North Atlantic. When the fish get into our rivers, I think that the fishermen will respond - they already are responding in many ways. They are quite happy to have bag limits. The days are gone when one goes out and catches 20 fish and hits them all over the head. Anglers now catch fish and release them. It has been proved in Iceland that the monetary value of the released fish is doubled when it is caught again - you get paid for it twice. The fishermen will respond. It is a matter of restraint, bag limits and catch and release. They are doing it already voluntarily.


Mr Hilditch: Our rivers have changed quite dramatically over the last 30 years. Changes have been physical, with the drainage schemes undertaken, and chemical, given the intensification of agriculture. Is there doubt whether the rivers could sustain a substantial increase in salmon numbers if commercial netting were ended?


Dr Johnston: No. We have no reason to doubt that. The projected spawning target for the Lough Neagh catchment is 16,000 fish. Since the fish counter went in at Portna on the lower Bann that figure has, I think, passed 4,000 only once. That illustrates how far below the optimal level we are.


Personnel from DCAL, the FCB and some of the clubs have been involved in survey work, using electric fishing techniques. Invariably, they have found very low salmon densities in places where the trout density seems to be reasonable. I have no doubt the capacity is there to handle more fish. We may need to do something, in the longer term, but the habitat and space is there. Our rivers could handle the extra stock, at present.


The Chairperson: That covers all the questions that Members wished to ask. I thank you all for presenting your information. We have been collecting information for some time. We are embarking on a distillation of that information to create a set of recommendations, which we will be making to the Minister and the Department. We hope to achieve that before the end of November. Your contribution was very valuable and will play a major role in our report. I wish you well in your own work.



Members present: Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Agnew
Mr Davis
Mr Hilditch
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr H Thompson ) Department of Regional
Dr G Alexander ) Development - Water
Mr W Duddy ) Service Agency Mr D McCrum )


The Chairperson: Good morning and welcome, Gentlemen. After the members introduce themselves, we will allow you 10 minutes or so to make a presentation, to be followed by a series of questions.


Mr Thompson: Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to add to the written submission we made to the Committee. My name is Harry Thompson, and I am the Water Service's technical director. With me is Dr George Alexander, the Water Service's senior principle scientist, Mr William Duddy, the divisional water manager in the northern division, and Mr David McCrum, who is part of our scientific section in head office. After a brief introductory statement, which will follow the form of our executive summary in the written submission, my colleagues and I will be happy to clarify any points or answer questions.


The Water Service is an executive agency in the Department for Regional Development. It has sole responsibility for the provision of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland. Its functions are set out in the Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1973. More than 98% of households have a public water supply, and approximately 83% are served by the public sewerage system. It also provides a desludging service for more than 40,000 private septic tanks.


Its strategic aims are to improve drinking water quality in line with regulations; to improve the quality of discharges from waste water treatment works to meet Environment and Heritage Services registered discharge standards, as well as the Urban Wastewater Treatment Regulations, thereby protecting the environment; to deliver services with increasing emphasis on protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development; to improve service delivery and meet customer expectations; to improve business performance and deliver best value; and to recognise the value of its staff and develop their potential in line with business needs.


Existing environmental demands and regulatory requirements are the major external influences on the Water Service. These derive largely from EU directives. The main impetus for future changes will be modification to these directives, or new ones. The provision of safe drinking water is vital to the public's health, and water supplied for domestic or food production purposes must comply with standards contained in the Water Quality Regulations. There has been a substantial investment in the treatment of our drinking water. The quality complies, to a high degree, with the regulations, but much has still to be done to meet current standards completely and to prepare for more stringent standards.


To ensure maximum protection of water resources in catchment areas, Water Service assesses the risk of pollution affecting surface and groundwater sources, identifies supply systems most at risk and defines an action plan for reducing that risk. All substances which are undesirable on the grounds of toxicity, odour or interference with water treatment are considered in a catchment audit, with most attention being given to substances identified as dangerous in the relevant directives.


The Water Service allows fishing on its reservoirs, subject to there being measures to protect the drinking water quality. Fishing rights on 15 of those reservoirs have been leased to your Department, and they form part of the public angling estate. A further 14 reservoirs which are suitable for fishing are leased to private clubs, and some of those have existed for many years. We inherited some of them before reorganisation.


The Water Service operates and maintains over 10,000 km of sewers to collect and transport domestic sewage, trade effluent and surface water to treatment. Drainage area plan studies identify where there is a need for work to address structural, hydraulic, and intermittent pollutant discharge deficiencies in the system. This feeds into our capital investment programme.


We are currently addressing the problem of combined sewer overflows, which are important features of combined surface water and foul sewerage systems. During storm conditions, large volumes of rain water in the sewerage system have the potential to cause flooding or damage the sewer system and, in those circumstances, a combined sewer overflow is designed to allow highly diluted, but otherwise untreated, waste water to discharge into watercourses. The performance of sewer systems is being addressed using the national urban pollution management procedure. This identifies unsatisfactory combined sewer overflows which are then either upgraded or removed so that the volume and frequency of discharges is dealt with.


The reliable and efficient treatment of waste water and its safe disposal are essential to maintain public health and to protect the environment. The Water Service's ability to undertake the necessary capital investment work has been seriously constrained in the past by funding levels. Substantial capital investment work is needed to enable us to comply completely with existing standards and to prepare for more stringent standards.


The Water Service introduced phosphate removal at major waste water treatment works discharging into Lough Neagh and Lough Erne in the early '80s. This was well in advance of the requirement in the Urban Waste Water Treatment (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1995 to install phosphorous reduction at works discharged into sensitive waters. A body of water is identified as sensitive if it is found to be eutrophic, or if it may become so. To protect the environment from discharges of dangerous substances, the Water Service controls trade effluent discharges to sewers by means of trade effluent consents.


In 1999, the Environment and Heritage Service recorded a total of 1,506 pollution incidents. Of these, 244 were attributed to Water Service. Each pollution incident reported to the Water Service is investigated and follow-up action is taken. This includes paying for restocking the watercourse affected when fish have been killed as a result of the incident.


The Water Service has a very large capital investment programme aimed at improving the water and sewerage infrastructure to enable it to meet its public health, environmental and customer service obligations. It is expected that over the next five years, £300 million will be invested in improving waste water collection systems and treatment works.


The Water Service is aware of its dependency on, and responsibilities towards, the environment and is committed to the principles of sustainable development. Our environmental policy commits us to strive for continuous environmental improvement in all areas of our business.


Prior to the end of 1998, approximately 40% of the 32,000 tonnes of waste water treatment works sludge produced annually was disposed of at sea. Until then, the majority of the remainder was spread on agricultural land, with a small amount going to landfill. The sea disposal ceased at the end of 1998, and we commissioned a new sludge incinerator at Belfast waste water treatment works.


Approximately 22,000 tons of sludge a year from all over Northern Ireland are processed at the incinerator with energy recovery. The incinerator operates to strict emission standards and is monitored by the Industrial Pollution and Radio Chemical Inspectorate. The remaining sludge continues to be used on agricultural land or landfill sites. However, the quantities of wastewater treatment work sludge spread on agricultural land has very sharply decreased in recent years and now forms a relatively small proportion of the total. The quantities of sludge will increase in the future with the upgrading of the waste water treatment works to meet the requirements of the new regulations. The increased treatment facilities that are provided at the treatment plants generate an additional quantity of sludge. This will need to be addressed further in terms of additional capacity.


The Chairperson: We have a number of questions now.


Mr Hilditch: The Water Service states that existing environmental demands in regulatory require- ments represent major external changes, and that these are derived largely from EU directives. Is the Water Service expected to formally adopt these requirements of the EU Water Directives by the end of the year?


Dr Alexander: After this new directive comes into effect there will be a three-year period in which legislation is brought in to enact it and then a further lead-in period so that compliance with the directive is expected by the year 2015. Water Service maintains close links with the Environment and Heritage Service, who will be responsible for the implementation of that directive and, as we get closer to the implementation date, then we will have to take on board the requirements for the Water Service. On that basis, we should be in the position to contribute to the compliance of the directive.


Mr Hilditch: Regarding the Water Service, are they working with other Departments, such as the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to ensure that the Northern Ireland unit complies with the requirements under this directive?


Dr Alexander: The Water Service is party to a number of committees. One of them, the Northern Ireland Water Quality Management Committee, which is chaired by the Environment and Heritage Service. is looking into all water quality issues. One issue they are looking at is catchment management plans, for they will form a large part of the framework directive. We also have an interface group, which operates between the Environment and Heritage Service and Water Service. Issues of mutual concern such as the framework directive are discussed, and the implications of that directive will be considered at that meeting. We also take part in what was called the DOE/DANI Scientific Liaison Group where issues of mutual interest were considered and sub-groups would look at the marine and fresh water environments. We have many contacts with people who are currently interested in this area.


Mr McCarthy: With regard to Crown immunity and pollution incidents, there is a proposed change to the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966, whereby the polluter will have to pay towards the reinstatement of the habitat and not just for restocking. As a Crown agency, would the Water Service be willing to comply with this legislation if it were adopted?


Mr Thompson: In brief, the Water Service has never sought to hide behind Crown immunity, and if there were to be a change in legislation, then we would try to work in accordance with its requirements.


Mr McCarthy: Your submission refers to the Water Service's having been responsible for three fish kills in 1999. You said that when this happens, you pay for the restocking of the watercourse, but a fish kill is merely one symptom of a pollution incident. Does the Water Service take any action when fish are not killed but other flora and fauna which constitute the habitat where fish are found are adversely affected?


Mr Thompson: It is sometimes difficult to speak generally, but following an incident, we take guidance from the Environment and Heritage Service. If there is gross pollution as a result of a deficiency or breakdown on our part, then we will respond to that and carry out a clean-up. The Environmental and Heritage Service decides on the appropriate steps to take and the timing of those steps. We hope that we act responsibly in such situations.


Mr McCarthy: By its own admission, the Water Service was responsible for 16·2% of all the water pollution incidents in 1999. What was the cost to the Water Service and, therefore, to the taxpayer for making reparation in relation to these incidents? Do you think it is reasonable that the taxpayer should pay for the reinstatement of waterways that have been polluted by your organisation?


Mr Thompson: Many incidents are recorded, but I am glad to say that the vast majority of those are classed as being of a low category, they are often very minor incidents. The number of serious incidents is small. The additional cost to the Water Service, over and above the normal work that we do - if an incident occurs and we respond to it, then that is part of our normal operational expenditure - is the cost of restocking, et cetera. That is a relatively modest sum of money, so there is little financial consequence.


Mr McCarthy: But do you think that it is reasonable for the taxpayer to pick up the bill? Perhaps a chunk of the Chief Executive's salary should go towards the cost.


Mr Thompson: I could put the suggestion.


Mr McCarthy: In what way does Crown immunity aid the operation of the Water Service, and do you think that the removal of Crown immunity would adversely affect the ability of your organisation to improve drinking water quality or the quality of discharges from its waste water treatment works, which are the two main aims of your organisation?


Mr Thompson: As I said in response to a previous question, we do not seek to hide behind Crown immunity. We carry out actions and undertake our business as we would if Crown immunity did not exist. It exists only because we happen to be part of Government, but we take no account of it when we decide how we should go about our business. To be truthful, if there were to be a change, I doubt that that would have any significant effect on how we conduct our business.


Mr McCarthy: Finally, what procedure is followed when the Water Service has been found responsible for a pollution incident?


Mr Thompson: We take a number of steps. The process begins with a field officer or a member of the public noticing pollution and reporting it, perhaps by contacting the Environment and Heritage Service. They immediately contact us, and we respond. If it is something that we are responsible for, we try to deal with the problem.


If there has been a serious pollution incident then the Environment and Heritage Service takes a sample of the material and conducts an investigation. As part of that investigation they ask us to formally report to them on what has happened and why it has happened. We go through that exercise and respond formally to them.


That correspondence is held by them on a public register. If, as a consequence of an incident, there were a fish kill, we would ascertain in due course what required to be done, and we would fund the replacement of those fish.


Mr McCarthy: Lessons would have been learned, and the hope that it would not be repeated somewhere else.


Mr Thompson: We would hope so.


The Chairperson: Mr Thompson, in one of his questions Mr McCarthy asked about replacement if, for example, there were not a fish kill but there were pollution that had damaged the fauna and flora. The Environmental Heritage Service could advise you on it, but have you ever, in your experience, done anything to restore flora and fauna that have been damaged?


Mr Thompson: No, that has not been a practice up until now.


Mr Duddy: From an operational point of view, and, unfortunately, having been close to some of these incidents when they do happen, we have found in the past that we needed to take EHS advice very closely. We are not experts in terms of what a clean-up operation or a restoration might mean, so to date we have worked closely with them in agreeing what appropriate post-incident measures should be taken.


The Chairperson: Mr Duddy, in your experience where there has been a fish kill and a major pollution incident of any kind, do you accept that it is not just sufficient to restock?


Mr Duddy: Yes, we are very aware of the implications of the unfortunate incidents which happen from time to time.


Mr J Wilson: Gentlemen, thank you for making your submission and coming along to help us with our inquiry. Our paths have crossed before, wearing other hats, particularly my constituency hat and my angling hat. I know something of the difficulties which your Department faces. Let me try to draw that out a little.


In your submission you stated that the potential growth in demand for water places increased pressure on the ageing water and sewerage infrastructure that exists and that any current deficiencies can be rectified only by substantial capital investment. Are we to assume from this that unless this investment is forthcoming, there is nothing more the Water Service can do to minimise the adverse impact that some of its operations have on our fresh waters? Let me add an example. I know of circumstances- and perhaps you know of them as well- where in flash flood conditions identifiable bathroom and personal bedroom items are pouring into a watercourse before they get anywhere near a sewerage treatment works. That is how bad it is now. Surely we are talking about substantial investment. You referred to that. How substantial is "substantial"?


Mr Thompson: By "substantial", is very substantial. We are talking about big numbers. One prominent example is the Belfast sewerage system. Excluding east Belfast from the figure, we are talking of something in the order of £100 million- a huge sum of money. There are similar situations across the Province - not as dramatic as that in money terms- but they all add up to huge investment. We are talking about needing around £300 million in the next five years, so there is no doubt that we have a large backlog to catch up on. Unfortunately, until we do, there will be some instances such as you describe. I hope there will not be very many - but there will be some.


It is important to put this in context. We need a large investment, but we are making a substantial investment now. This year £22 million will be spent on improvements to the waste water treatment works, and a further £19 million will be spent in improvements to the sewerage system. This is a big investment, and, to some degree, it will address the worst excesses. We will try to prioritise, but inevitably, when there is a huge backlog, not all problems will be addressed.


The Water Service works to minimise the impact of any deficiencies that are in our system. We do our best to use what we have to the best of our ability.


Mr Duddy: From an operational point of view, there are things that can be done in the short term - anything from upgrades to pumping stations to the installation of remote monitoring equipment in pumping stations. This would mean that if a fault occurred, the Water Service would have central automatic knowledge of it and could respond quickly on the ground. With regard to the instances that you describe, we make every effort to make short-term improvements in advance of the long-term investment coming on stream.


Mr J Wilson: I am pleased to hear that. However, in a situation such as I described, it is not just a case of a pipe's being in the wrong place. The example that I put to you would require considerable funding, otherwise the problem would not exist. Whilst you may have taken remedial action, the problem continues. The problem that I spoke about has been going on for years. If it were a simple matter of throwing a few quid at it to put it right, it would have been done. It is, therefore, not a simple matter, and it brings into question the investment that is needed to improve the waste water and surface water infrastructure where the two are heading towards a sewage treatment works in the one conduit.


Dr Alexander: We appreciate that there is that difficulty. The Water Service is carrying out drainage area studies on all drainage systems in Northern Ireland. These studies assess the long-term requirements of the sewerage system. Having looked at a particular drainage area, we then consult with the Environment and Heritage Service, and a further study is carried out to assess what the water quality needs are. The upgrade that then takes place takes account of future water quality needs. Therefore it is to be hoped that when money is being spent in the future, it will be spent on a scheme that has been well thought out and agreed.


The Chairperson: As well as the infrastructure's requiring modernisation, improvements and updating, is there enough infrastructure to cope with some of the urban development that has taken place in recent years?


Mr Thompson: Probably not. We do have infrastructure that covers most of the areas where it is required, but the problem is undercapacity. The problem arises where a system exists in an area where there has been relatively little development, but then additional developments overload the system. That is very difficult to deal with, short of a major replacement of a complete section.


Mr Duddy: While there is, rightly, a great deal of emphasis put on the need for capital investment in operating and in managing a system under stress, we have also to deal with pressures in respect of operating costs and in the labour that we employ and put on the ground. There is, therefore, the added pressure of minimising the impact of the current infrastructure, which we try to manage as best we can.


The Chairperson: Are you suggesting that it should be matched to development as opposed to infrastructure needs? In other words, if developments are taking place, should there be some connection between those and the waste-disposal services you provide in the same way that the Department of the Environment might demand that developers improve road structures?


Mr Thompson: That is a possibility. In England and Wales, for example, the sort of thing you describe is taking place. It may be something we should look at.


Mr Davis: Good morning, Gentlemen. I should like to turn to the question of nutrient removal. Since agriculture is a main source of nutrients in freshwater, is the installation of phosphorus removers into waste-water treatment works having any significant impact on levels in rivers and lakes?


Dr Alexander: Perhaps I could give you a potted history of how we have dealt with this problem. The problem really started in 1967, when there was major bloom of algae on Lough Neagh. Following that, a great deal of research was carried out, and at that stage it was identified that phosphorus was the nutrient responsible for the algae bloom.


Studies carried out at that time by the Department of Agriculture showed that a number of sources were responsible, but the point sources were significant in relation to the total loading of phosphorus to Lough Neagh. The Water Service entered into an agreed programme, and in the early 1980s we established phosphorus plants at the major sewage works in the Lough Neagh catchment area. At that stage, the loading to the lough was probably about 400 tonnes of phosphorus a year. By installing phosphorus reduction measures, the Water Service was removing about 100 tonnes, so the amount of phosphorus being removed was very significant in relation to the amount that was going in, and for a number of years, the level of nutrification in the lough showed a definite improvement.


As time has gone on, it has become apparent that the contribution from agriculture is probably more important than at first thought, and it has continued to rise. If we had not installed phosphorus reduction, the total load to the Lough would now be about 600 tonnes. We take about 100 tonnes out of that 600 tonnes. In relation to the overall loading to the Lough, we are still making a significant reduction in the quantity of phosphorus going in.


Since Lough Neagh and Lough Erne have been identified as sensitive, there is a requirement for us to remove phosphorus under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995. Whether or not it is of benefit it is a requirement of the directive, we still have a responsibility to remove phosphorus.


Mrs Nelis: Gentlemen, in simple terms, your submission states that that the polluter must pay. You have a trade effluent consent service with the polluters. In your submission, you also quote statistics showing that over 1,500 fish kills were recorded last year, of which the Water Service was responsible for 244. With respect, I suggest that the Water Service was probably responsible for a good deal more.


How do you arrive at the charges? Polluters must pay, but how is that evaluated? In the light of the destruction of a river, which may take years to regenerate, how does a polluter pay, and how are these charges arrived at? You said this provides an incentive to companies not to pollute rivers, yet the evidence is very clear that they are continuing to do so. How do they minimise this? It is obvious that whatever incentives there may be are not working. These are the people with whom you have entered into a service agreement. What about cases where no consent has been sought? This is a very serious issue, for where business continues to pollute rivers, we have many thousands of fish kills and rivers that are being destroyed, perhaps beyond recovery. Do you feel confident that your charges address the issue and will continue to do so?


Mr Thompson: I should start by correcting one point. Many incidents do not result in fish kills; fish kills are actually relatively small in number. A large number of the overall incidents in a year do not result in fish kills. The charging system is aimed at firms who discharged trade effluent into our sewerage system. The charges are based on what it costs us to deal with that effluent. If it is a difficult effluent to deal with, we charge more than if it were a relatively straightforward effluent.


The charging system follows a UK-wide formula called the Mogden formula, which takes account of the volume of the discharge, the chemical strength, and so on. It brings those together and produces a charge, which is then applied to that particular discharge.


Mrs Nelis: Can you give an example of a charge to a business, precluding excessive discharge?


Mr Thompson: There is a range of people who discharge into our sewerage system. Providing that they discharge in accordance with the consent condition we have set them, our system is able to cope with that discharge. A problem will arise for us only if someone exceeds, in a gross way, their consent condition. If they exceed it slightly, we could probably cope. Our charges vary between £200 a year and £200,000 a year for a large trade effluent discharge. In total we have an income of about £4,000,000 from trade effluent charges.


Most of that money comes from a relatively small number of large industries. This charging system provides firms with an incentive to minimise their discharge of polluting effluent. It is probably not an important factor for the smaller firms who are only paying a small amount of money, but a firm that is paying us several hundred thousand pounds a year might want to reduce that charge and therefore seek to minimise effluent discharges.


Mrs Nelis: It seems that, because pollution still continues - and it does not seem to be diminishing despite your best efforts - small or large businesses can absorb these charges. You may need to revisit this and try something more than just fines. Do you have a breakdown of what you call small and large firms? How does the polluter pay? Why are we in this Committee continually hearing evidence about effluent discharges polluting our rivers through the sewerage system and causing fish kills?


Mr Thompson: There are two separate issues. A discharge is registered with us where it has been agreed that that discharge can be made through the sewerage system. Providing that it operates within the consent conditions set, it will not cause a problem and the sewerage system will be able to cope with it. Sometimes a discharge is so grossly in excess of the consent conditions that it does cause the system to collapse under it. Then there will be a pollution incident, and something will go right through our treatment works, and discharge to a river, and that will cause a problem.


That does happen, but it tends not to happen frequently. Apart from affecting the river, it causes major problems for us, because it completely obliterates the sewage treatment system, and we cannot allow that to happen. There is a separate issue of illegal discharges being made into a river. The Environment and Heritage Service polices that, and we do not have a role.


Dr Alexander: Industry discharges to our sewer are controlled under the Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, and they are our responsibility. The discharge from sewerage works to the river is controlled by the Environment and Heritage Service. If an industry is discharging direct to the river, that is not a Water Service responsibility but an Environment and Heritage Service one. We do not prevent people from using the sewer so that they make illegal discharges to the waterway. If they want to transfer a discharge from a sewerage works to a river, they have to approach the Environment and Heritage Service to get a consent from them, and that will dictate the level and quality of effluent they can discharge.


Mrs Nelis: I assume that you and the Environment and Heritage Service work in close co-operation in that situation.


Mr Shannon: In your submission you talk about the amount of sewage sludge that you process. Last year's figures indicate 22,000 tonnes. Most is incinerated, and the rest is used on agricultural land. Can you give an indication of the amount put on the land? You indicated in your submission that you are trying to reduce that.


Mr Thompson: We are not particularly trying to reduce it, but the farming community is finding it less desirable, and we are in their hands to a certain extent. There has been a significant shift in the quantity that is being put on the land as fertiliser. Until recently, half our total sludge production would have been used in that way. In the current year we are incinerating in the region of 22,000 tonnes out of a total sludge estimated at 39,000 tonnes. Only about 3,000 of that is going on to the land, and the other 14,000 tonnes are going to landfill. That is a reflection of the change in attitude among the farming community.


Sludge quantities will continue to increase, because as we put in more advanced forms of treatment, we take more sludge. By 2010 we estimate the total sludge quantity to have risen to 52,000 tonnes. At the moment our incinerator deals with 22,000 of that, and we are now considering what we will do to cope with the additional quantity, although we have not come to a final conclusion. Given that the incinerator is working well, it seems likely that that is what we will adopt for the additional capacity.


Mr Shannon: Does it have the capacity to cope with the extra quantity?


Mr Thompson: The existing incinerator is working at maximum capacity.


Mr Shannon: Will it, therefore, be a new build?


Mr Thompson: If that is the way we go, it will, and, at the moment, that is how it looks.


Mr Shannon: Who would be responsible for monitoring the levels, and how would that be managed?


Mr Thompson: A branch of the Environment and Heritage Service monitors the incinerator which is responsible for air quality. There are very strict guidelines.


The incinerator was built to comply with a higher level of air quality than that currently required, since we anticipated a tightening of standards. It works to the best possible air quality.


Mr Shannon: Have you had many complaints from people in the surrounding area? That is the point I am trying to get to.


Mr Thompson: I am glad to say that, to the best of my knowledge, we have not had any.


Mr J Wilson: I should like to develop Mr Shannon's question. We must pinch ourselves now and again to remember that this is an angling inquiry and not a criticism of the Water Service. My antenna goes up when I hear you talk of taking caked sludge to a landfill site. Over many years, the angling community has had very unhappy experiences of leaching from landfill sites into streams and rivers. You can visualise the picture thereafter. Are we not storing up trouble for future years?


Mr Thompson: We are straying in to the territory of the Environment and Heritage Service. However, from my knowledge of how they view matters, I think they are moving forward greatly in tightening the regulation of landfill sites and the way in which leaching from them must be managed. They should speak for themselves, but I feel that this issue should not be a concern in the future.


Dr Adamson: Mr Shannon has already covered some of the points I wished to raise. Is the disposal of sludge on agricultural land monitored to comply with the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996 and the UK Code of Practice for Agricultural Use of Sewage Sludge? I should like you to assure us that this is so.


Mr Duddy: The incidence of sludge going to fields is being reduced. From an operational point of view, we work very closely with the farmers to ensure that the fields to be used are identified and mapped. Sludge soil samples are taken, so we can give advice on appropriate dosage rates for the crops in question. Full records are kept and audited as required by the Environment and Heritage Service to ensure compliance with the code.


The Chairperson: Has any thought been given to alternative methods of dealing with sludge such as the central digester system that is used in Benburb?


Mr Thompson: Yes. A great deal of work has gone on in other areas, as you can imagine. Incineration is an expensive process. Where there are alternatives, we certainly adopt them. Unfortunately, on the scale we are talking about, there do not seem to be any readily usable alternatives to the major methods in current use. There is energy recovery in our incinerator system. Any calorific value in the sludge is recovered and reused in the process.


The Chairperson: I am sure you have heard the argument that every waste-treatment unit should have a digester.


Mr Thompson: The irony of that is that the digester generates gas, and so on, but reduces the calorific value of the sludge. If one takes sludge for incineration, there is no particular benefit in losing some of its calorific value at a digester stage. Indeed, it tends to be counter-productive. The incinerator process works better without previous digestion.


Mr Davis: Earlier in the discussion you spoke of co-operation with the Environment and Heritage Service since it is responsible for monitoring the waterways. How often do you meet?


Mr Thompson: There are several meetings. The boards of the Water Service and the Environment and Heritage Service meet formally twice a year. I have a lower-level meeting with one of the directors on a quarterly basis, and there are several meetings at divisional level. In addition, Dr Alexander meets his opposite numbers on an ongoing basis. Meetings are fairly regular.


The Chairperson: We thank you for your answers and for all the information you have given us. As you know, this will go into our own central digester. We shall come up with a series of recommendations for the Minister and the Department, and we hope to do this by the middle of November, although it might now be later. We find ourselves being nudged forward, and we are certainly nearing a conclusion. Thank you for your contribution, which is both significant and important.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Agnew
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr Hamilton ) Department of Agriculture and
Mr Kirkwood ) Rural Development - Rivers Agency


The Chairperson: Good afternoon, Gentlemen. We normally allow 10 minutes for a presentation, followed by questions. As you know, the proceedings will be recorded.


Mr Hamilton: I am Melvyn Hamilton, the acting director of client services for the Rivers Agency. My colleague, Mr Kirkwood, is the regional engineer for the agency's eastern region.


We are very much involved in the operational side of the organisation and it is in that role that we are speaking to the committee today. However, we are also well informed about the capital works side of the organisation and we will be representing the agency, the chief executive and the Minister.


The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has a statutory responsibility, as vested in its Rivers Agency, for arterial drainage and the protection of fisheries in Northern Ireland. Through the Rivers Agency, DARD is the statutory drainage and flood protection authority in the Province. It has discretionary powers to undertake drainage and flood defence works, and is bound by a statutory duty to protect fisheries in the execution of such works under article 40 of the Drainage (Northern Ireland) Order 1973.


It also has consultation procedures. The Rivers Agency, in fulfilling its commitments to fishery and general environmental protection, consults widely with identified interests, including fishery interests, via the Inland Fisheries Division of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), on the possible effects of proposed works and the measures necessary to mitigate them. With regard to fishery protection measures, the Agency is prepared to carry out a wide range of practical measures to protect fisheries, as described in our written submission.


In the event of any unavoidable damage to a fishery, the Rivers Agency is obliged to pay reasonable compensation. That is another requirement of Article 40 of the 1973 Order, which in turn refers back to Articles 17 and 18 of the Order. That is our present position.


Mr Davis: One of your operational objectives is nicely phrased as

"Execute all work programmes in an environmentally sympathetic manner and conserve and enhance the natural environs of watercourses wherever possible."


How many conservation officers work for the Rivers Agency? Are there sufficient to adequately address environmental issues, including fishery matters, that may arise due to the nature of the work programme?


Mr Hamilton: For a number of years - since before we became an Agency - we have had Conservation Officers. At present there are two officers led by a Conservation Engineer under my control in the environment unit. Alongside that, there are five Area Engineers: two in the west covering Omagh, Fermanagh and Coleraine; and three in the east, one covering Armagh; one for the rural part of Lisburn, running from Newcastle to Ballycastle; and one engineer dedicated to Belfast and the Greater Belfast area. For many years they liaised with the former Fisheries Division and now do so with Inland Fisheries Division. They liaise directly using a set procedure, which includes meetings from the inception of a work-plan, up to and during the work.


Inland Fisheries Division is that part of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure that deals with angling clubs, the Fisheries Conservancy Board and the new Loughs Agency. From time to time we meet with them and representatives from the agencies and club members. That has been ongoing for a long time; it is a tried and tested procedure which works well. The Rivers Agency conservation officers and area fishery managers are represented at those meetings. That is how the linkage works.


The Deputy Chairperson (Mrs Nelis): Forgive me if I sound a little confused, but we have heard evidence from the Water Service and also the Environment and Heritage Service. I hope you do not mind me saying this, but you have all made a mess of our rivers, judging by the evidence that we have heard over the last few months.


You have outlined the fisheries protection measures which the agency might employ in the circumstances listed in your submission. Could your approach to flood alleviation and drainage be improved with regard to fisheries considerations? We have heard evidence of rivers being destroyed. I am not suggesting that your agency is totally responsible. A whole raft of agencies is responsible. Our rivers are suffering greatly and some may never recover. Do you believe you are taking the right approach?


Mr Hamilton: We are very confident that we have the right approach, but maybe that is a snapshot in time. We are open to, and willing to take advice from, Inland Fisheries Division, who are the experts, and also from those they consult with. We have been doing that over a number of years. Improvements as a result of that liaison and of liaison with experts outside Northern Ireland have produced a highly motivated workforce with supervisory people who are aware of the environmental issues involved and can mitigate any problems that arise as a result of our works.


Over the years, going back to post-war drainage schemes for food production, as part of our maintenance we have tried to redress some of the earlier problems that were due to ignorance of the developments in fisheries.


The Chairperson: You said that you consult and liaise widely. Does that include the local angling clubs?


Mr Hamilton: I have already explained how that linkage works. It is very successful and we have good working relationships, even at club level. We have proved that over the years.


The Chairperson: I am pleased to hear that. What about the material that you remove from the river bed during your agency's operational activities?


Mr Hamilton: I assume you are referring to gravel. We have to remove excess gravel when it builds up. For example, upstream of the bridge in Ballyclare there has been flooding over the past couple of years. We bring the gravel down to the low level and dress it off. We have to remove gravel, lower it, or regrade it, because of potential flooding problems or lack of outfall for agricultural land. We take the gravel out very carefully, put it on the river bank and replace it when the work is completed at the lower level.


The Chairperson: Do you always replace it?


Mr Hamilton: Nearly always. Some is not reusable and, where it is not reusable, we import some. That has been agreed with Inland Fisheries Division.


Mr McCarthy: One of the Rivers Agency's goals is to protect agricultural land from flooding. Does alleviating flooding of agricultural land take precedence over other issues?


Mr Hamilton: A considerable amount of our work now is on capital works and flood defence. Mr McCarthy will be familiar with the work we are carrying out in Newtownards at the moment. That is the type of work that we are doing. We maintain the arterial drainage network of watercourses. That is planned very carefully. The bulk of our work is on flood defence and the maintenance of the existing drainage network.


Mr McCarthy: How does the Rivers Agency supervise the work it has commissioned, and how often does it check that the work is being carried out in as environmentally sound a manner as possible?


Mr Hamilton: I have already given details of the experts we have within the Rivers Agency, and those that we call upon. Capital work, and all of our maintenance work, is generally subject to environmental assessment at various levels depending on the complexity and nature of the watercourse. Then our in-house people, the conservation officers, scope the project to see what overall problems may arise - a good example of that is the sea defence at Newtownards - and then normally a consultant would be commissioned, as it is too big a job for us.


Those larger schemes go out to consultants who have their own professional environmental assessors and we may, in certain circumstances, under the Drainage (Environmental Assessment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1991 produce a statement, and indeed we have done on a number of occasions.


On the in-house side of things, the direct labour organisation has been trained over the years in environmentally sensitive maintenance. We have had people like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and external fishery experts come to speak to them. The supervisors are also trained; they know how to go about the schemes, and if a problem arises they will automatically bring in either the area fisheries manager or the conservation officer to consult.


Dr Adamson: We have been advised that the Rivers Agency is to receive an additional £3 million funding for the year 2000-01. We have been told that this additional funding will enable the agency to progress schemes to address flooding risks within a shorter timescale than would otherwise have been possible. Where are these flooding risks? Does the fact that they will be addressed in a shorter timescale mean that the environmental assessment process will be curtailed?


Mr Hamilton: We have in excess of 100 schemes, at various stages, on our books at the present time. Some of them are feasibility studies like Lisdivin, outside Strabane on Burndennet catchment. There is a very severe flooding problem which affects isolated housing. We are looking at one in Ballyclare, which is obviously an urban problem, and there is also one out for consultation with the general public at Maguiresbridge. The feasibility study on Newcastle is almost complete and we hope to talk to the council in the next few days.


Schemes going on at present include the aforementioned Strangford Dyke Scheme at Newtownards, and we are also looking at the sea defences on the north coast. Those protect very vulnerable areas. The sea defences on the north coast protect one of the best areas for growing potatoes and cereals in Northern Ireland. We are also involved in the refurbishment of all designated culverts within Northern Ireland. We took on culverts in the reorganisation of local government in 1973, but frankly we did not have the capacity to look after them. They are graded from 1 to 5, and we are looking at the worst ones first. That is an ongoing programme.


The £3 million is largely for those schemes. It does encompass some smaller schemes, as I described, because of the placement, but by and large it is large schemes that we have on the books at the present time. While I stress that the programme for the injection of finance is to complete this work quickly, that does not allow us to step outside our statutory obligations. That applies especially to the Drainage (Environmental Assessment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1991, which were made on foot of a European Union directive. There are more directives forthcoming, and we are amending the Drainage (Northern Ireland) Order 1973 where appropriate.


Mr Kirkwood: The majority of those schemes are urban flood defence schemes. They have less impact on fisheries than past agricultural schemes had, although they are subject to the same environmental assessment rigours.


Mr Shannon: You said that the Rivers Agency consults widely to mitigate any damage that could be caused by proposed fisheries developments. What form does that consultation process take?


Mr Hamilton: The consultation process for capital works is in the hands of the consultant. In the brief given to the consultant, they will be told that they must consult, and it will indicate which groups to consult with.


Mr Shannon: Are there examples where proposed fishery plans have been changed as a result of this process? Are there examples where this has worked?


Mr Hamilton: I will give you an example, which is the Dall River in the Glens. At the lower end there was a flood protection scheme.


Mr Shannon: As the consultation process is ongoing, I presume there are many other examples.


Mr Hamilton: Yes. The ones that I have already mentioned have all gone through that process. The 1991 Regulations require us to publish any proposals. The general public can view the plans in the District and Borough Council Offices for a period of 28 days. There are then a further statutory 28 days for the public to take up issues with our representatives.


Mr Shannon: From a practical standpoint, how does the Agency itself, without external pressure, incorporate mitigation measures into its work programme?


Mr Hamilton: I have explained our methods at length. We incorporate these all the time. We are continually improving and learning more about the subject by virtue of our conservation staff, the area fishery managers of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). People report to us and ask us to do certain things. Sometimes we can do them and sometimes not, depending on cost.


Mr Shannon: I will be meeting some of your staff soon. You said that in your programme for culverts there are five categories. Have you categorised all the culverts?


Mr Hamilton: We have categorised 70% of them. It has taken many years to do this. We are on a programme. This includes designated culverts. Some were designated automatically when they were taken over in 1973. Others were designated by the Drainage Council for Northern Ireland. In the grading system for designated culverts, the best condition is one and the worst condition is five.


Mr Shannon: I will be taking your staff to one that is in very bad condition.


Mr Hamilton: If it is designated, then yes.


The Chairperson: Some of the evidence that we have received indicates that criticism has been levelled in your direction for working at inappropriate times. That includes working at a river mouth when fish were trying to move upriver and at spawning time. Do you take those considerations on board?


Mr Hamilton: Yes we do. Under guidelines that have been in place for many years, we do not work between 1 November and 31 March. That is the recognised spawning season. We consult very closely with Inland Fisheries Division on those matters. However, from time to time we are involved in emergency work and sometimes on contract - although in certain circumstances the contract can be worked around these requirements. Indeed, in the example of the sea defence in Newtownards, we stayed away from many parts of the foreshore to allow birds to migrate.


We do take those factors into account, but occasionally, under Article 8 of the 1973 Order, we can carry out certain emergency work if there is a flood risk that we estimate will cause considerable damage to property or risk to life. If we do that, obviously we have to justify that decision.


Mr J Wilson: One of the objectives that we have set ourselves in this inquiry is to tease out what might be described as the grey area between policy and practice on matters that relate to angling. The Rivers Agency has a statutory duty to protect fisheries during the execution of drainage work, and the practical measures that are taken are outlined in your submission. On site, who decides what measures are to be implemented in relation to fisheries protection? And what expertise would that person have in habitat conservation or enhancement?


For example, wearing my angler's hat I have on a number of occasions walked alongside a river on which drainage work was being carried out, and the only expert that I saw was a young man in a JCB or a Hymac. There was no guidance being given; no foreman present; no expert present; and the only expert around was the guy on the machine.


Mr Kirkwood: When the maintenance programme is advertised and published, several bodies are advised of the programme and given a list of watercourses in which we work. People - especially those in angling clubs - have the opportunity to approach us with their concerns about the proposals.


The point of liaison with the angling clubs is DCAL's fisheries staff. They act as an intermediary and arrange a facilitator and a meeting on the riverbank with the angling club members and the engineering staff where necessary. The decision as to what mitigating measures or curtailments in the work are necessary would be taken on the riverbank.


The work then proceeds during the course of the year. An engineer is responsible for the work, and a foreman who knows what is meant to be done visits the site daily, and they would both be party to what had been agreed with Inland Fisheries Division and the angling clubs.


There can sometimes be a difficulty when the people in the angling club with whom we had made the agreement are not available later in the year when the work is in place and members of the angling club are disagreeing with what had been agreed on site. We try to resolve any problems that arise.


The engineer's foreman supervises the site on a daily basis. A foreman would have a number of work sites under his care, so he would not spend the entire day with the plant operator on the site. The plant operator, in most cases, would be instructed to work along the lines agreed with the DCAL fisheries officer and the angling clubs.


Mr Hamilton: Our conservation officers and the inland fisheries area manager's work together, and on very sensitive watercourses they will carry out a corridor survey in advance of the work and produce a detailed plan for how the work should be carried out. In those circumstances the plant operator, along with the foreman, the Conservation Officer, the Inland Fisheries Officer, and sometimes the club member as well, are firmly told the plans.


Generally speaking, we do not have many complaints, and any we do have are dealt with rigorously. We would investigate how the problem arose and how we could ensure that it does not happen again.


The Chairperson: I have to leave for a few minutes. Is there a proposal for a Temporary Chairperson?

[Mr J Wilson agreed to as Temporary Chairperson]


The Temporary Chairperson: One of our colleagues, David Hilditch, has unfortunately had to go to hospital. I put this question to you on his behalf. You said that the Rivers Agency and Inland Fisheries Division co-operate to improve watercourses through fishery enhancement measures that may be incorporated into the agency's operational activity. These may include establishing fish groynes, placing spawning gravel in suitable rivers, the planting of trees and bushes, and the construction of fish passes. Who pays for this work, and how often does it occur?


Mr Hamilton: It takes place continuously in all our works. I hope we have adequately demonstrated the extent of co-operation in this field to the Committee. We cover the cost in our works. We try to repair any structures damaged by floods and take the gravel out for desilting before replacing it. We plant trees and carry out work for the retention of shoals and so on. That work is an integral and inseparable part of river maintenance. It is impossible to work on a watercourse without involving oneself in fishery protection measures and the maintenance of measures already there, which is why we carry the cost.


The Temporary Chairperson: Has the money that recently became available through the Salmonid Enhancement Programme, whereby clubs do some of this work, helped you?


Mr Hamilton: No. As far as I know, it went straight to the clubs in most circumstances, for they carry out the work. They have an external adviser, a fishery adviser and sometimes an engineer. They put the proposals to us. Any structure placed in, over or under a watercourse must be approved by us in our role representing the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development under schedule 6 of the Drainage (Northern Ireland) Order 1973. Any structure likely to impede the passage of fish will also come to us. Structures such as groynes therefore come to us as part of the Salmonid Enhancement Programme, and we clear them under Schedule 6. That is our only involvement.


Mr McCarthy: Earlier you spoke briefly about compensation. You state in your submission that you have an obligation to pay reasonable compensation in the event of damage to a fishery. How often in the course of a year does damage to fisheries occur because of work carried out by the Rivers Agency? How does the agency determine what is reasonable compensation?


Mr Hamilton: It arises very rarely. Next June I shall have been with the agency for 30 years, and Mr Kirkwood has been there almost as long. Owing to the rigorous system of co-operation with and dependence on experts who tell us what to do in our fisheries works, we have not had any cases where we had to pay out compensation. There is a provision for arbitration under article 40 of the 1973 Order if we disagree with anglers, clubs, the Fisheries Conservancy Board or the Loughs Agency on what we should do. An arbitrator will tell us what measures we must take to make amends for damage done.


I would rue the day it went to arbitration, for it has not happened in all my years at the agency. Even in the early years of drainage on the Upper Maine scheme, where I was resident engineer, we had a countryside committee, of which the late Mr Capper was chairman. They met with me, along with Mr Phillip Leonard, a former colleague in the former Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland Fisheries Division, once every three months to help me decide on fishery measures on the Upper Maine. That was an instruction or recommendation of the Hutton inquiry. So that is how long ago that goes back.


Mr McCarthy: You are very proud of your reputation of not having to pay out compensation?


Mr Hamilton: Yes we are.


Mr McCarthy: Possibly you had a good barrister.


Mr Hamilton: We have never had to rely on a barrister - it has never gone that far. We have settled our differences with angling clubs through Inland Fisheries Division, and have come up with workable solutions for the improvement of watercourses.


Mr Agnew: We all appreciate the very straight- forward way our questions have been answered and congratulate Mr Hamilton on that.


I want to be a wee bit clever here, and refer to article 4, paragraph 3 of the EU Water Framework Directive - you will be very familiar with it and know it all by heart. To quote that paragraph:

"Member States shall protect and enhance all artificial and heavily modified bodies of water, with the aim of achieving good ecological potential and good surface water chemical status at the latest 15 years from the date of entry into force of this Directive."

Has the Rivers Agency considered how it will achieve good ecological potential for the rivers in Northern Ireland that have been heavily modified by drainage extensions? Will it seek to have these rivers exempted from this legislation?


Mr Hamilton: First, the post-war schemes from the early 50s through to the late 60s were very traditional drainage schemes and did not have the interaction between the various parties at that stage. As we have been going back to do maintenance on some of those watercourses, we have introduced some measures on rivers such as the Forkhill, the Creggan, the Camowen, the Dall and the Torrent near Coalisland. We have introduced those measures and tried to enhance the watercourses again.


The directive is a learning curve for us at the present time and we are getting to grips with the legislation, and what it means. The Department of the Environment is the lead department on this in Northern Ireland, and we understand that they are going to consult widely on taking forward and implementing the legislation. They will initiate any catchment action plans. We will have input to that and we will be included in the consultations.


At this stage it would be premature to answer the question in totality because the directive is in its early stages. We would have to look at the policy for seeking exemption of any specified river or to speculate on the general approach in a particular area. In saying that, we have given enough evidence to the Committee to indicate our willingness, as we go about our maintenance, to look at opportunities, within the confines of cost-effectiveness that we have to work - we have a budget and have to stay within that. We do try to implement things, as we have already described, within our works. That is the position at the present time. I am sorry that I cannot be more forthright at the present time because of the early stage of the directive, which is being looked at.


The Temporary Chairperson: We may have found an anomaly. The Rivers Agency will only undertake work on those rivers identified by the Drainage Council for Northern Ireland, which is an independent statutory body. Departmental literature says that that body makes its determinations on the basis of information supplied to it by the agency. Therefore, how independent can this body be? How often have the recommendations you have made to the Drainage Council been rejected?


Mr Hamilton: The Drainage Council has been in existence since 1947 and represents a wide spread of opinion, including fishery interests, tourism, industry and so on. Ten district or borough councillors are nominated and are there by ministerial approval. The chairperson is Mrs Dinah Browne, who is also chairperson of the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside (CNCC).


We put proposals to them for designations based on the type of work, which means largely flood defences and the refurbishment of sea defences at the present time. They are very rigorous and go through the proposals in fine detail. Occasionally they will ask us to go back and look at a certain matter. The fisheries person would speak his mind on aspects affecting fishing. There is also an appeal mechanism for the general public. The public have to be told if a designation is turned down by the Drainage Council. The person or group of people who made the request has to be told that the Drainage Council has turned down their request and they have a right of appeal. They are very rigorous in their approach and are environmentally conscious - obviously with Mrs Browne being the chairperson they have to be.


The Temporary Chairperson: Thank you for your submission and the way you dealt with the incisive questions. I must say that anglers are of a view that there is a better level of co-operation between Rivers Agency and the angling clubs now than there was some time ago. That is to be welcomed.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mr Agnew
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr J Wilson

Mr J Beach ) Demesne Anglers
Mr A Kirkpatrick )


Mr Chairperson: Good afternoon gentlemen. You are very welcome. I am glad of the opportunity to listen to your submission. We usually allow 10 minutes for a submission, and then our members ask questions. I would invite you now to make your submission.


Mr Beach: Good afternoon. Thank you for this further opportunity to make a submission to you. I hope the Committee will find what we have to say of some help.


You all have a copy of my original submission. I want to say a word about points that are raised on page 5 onwards. The first is with regard to nets. A little over £2 million will actually buy out nets around the coast of Northern Ireland at the present time. In these days, that is not a big sum of money. This £2 million is in the hands of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, who believe they can do it. As far as freshwater quality is concerned, I want to refer to an example which occurred in Ballymena recently, when raw sewage ran into the River Maine from Spencerstown at Tullygally sewage works.


Those sewage works are relatively new and already cannot cope with the need. Under drainage, paragraph 3.5 in our submission, we would urge that where damage has been done by drainage - for example the River Maine above Randalstown and the Blackwater - that for the sake of anglers and of conservation, a reinstatement programme should be introduced for those rivers. With regard to paragraph 3.7 and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), I have been sitting - not recently, obviously, because of my indisposition - on a product group meeting with the NITB. Although it was very useful, it soon became apparent that not a single member of the NITB team knew the first thing about fishing. At the last meeting I attended I suggested that an expert - and I did suggest a name - should be called in to spend the first 10 or 15 minutes of the next meeting actually telling the NITB what salmon did. Quite honestly, they did not know. Whether that happened or not, I do not know. I hope so. I hope very much that the NITB are going to sell tourist angling in Northern Ireland. If they are, then in our opinion they desperately need an expert who really understands fishing and the problems that fishermen have.


With regard to salmon farming- and following on from when I said you should take account of the serious damage caused to fisheries in the west of Ireland, Scotland and Norway- I say to you "Is it worth it?". I will give you an example. I happen to be lucky enough to own a little cottage down at Portaferry, and I was approached some years ago about putting a salmon farm in the bay outside my cottage. The immediate effect would have been that my cottage would have doubled in value, but be that as it may, I said no, I would not be agreeable. Imagine the effect that that salmon farm, had it gone in - or if it does go in - would have on the Strangford Lough scheme and the proposed sea trout fishery, which I believe is going to go ahead.


Mr Kirkpatrick: Our problem is that approximately one mile off the mouth of the Maine we have a cormorant roost. It is about 500 yards from the mouth of the Six Mile Water and we have up to 1,000 cormorants roosting. I am afraid that all our smolt run is decimated by the feeding cormorants. We have obtained a special licence to cull so many, but it is not effective in any way. I have opened cormorants up. One cormorant had 18 salmon smolts in it. If you take 1,000 cormorants at the mouths of those rivers, they decimate the smolt run completely. Up to 80% of our dollaghan migrating upstream are marked by cormorants. We hope the Assembly can come up with some solution to the problem.


Mr Beach: It is correct to say that even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is now beginning to say that cormorants and some other birds will have to be controlled in some way. Cormorants are a major problem. We have a licence to shoot 10. That is ridiculous.


I want to discuss problems, raised in our submission, that we have with a fish farm. I understand this particular prosecution originated on 25 November 1997 when the farm owner was taken to court on three counts under section 48 of the Fisheries Act: wilfully having fry of salmon and trout in his possession; wilfully obstructing the passage of fish; and injuring fry of salmon or trout. The magistrate adjourned the case to allow discussion on a practical solution for the problems at the farm. The case reconvened on 26 May 1998 and, again, no verdict was reached. The magistrate indicated to counsel that if the case came to a verdict the defendant would be guilty on the first two points but not on the third. The magistrate further requested that services of a consultant be sought and the fish farm complied with this. The consultant's advice was going to cost around £30,000 but, notwithstanding that, Fisheries Division in fact said it doubted the proposal would work under flood conditions. My experience is that fish seldom attempt to move anywhere in flood conditions.


The fish farmer could not afford the grating that had to be installed under section 59 of the Fisheries Act. Instead, the farmer installed other so-called 'further improvements' which were intended to prevent fish being trapped on the farm. Our information is that these so-called improvements are not working adequately, if at all.


The case was to be heard again on 25 January 2000 but the FCB withdrew proceedings against the fish farm on the advice of its solicitor. The FCB had been advised that the farm owner had brought along an expert witness who happened to be a member of the Fisheries Division. This person advised that the work carried out on the farm was perfectly adequate and that he was satisfied with it. I am afraid we were not.


On 22 February I wrote to the head of the Fisheries Division to complain. It appears to us that both the FCB and the Department of Agriculture see their primary role as the protector of commercial operators from application of the fishery laws. It is worth noting that some 60 sites of dams and weirs in Northern Ireland are exempt from the Fisheries Act. Imagine the anger and frustration that this has caused among angling associations. The Anglers Co-operative Association (ACA) wrote a letter to the director of FCB outlining its anger.


As far as anglers are concerned, the existing flow regime on the River Bann is unsatisfactory. There is a statutory level for Lough Neagh and the Department is obliged under statute to keep the level of the lough within six inches of that level.


Obviously, during the winter and with heavy rain that is sometimes difficult. In April/May time, the gates are left open at Toomebridge until such time as they achieve the level required by statute. The Ulster Anglers Federation, which we support 100%, are asking for a reserve of one inch of water to be left in the Lough above the statutory level in May.


Once migratory fish arrive at a spot such as Carnroe, because of the lack of water, they can no longer proceed. They become stale after two, three or possible four weeks. If water does arrive, either by artificial or natural means, they will not leave that spot, rather they will lie there as prey for some anglers until they have the urge to spawn. At that stage they go like hell up to the spawning grounds where they are no longer of any use to us.


This year is a prime example. Fish were held up at Carnroe, and a few anglers have had a bonanza at the expense of possibly 5,000 others waiting for the run of fish to arrive out of the River Bann into their river. Furthermore, the fish pass at Carnroe is totally unsatisfactory and must be replaced. A fishery expert from England once remarked "Whatever else you do, you must put in a decent pass at Carnroe, and quite frankly, efforts elsewhere will be non productive until this is done."


With regard to the request to reserve one inch of water. That would enable artificial freshets to be released down the River Bann as required, and to enable fish stuck at Carnroe to proceed up the river before their desire to migrate has gone. This would have to be controlled by a fishery expert. Many fishery systems such as the Rivers Claudy and the Crowley in Donegal, the River Tyne in Newcastle-on-Tyne, and rivers in Scotland, rely on freshets now.


Excellent work has been carried out on many rivers as a result of the Salmon Enhancement Programme, however, clubs cannot benefit fully until the flow regime and the fish pass at Carnroe is addressed.


The Chairperson: Thank you, Mr Beach. That presentation sets the scene very nicely.


Mr Davis: Mr Beach, you mentioned that £2 million would be a sufficient amount to buy out the commercial salmon net licences. What improvement would we see in salmon numbers in our rivers if commercial netting ceased around the coast of Northern Ireland?


Mr Beach: Some 80% of the salmon run are caught in nets around the coast. They never enter our rivers. By removing salmon nets, we will see an immediate effect of doubling the run of fish into our rivers. In Northern Ireland, we have some superb angling rivers, but we suffer, in some cases, from a lack of run of fish.


Mr McCarthy: I congratulate you, Mr Beach, on your choice of holiday home. You have obviously chosen the best constituency in Northern Ireland. Having said that, I move to water quality. You mentioned a problem with raw sewage, and in particular, a relatively new sewage plant. This surprises me enormously.


You have stated that water quality in Northern Ireland leaves much to be desired and that fines for polluters are too light. How would you determine the appropriateness of a fine?


Mr Beach: It would have to be determined by the extent of the damage caused by the pollutant and the period of time it would take to correct that damage. That is the only way to determine it. At present, very small fines, in most cases some as little as £100, are made on major pollution issues, but more importantly from our point of view, and that of the fisherman, inter-departmental pollution by the Government goes by without any prosecution. That will happen at Tullygally and Spencerstown; there will not be a prosecution.


Mr McCarthy: Is this the incident that you referred to earlier?


Mr Beach: Yes. There will be no prosecution.


Mr McCarthy: My second question refers to the inter-departmental situation. Do you think that Crown immunity from prosecution has led to institutional ambivalence to pollution in some Departments?


Mr Beach: Do they have Crown immunity? I am not sure about that.


Mr McCarthy: Yes.


Mr Beach: I did not know that. We were under the impression that one Government Department was loathe to prosecute another, and would not do that - union rules!


Mr McCarthy: Litter is a problem throughout Northern Ireland, and not only in relation to rivers. Do you think local councils are doing enough to highlight the problem, and what would you suggest could be done to tackle it? Should we have on the spot fines; public education; or the restriction of buildings adjacent to rivers?


Mr Beach: On the spot fines would be my choice, and fines that will hurt - I do not mean £10. A £50 on the spot fine would be more reasonable for someone witnessed by the police throwing a cigarette packet out of the car window.


In my submission I mentioned that, having spent some time in Scandinavia, and Norway in particular, I would strongly recommend for consideration the Norwegian law under which no beverage can be sold in anything but a glass bottle. Plastic bottles are not allowed.


That glass bottle is returned to the supermarket, or wherever it is purchased from, and more money is returned than would be spent on replacing the contents. I have taken part myself; one feeds in a number of bottles into the bottle bank and then shops again on the money that is returned.


Mr McCarthy: I was interested by your reaction to building adjacent to rivers et cetera. During a visit last week we were told that apartments were to be built close to the river. Would you be in favour of that type of construction?


Mr Beach: It depends on the circumstances and on the river. I would hate to think that it was to happen at Randalstown for instance, and I hope that you are not referring to Randalstown.


Perhaps Mr Kirkpatrick would like to speak about that issue.


Mr Kirkpatrick: There seems to be a problem not only along the Maine but also along the Six Mile Water. There is a proposal to build 600 houses at one site, and it is beyond me how they intend to deal with the sewage. At present the Water Service has more or less admitted to me that they cannot deal with the amount of sewage that they are already receiving.


If we continue to build houses along the river, then eventually the sewage will end up in the river, especially given the high water conditions we have had. After the water recedes everything that normally comes out of a sewerage works is found sticking to the fences and on the hedges. There is one place in particular in Randalstown, and the site is along a stream, which is a tributary off the Maine. I have counted over 50 septic tanks that flow into that stream.


I find that totally unacceptable. The Water Service says that the sewage only overflows in high water conditions, which I have proved to be wrong, and which was confirmed by Brian Black. In my opinion, houses should not be built within a certain distance of any waterway.


Mr Beach: You asked whether councils were doing enough. We do not blame the councils. The councils are doing enough. In fact, they are doing more than enough. They are employing people to clear up our rubbish on a regular basis and that should not be necessary; it should not be there in the first place.


Mr McMenamin: You have suggested in your submission that a cross-border licence should be available in order to encourage tourist anglers. Do you think that promoting the island of Ireland as a single angling destination would be beneficial for the angling tourist and angling as a whole in Northern Ireland? You strongly support the introduction of one licence for game angling and coarse angling in Northern Ireland. What organisation should administer that licence? Do you have any indication whether angling tourists are being discouraged from visiting Northern Ireland because of the confusion about all the different licences?


Mr Beach: If I can take the last point first, no, I have not. I have been to a number of angling fairs over the water and that has never been suggested. Other reasons have been suggested. A cross-border licence would make life very much simpler for the tourist angler if he wanted to fish North and South. A single licence would benefit him. The idea of an organisation has been proposed by others, and Maine Enhancement Partnership and Demesne Anglers would agree with it. Incidentally, I did not tell you that I also represent the Maine Enhancement Partnership, of which I am chairman, but I am talking about Demesne Anglers today. A single body should be established in Northern Ireland and if that were done, and let us hope that one day it may be done, then it would be responsible for issuing licences.


The Chairperson: You said that the licence issue was not given to you as a reason that might discourage tourist anglers from coming. However, other reasons were given to you. Were there any reasons that the Committee should be aware of?


Mr Beach: One man said to me - and I got very cross with him - "When you learn to behave yourselves in Northern Ireland, then I'll come."


The Chairperson: Are any of the reasons germane to what we are doing in the Committee?


Mr Beach: Yes, there is another reason. Anglers from England or France or wherever are not aware of the facilities we have in Northern Ireland. That is plain. I have found that out many times, at Chatsworth angling fair, for instance. People would say that they were coming to Ireland to fish. I would ask where they were going, and they would say they were going down to the Blackwater. I would say, "Oh, South of Ireland; what about the North of Ireland?" They would reply, "Oh, have you got fishing in Northern Ireland?" We have done absolutely nothing to publicise it. We are the best-kept secret. Let us hope that the NITB are going to take it on board.


The Chairperson: I am glad you gave us this information as it substantiates other things that we have heard.


Mr McCarthy: You have referred to previous drainage schemes effectively canalising our major rivers with adverse effects on our fisheries. In your opinion, is the Rivers Agency continuing to carry out flood control procedures without adequate concern for river habitats?


Mr Beach: I believe that is the case. There also appears to be an almost complete lack of consultation, although when it does take place the situation is not necessarily any better, as was with regard to the Blackwater, for example. I remember years ago attending an all-afternoon meeting in Armagh at which two or three people made a presentation and told us what was going to happen with the aid of slides and pictures. I left that meeting thinking that things were not too bad, that the stone arch bridges were going to stay there, and the fishing was not really going to be interfered with. But it was; it was canalised, and that part of the river was ruined from an angling point of view.


Mr McCarthy: Assuming that flood control measures are necessary, what would you suggest as a method of ensuring that damage to river habitats, and therefore fisheries, is minimised during such work?


Mr Beach: This is where one needs the advice of a fisheries expert - somebody who really understands the implications of putting diggers into rivers. There needs to be more experts in all departments. Experts are needed in the FCB, the Fisheries Division, and so on. I am not a civil engineer, so I am not sure what you would do. I hope that no further canalisation of Northern Ireland's wonderful rivers will ever take place, because it is not necessary.


Mr McCarthy: You may have answered my next question. Do you think it would be beneficial if canalised rivers could be assessed for the potential of restoration?


Mr Beach: I certainly do. It will be an expensive operation and, at the moment, I would prefer to see money spent in other directions, but I hope that eventually those canalised rivers will be reinstated to their former glory.


Mr Davis: You mentioned the NITB earlier. In your submission you suggested that funding be made available for the production of brochures to advertise the angling product in Northern Ireland. Who should produce these brochures? Should it be individual angling clubs, a group of clubs, or the NITB? Should they be collectively or individually produced?


Mr Beach: Whoever produces them will need financial aid. The NITB must recognise the tremendous potential asset of game angling in Northern Ireland that could be made available. It would benefit hoteliers, other people providing accommodation, shopkeepers, and so on. Sorry, but what was your point again?


Mr Davis: Should the production of brochures be done collectively, by the NITB or by individual groups?


Mr Beach: The NITB needs to be involved. For example, I am chairman of the Maine Enhancement Partnership and member clubs might say that a brochure prepared by the partnership with the aid of the NITB would show people and possible tourists across the water what is available, for example, on the River Maine. That is substantial. Other clubs may say that they want to prepare their own brochure.


I prepared a brochure for the demesne fishery at Shanes Castle. I did it myself; I took the photographs myself and had it put together by a chap in Bangor who did a very good job. I brought it to Chatsworth angling fair, it was well received and we got some tourists as a result of it. We do not charge £5 a day at Shanes Castle, we charge a lot more - up to £50 a day when the fishing is good. Our bailiff also benefits by showing them how to fish.


Mr Agnew: He must be worth a fortune.


Mr Davis: In your submission the point was made that angling in Northern Ireland was worth £1·5 million and that in the Republic of Ireland it is worth £30 million. What is the Republic doing that we are not?


Mr Beach: The quick answer is that they have experts and we do not. I am told that the £1·5 million that I quoted is probably now worth £2 million, but certainly not any more. The Bord Fáilte has taken angling in the Republic of Ireland very seriously for a number of years. They have been of great assistance to fisheries owners in the South. It is only during the last two years that the NITB have begun to take any interest in the potential of angling.


Mr J Wilson: Thank you for your contribution. You expressed your support for the Salmonid Enhancement Programme, but at the same time expressed some concerns. One of them was that the scheme should be

"under tighter control as far as tourists are concerned".

Can you comment on that, it is the first part of the question?


You also seem to suggest that while some clubs have benefited from the funding and improved the quality of their angling, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Do you have any evidence of that?


Mr Beach: I do not think I worded that terribly well in my submission. It is not clear. What I meant by it was that a condition of the Salmonid Enhancement Programme was that good fishing should be made available to tourists at all times. Now, I am not aware of any club officials who do not want tourists here, but I am well aware of individual club members who say "Well, I will be blowed if I want a tourist here, this is my hole and my salmon". There are still some clubs that share that attitude.


The reason for that is that they are getting very cheap fishing, they are getting it for nothing. They are paying a club subscription of £20 per year. If you go across the water to Scotland, you do not talk about tens of pounds, you talk about hundreds of pounds, and in some cases, thousands of pounds. That is where our fisheries are so grossly undervalued.


My argument is bring the tourists in, because they will put money into the hands of the clubs and fishery owners, who in turn can further improve their fisheries with tourist money and hopefully, a further tranche of the Salmonid Enhancement Programme.


Mr Agnew: I want to raise the issues of salmon farming and insurance. Your submission was concerned about the potential impact of escaped salmon from salmon-farming businesses and the effect that would have on indigenous species in general. What are your specific concerns? What do you advise in order to reduce the impact of these fish on native stocks?


Mr Beach: My principal concern is interbreeding. Salmon escaped on the Glenarm River three years ago. The sad thing was that it had been recommended that the nets on the cages in Glenarm bay were due for replacement, and they were never replaced. There was a very serious escape of fish, many of which came up the Glenarm River. I went to Glenarm with the department one day and we electra-fished the river to get as many of them out as we could. They were huge great brutes. We do not want those salmon to interbreed with our native fish. Interbreeding can have all sorts of consequences -in particular, the new generation (grilse or salmon) gets confused about which river to return to.


Again, it really does come down to what I call policing. If I get this point of policing and bailiffing across to this Committee this afternoon, I shall be pleased. We must improve, we must have people who know what they are doing, and we must have more experts. There seems to be far too much complacency in all departments in this regard. Yes, our principal worries are about interbreeding.


Mr Agnew: Allow me to move to the question of insurance. You have stated in your submission that landowners are increasingly concerned at the prospect of being sued by anglers who have accidents on their property. You say that this has been addressed to some extent in Dublin, but not in Belfast. Please tell us what has been proposed in Dublin, and what suggestions you might have for the situation in Northern Ireland.


Mr Beach: The situation in the South of Ireland has been addressed before the Law Commission. I sit on the council of the Field and Country Sports Society in the South of Ireland. I understand that except where extreme negligence can be proved, a fisherman or anybody else who falls over a ploughshare and injures himself while walking on the land has no claim against the landowner.


In Northern Ireland, as many lawyers will tell you, if somebody meets with such an accident on Lord O'Neill's property at Shanes Castle, they can sue Lord O'Neill for leaving that ploughshare out in a field in a dangerous position - and they will be awarded damages. Many landowners here are seriously concerned about that; so concerned that either they restrict access to the river, or they say "Well I am sorry, you can not cross my land to get to the river". We hope that the Assembly will address this situation in the same way as the Law Commission has in Dublin.


Mr McMenamin: You said that your aim was to attract tourists into Northern Ireland to fish, and to charge them a reasonable rate - £50 to £60 per day for certain stretches of river. Local anglers will have fished there all their lives. How will you overcome that? What will you charge them?


Mr Beach: That is a good question. Anglers are very aware of this problem, therefore some individuals, and possibly clubs, do not want to see tourists. Fishing at the Shanes Castle demesne can be very good and it is a real joy to simply sit at this beautiful piece of river ¾ to catch a fish is a bonus. The charge for day anglers at Shanes Castle should not necessarily be the same as that imposed at the Six Mile Water. I do not know the day angler fee for Six Mile Water, but it is certainly not high enough at this and other rivers. At the Braid River, near the Glens of Antrim, the daily rate is increased to £10 per day on the 1st of August, which is when fishing conditions normally improve. The fee should be much higher but I do not suggest a figure.


Angling clubs must work out how they are going to deal with the issue because they need this income. The seasonal fee of £10 is the same price as a bottle of whiskey. It is a crazy situation. The issue is left to the clubs with perhaps some advice from the Ulster Angling Federation.


Mr J Wilson: I have a quote from a newspaper which comments on the ingress of juvenile fish to the intake of trout farms.

"Under the conditions laid down in the Fisheries Northern Ireland Act 1966, it is an offence to have in their possession the fry of wild salmon and of eels. Equally Section 59 requires anyone diverting water from rivers to have both a two inch screen and a half inch lattice fitted. These requirements are accepted as being the most practical means of attempting to exclude smolts and juvenile fish. The aperture of the lattice is too large, the diameter of fry is smaller than half an inch. However to use a smaller aperture lattice would have unacceptable practical implications for fish farmers, hydro-stations and Department of Environment or other water section sites."


This suggests that a requirement of anything below half an inch is impractical. Everyone involved in fishing knows that a lot of juvenile fish can pass through a half inch wide gap with ease. What is the answer?


Mr Beach: Why would it be impractical in Northern Ireland when it is not so in the South of Ireland, Scotland, England, or anywhere else? These screens can be a nuisance, particularly in flood conditions when all manner of trash is carried along the river. This is part of the litter problem in Northern Ireland. A lot of litter passes down our river and this blocks the screens. The screens and hydros must be serviced every morning, otherwise they get blocked.


There are examples where someone has gone in the morning to service a screen at a fish farm or a hydro, found a tree trunk or something blocking the flow, and simply lifted the gate and let the obstruction go down the river. That is a serious criminal offence and it must be recognised as such. At the moment it is not being treated as one.


The Chairperson: Thank you for the information that you have given us today. This will all be put together and distilled down into a report which will contain recommendations. The report will then be passed to the Minister and the Department. The points that you have made today will be a valuable part of that process.


Mr Beach: We as anglers are very grateful that the Committee has recognised the importance of angling in the Province. Thank you.



Planning permission for this hydro at the Old Bleach site, Randalstown was granted on 19 May 1995. Certain conditions were attached to the Planning Permission and I refer now to the relevant conditions:

1. Automatic flow sensors shall be installed and continuously operated, calibrated to the permitted flow rate of 5.78 cumecs and the turbine shall be shut down when the river level of flow fell below 5.78 cumecs. (To the best of our knowledge these sensors were never installed.)

2. In order that immediate action can be taken, a recording device shall be attached to the electric screen to alert the operator of power failure and/or damage to the screen rendering it ineffectual. (A meeting was held at the site of the electric gate screen at the tail of the tail race, attended by officials from FCB, the Department, UAF and myself and it was agreed that this tell-tale light should be installed at a point easily visible at the Grand Entrance to Shanes Castle. This has never been installed, although there is a light at the hydro plant. This is no help to our River Bailliff.)

The flow rate of water required by the Consent over the weir and closure of the turbine was as follows:

The turbine shall not be operated from 1800 hours each Friday to 0600 hours each Monday during the period 15 June to 14 October inclusive each year, and no water shall be extracted during the time when the turbine is not operating. (This flow regime has been found unsatisfactory, various alternatives have been tried and we are currently coming to the end of a Variation that was granted from 20 July to 12 December this year when the flow rate was to be as follows):

(a) The operator shall make available a minimum of 2.78 cumecs in the fish pass at all times when this flow is available.

(b) The operator shall not generate when the river flow is below 5.78 cumecs.

(c) When the river flow exceeds 15 cumecs, the operator shall reduce generation to allow 12 cumecs to spill at the weir for the period the flow exceeds 15 cumecs.

I understand this Variation is working reasonably well.

The point I want to make is that we are not against development, but we are critical of the speed with which Planning Consent was granted and the complete lack of consultation with fishing experts that took place prior to the Planning Consent being given. We don't know who advised on the original flow regime and closure hours but it was quickly seen not to work, hence the Variations.

Finally, I want to return briefly to what I refer to as "policing". Whatever regime may be agreed and implemented, the introduction is of absolutely no value whatsoever unless it is properly and regularly policed by the relevant body, ie in most cases the FCB. FCB claim they don't have sufficient funds. If that is the case they must be granted funds and they have a duty to monitor or, where they have agreed to monitor, they must do this and take action through the courts where agreements have been broken.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Agnew
Mr Davis
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr J Wilson

Mr Finn )
Mr Galbraith ) Fisheries Conservancy
Dr Roberts ) Board
Ms Simpson )


The Chairperson: Good afternoon, you are very welcome. As you will be aware, the Committee normally listens to a presentation of about 10 minutes from witnesses. We have had the opportunity of reading your submission. Perhaps you could make your presentation and afterwards we will ask you some questions on it.


Dr Roberts: I will make the presentation, although as neither Mr Galbraith nor I is involved in direct day-to-day management, most of the questions will be fielded by the executive and deputy chief executive officers. We will obviously answer questions as well.


Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear this afternoon. The Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB) is a self-financing, non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). It was established under the Fisheries Act (Northern Ireland) 1966, and the Fisheries (Amendment) (NI) Order 1983. The FCB is responsible for conservation of salmon and inland fisheries in Northern Ireland, except in the Newry and Londonderry areas, which are now the responsibility of the Loughs Agency.


In order to generate income the board also undertakes agency work on behalf of DCAL, providing a bailiffing service for the public angling estate, and on behalf of the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) of the Department of the Environment (DOE) by undertaking pollution control duties and routine river monitoring.


Based on 1999 figures, the main sources of income for the board are licence fees of approximately £300,000, representing 36% of our income; bailiffing for DCAL, for which we get £96,000, representing 11% of our income; pollution control and monitoring on behalf of the EHS which earns us £406,000, representing 48%; and fines, sales of seized equipment, et cetera, which come to a total of approximately £44,000, which is 5% of our income.


The board's key outputs are divisible into statutory duties and the agency works I have already referred to. First, the statutory duties include enforcing the statutory provisions contained in the Fisheries Act and the associated by-laws. Secondly, the board provides protection to salmon and inland fisheries within its areas of responsibility. Thirdly, the FCB undertakes legal proceedings for the enforcement of these statutory provisions.


Agency work for DCAL includes checking permits to ensure that no illegal fishing methods are being used, enforcing the by-laws, regulating fishing, preserving good order among anglers and providing a bailiffing service with an agreed cost to DCAL within a range of 5% of the agreed budgets and 5% of the budgets agreed for each designated water.


The agency work for the EHS includes investigating and documenting agricultural pollution incidents and all fish kills referred to the FCB by the Environment and Heritage Service or fish kills discovered during routine duties within an agreed timescale. Secondly, the board gives advice on new consents for discharge and inspects adjacent watercourses in relation to such consents and discharges. Thirdly, the FCB routinely samples and examines waterways in accordance with an agreed programme. Finally, the board makes follow-up visits on various incidents, does river walking and makes awareness visits to farms in targeted catchment areas.


The board has over many years expressed a strongly held view that it is essential that it receives core funding to support its operations, management and administration. The board awaits the outcome of a bid to DCAL for additional funding for specific purposes, and you already know that DCAL is about to commission a further review of the board.


The Fisheries Conservancy Board welcomes these developments. However, it continues to emphasise that the effective performance of its duties is constrained by this absence of core funding. As I indicated earlier, it is forced to deploy its scarce manpower resources on agency work to generate income. We feel that this reduces its effectiveness in devoting sufficient resources to its statutory and development responsibilities. Recently this concern has been heightened by the potential withdrawal of agency work by the EHS, which currently accounts for 48% of the board's income. This is a major concern. Forward planning is difficult in this climate of uncertainty and, perhaps more importantly, there is a reduction in staff morale. The board is proud of the dedication and commitment that staff have continued to show in these difficult circumstances.


The lack of appropriate funding has also prevented the board from undertaking activities that are important for the conservation and protection of salmon in inland fisheries. An obvious example is the salmon tagging scheme, which was mentioned in our submission. The board had originally hoped to implement this scheme on 1 January this year, but two factors prevented this. The first problem was the timescale needed to implement the necessary legislation and the second was that our request for additional funding was not met. We had then hoped to implement this scheme from 1 January 2001, again subject to the confirmation of appropriate additional funding. We are awaiting the outcome of the Department's bid for additional funding. Together with the timescale needed to implement potential changes to the licence structure, this has meant that the Board has reluctantly decided to defer the implementation of the scheme for a further year. Again this is subject to funding availability.


Our bid for funding was around £44,000 to introduce the scheme. Equivalent funding for a parallel scheme in the Republic of Ireland equates to £750,000 in the first year, £497,000 in the second year and £493,000 in the third year. This suggests that our original figure was too low and we feel it should be increased to allow effective introduction of the scheme. The board continues to support the Salmon Management Plan. Again, the installation of fish passes and counting facilities will require considerable input by the staff of the board. The costs associated with maintenance and monitoring have been estimated at £17,000 per annum, excluding additional staffing costs. The long-term success of the plan may require the appointment of a full-time co-ordinator or biologist. The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission has employed a biologist and IT specialist to manage and maintain similar counting facilities in its area of operation. Additional resources are required to provide information on habitat and electrofishing surveys.


At the moment, this is being funded by the INTERREG programme, but we need to secure additional funding for future work as the information generated by these surveys is essential to the success of salmon management in general.


I shall move on to our relationship with some of the angling clubs. Many angling clubs have benefited from European funding under salmon enhancement programmes and have developed and enhanced their rivers. They expect continued service in the areas of conservation and protection. These ongoing developments and improvements can only be sustained by an adequate level of protection which the FCB will endeavour to provide within its financial constraints.


Recent powers to be conferred on the FCB by the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill - in particular, reinstatement of habitat following pollution offences - will create a demand for specialist resources to carry out the necessary evaluations and surveys.


The FCB is increasingly concerned about the health and safety of its field staff. In the past we have been able to make full use of the ACE scheme, but this scheme is no longer available. Field staff frequently work alone except for planned operations. This is of concern to the FCB for a number of reasons. One reason is that if an officer were to have an accident it may be some time before assistance arrives. The FCB does not expect its field staff to work alone in the hours of darkness, so this limits its effectiveness in some ways. This can have an impact on our response to pollution incidents, which do not work a nine-to-five day.


There have been recent reports of attacks on field staff employed by the Loughs Agency. This illustrates the potential dangers faced by our field staff, some of whom have also experienced similar attacks in the past.


The FCB is convinced that if properly funded it can provide a highly effective service in the area of conservation, protection and development, and it will do this with the knowledge, expertise and commitment of its staff. This is particularly important at this time of great change in Northern Ireland.


The Chairperson: I shall begin the questions with one concerning the enhancement of inland fisheries. You commented on the need for resources, but in tandem with that you mentioned the need for more effective liaison and communication between Departments with responsibility for, among other things, planning, policy, drainage and pollution. What do you perceive to be the failure of the current approach with regard to the liaison among these organisations? Can this be rectified under the current structures or should some new committee or body with representatives from each Department be established to address pertinent issues.


Mr Finn: We feel very strongly that the FCB should be involved in the early discussion of matters pertaining to the interests of fisheries. I think that you are hinting that there are a number of agencies who have an input into planning issues and other matters which directly affect fisheries - this may cause problems. It is most important that the FCB remains as a statutory consultee in these issues. If that breaks down then there is a problem when developments take place on a fishery and the FCB is asked to comment.


Much knowledge has been built up by the FCB and its staff, and we are very keen that the liaison mechanisms that exist between the FCB, DCAL and the EHS continue. Those are in place, and it is important that they are seen to be working.


In most areas the board relies on close co-operation on the ground between its officers and officers from other agencies - for instance, with inspectors from DCAL's Inland Fisheries Division and the Rivers Agency. However, a new committee could be formed to oversee any developments taking place in or near a fishery, which would include an input from the Planning Service. We have little liaison with the Planning Service, and it has given us little support; it tends to approve developments without appropriate consultation.


The role of a new committee should be very carefully defined. We do not want to create a toothless bureaucratic structure that is not hands-on.


The Chairperson: Thank you.


Mr McCarthy: You have raised concerns about water pollution, particularly eutrophication. Considering the diffuse nature of this type of pollution, what would you suggest to address the problem?


Mr Finn: This is a particularly interesting subject with relation to fisheries and large inland waters such as Lough Neagh and Upper and Lower Lough Erne. Eutrophication - whereby water is enriched with chemicals, allowing profuse weed growth, et cetera - is affected by a number of issues, and it detracts from fishery interests. Slurry application, in particular in cross-border areas, is a concern. There are many applications from the South to dispose of slurry through piggery outlets in the Fermanagh area, and this should be subject to greater regulation than currently exists.


We should all support the efforts of the Countryside Management Division. It is trying to set up nutrient budgets to look at eutrophication and the application of fertilisers. Ultimately, legislative powers will be required to stop the problem. If we try to promote awareness and appropriate individual behaviour and that is ineffective, we should consider a considerable financial penalty, or pollution laws, to correct this, which may or may not include the withholding or reduction of grant aid to farming communities.


Most importantly there is a need for further research. The Aquatic and Environmental Science Division informs us that our lakes are becoming more enriched. This will affect fishery interests, and we should take any remedial action we can. Some legislative measures are in place in the South of Ireland that are not paralleled in the North. There seems to be a problem with introducing effective legislation to control the use of fertilisers, and on phosphate removal and sewage works, before discharges to a watercourse. These issues need to be addressed.


Mr McCarthy: Do you think the water-quality management plans that have already been produced, if implemented, would adequately address the problem of water pollution?


Mr Finn: There are a number of water-quality management plans. The board sits on a water-quality management committee, which was set up a number of years ago under a different name, then gradually fell away, and has now been reborn. The point should be made that although a group of people on a committee can develop a water-quality management plan, the only change in water quality will come through direct action to reduce the source of this pollution.


Again, we certainly welcome water quality management plans, but we would like to see some direct action taken as well.


Mr McCarthy: You have stated that the various education and awareness-raising programmes need to be supported with rigorous and effective enforcement of legislation and the application of appropriate penalties by the courts. This suggests that the current enforcement of legislation and penalties issued by the courts are not having the desired effect. We were recently informed of a case where a polluter was brought to court and instructed to do something. He did not do it. At the next sitting of the court he pleaded poverty, and the guy got away with the polluting. Would you advocate greater penalties for polluters? If so, what?


Mr Finn: It is certainly the view of the board that the current penalties imposed by courts are not having the desired effect in dissuading potential polluters. The maximum fine under the Water Act legislation is £20,000 plus the possibility of a custodial sentence. In my experience that has never been imposed, but, in fairness, it would relate to a particularly bad incident. It certainly would seem that an effective deterrent is available but, realistically, the courts in our experience are unlikely to impose this fine - or even close to it - unless it is in relation to a conviction for a major deliberate or industrial incident. We also find that courts are likely to offset a fine against other costs, such as restocking fish, the sample analysis and the court costs. As you quite rightly say, the legal defence often makes a case that the alleged offender is under considerable financial stress, and appeals to the magistrate that a significant fine should not be imposed. We have situations where individual farmers would not have the financial resources to meet a major fine and, in such cases, if genuine, there is a possibility that assistance would be given to that farmer in the form of grant aid to prevent pollution. However, if a resident magistrate decides to impose a minor fine we have no control over it. It is widely reported that we would like to see fines increased, but there are many mitigating circumstances which are often taken into account. The only thing the board can do is to provide a file of samples as evidence to a court. Where we feel that a persistent offender is involved we can request that a maximum fine be imposed, but we are very much in the hands of the courts. In our pollution control, we would like to be more proactive and to be out on the ground to visit farms in parallel with countryside management. It is there as an advisory body, whereas we are there as an enforcement body. There are different responses on farms when we go in and ask for something to be done. However, this approach is not really afforded a high priority by the agencies funding us at the moment. Yes, we would like to see higher fines. Whether that will prevent a person persistently causing pollution we really do not know. It is out of our control.


The Chairperson: I think the case Mr McCarthy referred to was already part of a submission that we received in evidence and concerned a fish farm. The question that was raised was "Do you as a body or as a board - even after the case did not succeed -not take any consultative steps to ensure that problems do not arise again in the future?". And there was also evidence to indicate that there seemed to be a lack of communication with the anglers' group concerned, and some difficulty in getting in contact with you and getting replies. It was even pointed out in evidence to us, submitted in writing, that since you were partly funded by anglers that the service did not seem to be good enough. Can you respond directly to that particular type of evidence that we received?


Ms Simpson: I would apologise to the Committee through the Chairperson for my lack of voice.


If the case you are referring to is Otterburn Fish Farm, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has issued a revised exemption permit to the farm following the closure of criminal proceedings. Senior officers of the Fisheries Conservancy Board have visited the farm on numerous occasions since the issue of that permit, and we are monitoring compliance with the revised terms and have issued a warning letter. We do follow up instances where it is appropriate to do so.


The Chairperson: In the evidence that we received, it was not stated that, while being dismissive, the board was not communicating enough with the anglers' groups.


Ms Simpson: I have been in correspondence with the Maine Enhancement Partnership regarding the case and would refute any suggestion that we were dismissive of their concerns in any way.


The Chairperson: I did not use the word "dismissive" - there just seemed to be a lack of communication.


Ms Simpson: Correspondence was responded to. I think the partnership was disappointed in the outcome of that prosecution.


The Chairperson: I would refer to one particular part of the evidence submitted which said that it was not good enough just to acknowledge Mr Peter Carty's letter, advising him that it was receiving attention, - as you did on 2 May - and then do nothing further. I presume from what you have said in evidence to us that you have done something further, but the issue is letting the angling group know what you have done. I was hinting that perhaps this may have been a problem.


Ms Simpson: Without having the correspondence before me it is difficult to be specific about dates. Certainly there was a delay in responding to one letter - not from the partnership but from the Anglers' Conservation Association, as I felt that it was necessary for the correspondence to go before the board for a response.


The Chairperson: With reference to evidence we have taken from a number of angling clubs about the use of voluntary bailiffs, what would your views be about providing training for voluntary bailiffs and then allowing them to have the powers to take water samples where there is suspected pollution? Dr Roberts, considering your concerns at the outset about resourcing and your difficulty in finding resources to ensure a good bailiff service, would you respond as to how voluntary bailiffs could be used?


Dr Roberts: We have health and safety concerns about employing voluntary people. We have statutory obligations, and subsequent prosecutions might prove difficult if volunteer bailiffs were involved rather than full employees of the board. We have reservations about that situation. Anglers volunteering information to our bailiffs would be the best mechanism to deal with that.


The Chairperson: In the evidence we have received it has been mentioned that there is always a time gap and that it is difficult to follow up immediately on the evidence. We are suggesting changing the law to take account of some of the concerns. What is your reaction to working with fishing clubs which would provide voluntary bailiffs trained to acceptable standards?


Dr Roberts: I am advised that we would still prefer them to be in our employ because we are conducting agency work in some of our pollution monitoring for the EHS. We are agents for that and, notwithstanding your comments on proper training, we would have to meet its requirements as well as our own. We have some reservations. I am not discounting it out of hand, but we would need to take time to consider that and how it could be integrated into our operations.


The Chairperson: We would appreciate it if you could come back to us with some advice because it is an area where we have detected a shortage of resourcing. This may be a way in which it could be overcome, provided everything could be done properly to the appropriate standard.


Mr McMenamin: With regard to cases of pollution, we have heard from voluntary bailiffs taking samples of the water. However this is not recognised because it must be done by an official bailiff. It could be several hours before the bailiff arrives and by that time the pollution could be long gone. Health and safety also needs to be looked at. In the last month in my constituency of West Tyrone two bailiffs have been severely beaten, and one was hospitalised. They were voluntary bailiffs. This area really needs to be looked at. We have heard so often from groups looking for more bailiffs with the proper authority to test water.


The FCB was acting in the Newry area for the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission at the time of your submission. What was the response to your offer to continue to act as agent for the Foyle, Carlingford and Lights Commission? You also imply that staff may be laid off due to the £30,000 shortfall in funds per annum resulting from this transfer of responsibility. What would this mean for the FCB carrying out its responsibilities on the ground?


Ms Simpson: The Loughs Agency advised the FCB that

"statutory responsibilities given to the Loughs Agency of the FCILC not only include conservation and protection duties but also improvement and development in inland fisheries, marine tourism, aquaculture and shell fisheries. It believes that the division of responsibilities would not only be inefficient and prevent the establishment of a well-loaded staff unit in the area, but also would be contrary to the Implementation Bodies Order".

Each fishery conservation officer is responsible for a particular geographic area. In the event that the board had no alternative but to reduce staff. The area of responsibility for each officer would have to be enlarged to such an extent that it could not be effectively managed by one person. That would impact on the quality of service which the board could provide. For example, it would affect response times to reported pollution incidents and the level of bailiffing that we could provide. It would also have a detrimental effect on staff morale.


Mr McMenamin: I want to move on to the issue of licensing. You said there would be a reduction in revenue if the Fisheries Conservancy Board and the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission were to recognise each other's licences in certain waters. What do you estimate the loss to be? The Committee has heard from you and numerous others about the confusion in the licensing system. How can the bureaucracy involved in that be minimised?


Ms Simpson: The loss of licence revenue arising from the exclusion of the Newry area from the board's jurisdiction is estimated to be £12,000 per year. However, we cannot estimate the loss of revenue which would result from mutual recognition because we have no way of knowing the percentage of anglers who would opt for a FCB licence as opposed to FCILC licence.


A radical approach to eliminating confusion from the current licensing system would be to abolish the requirement for rod licences. This would have obvious revenue implications, and the board could not advocate such an approach unless it was assured of adequate core funding. An alternative is to create a common licence structure valid in all areas.


The distribution of revenue gained from a common licence would be difficult; it could be done according to the purchaser's postcode. However, the angling population is highly mobile, so an angler who lives in Belfast may well fish in the Foyle area. Distribution methods such as logbook analysis would impose an unacceptably heavy administrative burden. Licences are only part of the confusing documentation required to fish. Permits from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure or Bann Systems and day tickets from clubs or private fisheries may also be required to fish. These should be promoted more, particularly for the benefit of visitors. Information should be made available through tourist offices.


Mr McMenamin: Thank you.


Mr J Wilson: Thank you for your submission. The 1995 Pricewaterhouse review recommended a phased enhancement of the FCB. This implied that the FCB should, in effect, become the inland or central fisheries board. Such a board was also recommended by the Black Report in 1981. Are you in favour of a board with enhanced powers and core funding to address the fragmentation of responsibility that you refer to in your submission?


Ms Simpson: The board would be in favour of an enhancement of its role supported by core funding.


Mr J Wilson: Politicians are used to feeling unloved - not many people have nice things to say about us. From experience, not many anglers have anything decent to say about the Fisheries Conservancy Board.


For example, there are dozens of illegal nets on Lough Neagh, often throughout the season. Each time the board's attention is drawn to this, its response is disinterested, ineffective and slow but, on the other hand, it will send a bailiff to a private trout fishery and take a person to court for having no licence. Do you see any consistency in this?


Ms Simpson: As a general comment, it is inevitable that an enforcement agency will not be universally loved. In relation to monofilament net on Lough Neagh, the board is far from uninterested. Indeed, my deputy chief executive was out on an early morning patrol yesterday in response to such a report. In fact, no net was found. Using available resources, the board will certainly respond, and it welcomes reports of such activities on the lough.


Mr J Wilson: Do you have the resources to respond immediately and effectively? Reports have been made to myself, and others, that when illegal nets across the river mouths and in other places on Lough Neagh are drawn to your attention your response can take two or three days or even a week, with bailiffs unwilling to come out after five in the evening. Are these reports false?


Ms Simpson: There are certainly not nine to five hours in the operation of boat patrols or shore patrols on the lough. As far as the availability of resources is concerned, we do not facilitate 24-hour coverage of the lough as we have only one boat crew. We are not trying to justify another £95,000 boat, but had we a second crew we could bring the boat back in and turn it round again very quickly. However, there is a geographical problem. It takes time for the boat to reach certain areas from the boathouse, and a very efficient communications network advises certain people when the boat is coming out.


Mr J Wilson: It has been claimed in the political context that there is "an acceptable level of violence". Are you suggesting that there is an acceptable level of illegal netting and poaching about which you can do nothing?


Ms Simpson: Certainly not.


Mr J Wilson: Yet it happens, and it is going on as we sit here.


Ms Simpson: That may well be true. The board does not have the evidence to support it. The patrol did not find the reported net yesterday morning. Additional resources would certainly enable us to provide an even greater presence. The board will not accept any level of illegal activity of any description.


Mr J Wilson: It is rather difficult to explain that to a person fishing on a private trout farm who has neglected to take out a licence and is to be taken to court. It is difficult for him to believe that the board's actions are fair.


Dr Roberts: One can only prosecute where one has the evidence, and if we have evidence in the case you cite, it is our statutory obligation to prosecute. In Ms Simpson's example, there was not the necessary evidence. We do not condone illegal activities in any way.


I am a marine biologist by trade and an external chairman, but one can see from the map that Lough Neagh is a huge area. Without more resources to staff our investigative vessel it is very difficult to cover every inch. By the time we have responded to reports, the culprits can remove the evidence. It is not an easy situation to police. We have already heard examples mentioned of violence directed at bailiffing agents - not only ours, but also voluntary bailiffs. Indeed, our previous boat was attacked and sunk on the lough.


It is not easy, and I understand the concern from your constituents that it seems unfair.


It is like my being prosecuted for speeding when somebody else appears not to be being prosecuted for a more serious infringement. Sorry, I digress.


Dr Adamson: Your willingness to enter into discussion with other bodies regarding the future management and development of the public angling estate implies that you might be interested in taking responsibility for it. Who should be responsible for it? Is the estate underutilised and lacking in investment and promotion?


Mr Finn: The board is certainly of the view that it should, and could, take responsibility for the public angling estate provided that there is appropriate funding to manage it. We are agreed that the public angling estate is underutilised. It has lacked investment and proper promotion in the past because of a lack of resources. We cannot blame DCAL or the old Department as they have not had money to do anything. The public angling estate has considerable potential. This could be realised by the development of appropriate facilities and proper management. Some moves were made, through PricewaterhouseCoopers, towards enhancing the board to enable it to take responsibility for the estate and fish farms. This initiative was not funded, however, so financially it was a non-runner. If we take over some angling waters, we will make an improvement, but that will cost money.


Mr Agnew: I refer to coarse fishing and wish to put two questions on the board's submission which states that coarse fisheries should be developed in appropriate waters for the benefit of local and tourist anglers. Would a concentration of limited resources on improving the existing quality of fishing not benefit anglers more than investment in new projects?


You also mention the introduction of carp to Ballyroney Lake, as recently licensed by the Minister. What are the potential advantages and pitfalls of expanding this type of coarse fishery in Northern Ireland?


Mr Finn: The Fisheries Conservancy Board is responsible for the conservation and protection of inland fisheries, both game and coarse. There is a tremendous demand for coarse fisheries in Northern Ireland from tourists and resident anglers. The Coarse Fishing Federation suggests that the development of coarse fisheries is an area worth exploring, given its potential. Tremendous benefit to local communities could stem from this. A tourist promoter has given us some figures for pike fishing, which is quite a specialised branch of coarse fishing. Two specialist coarse anglers coming over to fish for pike spend approximately £730 each during a visit of one week - this is a very conservative estimate and excludes their travel costs. That is an important thing to bear in mind.


The board also receives a lot of criticism from the Pike Society about netting in areas like Lough Beg and the Lower Bann where pike are known to be numerous. We do not have the resources, boats and staff to patrol those areas 24 hours a day. We detected a known offender in that area, but as soon as we seized his boat, nets, and several very large pike that he had taken illegally, it was reported to us that he was back out again. He had stolen a boat and was going out under oars.


A high level of protection and management is needed. National and European interest in coarse fishing is also demonstrated. For example, thousands of anglers attend the Erne Festival each year to fish in the classic competition. While they are here, they fish elsewhere, generating a huge income for the country. Once the necessary facilities are installed coarse fisheries are largely self-sustaining and can be maintained by good husbandry. Carp fishing is a relatively new concept.


Our policy provides for the introduction and regulation of carp and the potential pitfalls associated with the risk of their escape into the natural watercourse, threatening fish health. The board is concerned that carp can carry a disease which affects indigenous fish in local waters and, if they escape, they may also compete for habitat. Carp should only be introduced to landlocked sites or those with maximum protection to prevent them from escaping.


Dr Adamson: I return to questions on salmon management. You, and many others, have told us that the Atlantic salmon population and the spawning stock in rivers are in decline. In the absence of a long-term international strategy to address these linked problems, would the salmon population in rivers increase if commercial netting around Northern Ireland was stopped? How would stopping this netting affect your organisation's income? The ultimate aim of the enhancement of fisheries in Northern Ireland is an increase in fish in our rivers. You welcome the investment in the Salmon Management Plan but how has it benefited anglers ¾ has the scheme resulted in an increase in salmon numbers? Why invest in salmon management plans if commercial nets are preventing salmon from getting into rivers in the first place?


Ms Simpson: On 25 October the board will hear a presentation by scientists from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Division on the status of salmon stocks in Northern Ireland. Based on the scientists' findings and advice the board will consider precautionary measures to reduce exploitation.


If commercial netting ended, the board's annual income would be reduced by £44,000 pounds. It is too early to establish objectively if the scheme will increase salmon in our rivers. Counting facilities are being installed in the fish passes which, when operational, will provide the data to support effective salmon management.


The purpose of the Salmon Management Plan is to identify the problems facing salmon fisheries ¾ exploitation in marine and fresh water, water quality, habitat suitability and availability, and the distribution and success of natural spawning. The Salmon Management Plan will buy fish counters to establish the number of fish entering the rivers. If insufficient fish enter the rivers, there will be justification for a reduction in commercial exploitation.


Dr Adamson: You referred to the need for a management strategy for eel stocks.


Do you see this as a function that the FCB should undertake given an appropriate level of funding?


Mr Finn: The board is keen to instigate an eel management plan. The commercial fishery on Lough Neagh is extremely important and is worth a considerable amount of money. We do not know - apart from the quotas in place through the Toome co-operative - exactly what the potential fishery abundance is in Lough Neagh. We are depending on these fish to naturally replenish and provide recruitment for that fishery.


The eel fishery should be looked at in considerable detail. This has taken place in Lough Erne through the Northern Regional Fishery Board, which has received some grant aid for that purpose. It has revealed a few problems associated with the eel fishery, with parasites being detected. This will cost a considerable amount of money, but will be worthwhile.


Mr McCarthy: Regarding the current structure of the FCB, you have suggested that it may not be the most appropriate to deliver its functions, and you suggest a smaller board. Has your organisation any plans to restructure accordingly? How will you retain the breadth of representation you currently have with a reduced number of representatives?


Mr Finn: The board did not suggest its current structure was not the most appropriate to deliver the functions. It rather recognises the current structure may not facilitate the optimum effectiveness of the management of the board's activities in the future. Restructuring the board will require a legislative change. The Act states what the composition and numbers of the board should be. There is no desire to change that in the near future. The board does not envisage advancing proposals in this area. We want to retain the current breadth of representation, which is most important to facilitate discussion and decision making. However, there may be scope to reduce the numbers of people sitting on the board. One approach may be to expand the remit and membership of the existing executive committee of the board, but we expect that to be supported by a fully representative advisory council.


Mr McCarthy: Where in your organisation would you concentrate investment if core funding were to be approved?


Mr Finn: We will look towards field staff and equipment to deliver a more effective service, particularly in areas of the board's statutory functions. This will result in increased protection and will facilitate data collection in respect of our fisheries.


Mr McCarthy: Can you explain how you have managed to go from a £65,000 surplus in 1995 to a deficit of £19,000 in 1998? You have predicted a loss of £30,000 due to the transfer of responsibility for the Newry area to the FCILC yet expenses for your field staff have risen by £30,000 between 1995 and 1998. Why has these expenses increased so much?


Ms Simpson: The clearest approach is to break it down into the years. At the end of 1995 there was a £65,000 surplus. At the end of 1996 that was reduced to a £14,700 surplus, the difference being £50,300.


During that year income decreased by £39,700, mainly due to agency work, while expenditure increased by £53,900. Salaries rose by 12% due to the introduction of performance-related pay, pension contributions increased by 9%, and the depreciation figure increased by 49% due to the purchase of a new boat. There was also an industrial tribunal payment of £10,000. The total effect was a negative amount of £93,200. This was offset by a special payment of £43,000 from the EHS to reflect updated service costs from 1993 to 1995.


The £14,700 surplus in 1996 became a £76,000 deficit at the end of 1997. Income had decreased by £44,000, reflecting that there was no special payment from the EHS as there had been the previous year. Expenditure increased by £47,000 - £38,000 was in relation to an industrial tribunal settlement, and employer pension contributions increased by £22,000, as advised by the scheme actuary. Those two elements alone provided a total increase of £60,000. Actual expenditure rose by £47,000, demonstrating that savings were achieved elsewhere. At the end of the three years, the £76,000 deficit at the end of 1997 had been reduced to a £19,000 deficit at the end of 1998. Income increased by £7,000 and expenditure decreased by £55,000 which, together with a minor decrease in bank interest, reduced the deficit.


The increase in the field staff expenses from 1995 to 1998 relates to two main items. Depreciation increased from nearly £10,000 in 1995 to £33,000 in 1998, reflecting the increased value of premises, boats and equipment owned by the board. That alone was an increase of £23,000. Pension contributions increased from £36,000 in 1995 to £63,000 in 1998 because the employers contribution increased over that period from 12·4% to 18·4% on the advice of the actuary. That constitutes another £27,000, so although field staff expenses actually went up by £30,000, those two items alone accounted for £60,000 increase. That was offset by savings achieved in other areas.


The Chairperson: We have almost completed our questioning. We were looking at structure and changes to the FCB. One of the earliest submissions we had - and it is a theme which has continued - was about the membership of angling fraternity representatives on the board. The board was criticised for not having enough angling representatives. If you restructure the board do you think you might take that particular issue on board and try to ensure there is a more reflective voice?


Ms Simpson: Our current structure provides for full members from the Northern Ireland Association of Angling Clubs and independent anglers - giving six out of a total of 20.


If one was going down the route of an expanded executive committee, supported by an advisory council, the angling community would have to have effective representation on that committee. There should also be a balance from the other interests in fisheries.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much for coming along and for spending a little more time than you may have allowed for. This inquiry has been going on for some time and we are now reaching the end of it. There is a process of distillation already taking place, and we hope to prepare our report and a set of recommendations for the Minister towards the end of November. It may take longer, but that is our target. Your evidence today has been an important part of that whole process and we thank you very much for it.



Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr McCarthy
Mr McMenamin
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr M McGimpsey ) Minister of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Ms H Campbell ) Inland Waterways and Fisheries
Mr M McCaughan ) Deputy Chief Fisheries Officer
Mr G O'Neill ) Senior Fisheries Officer
Dr Walter Crozier ) Principal Scientific Officer, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development


The Chairperson: The Minister will make a short statement by way of introduction and then there will be a question and answer session.


Mr McGimpsey: Dr Walter Crozier, a scientist who works primarily on the River Bush at the Bush station, will answer any questions of a scientific nature.


In the inland fisheries there are three customer groups - the game and coarse anglers; the commercial fishery sector; and the inland aquaculture business, for example, fish farms. These sectors all contribute to economic development in Northern Ireland. The commercial fishing industry is worth about £4 million per annum providing full or part-time employment for some 500 people. The inland aquaculture industry produces in the region of 800 tonnes of rainbow trout per annum valued at around £1·5 million. These figures are lower than what was quoted in our written statement - more up-to-date information has since become available.


We have no definitive data on the value of angling to the Northern Ireland economy. We know from the sales of angling licences that there are about 20,000 anglers in Northern Ireland and the Tourist Board estimates that we get approximately 8,000 visiting anglers per year. Based on the experience in the Republic of Ireland there must be some potential for expanding angling tourism and the angling tourism market in Northern Ireland. That is a major potential growth area for tourism.


The Tourist Board has identified angling as one of the five key areas for investing in a targeted marketing and promotions campaign. To make this worthwhile the angling product needs to be developed to command an international reputation. That is one of my principle objectives in the Department. Coarse fishing has perhaps the greatest tourist demand and potential, and we have supported the establishment of a coarse fish hatchery to enable development of this resource in the Erne and Melvin catchments. The Department has also recently revised policy to enable limited development of carp fisheries which will strengthen coarse angling facilities locally.


An important balance must be struck between the exploitation of fisheries and the conservation and protection of fish stocks to ensure that we can sustain a healthy industry in the future. Fishing therefore needs to be strictly regulated and controlled. This is one of our key functions, and it is delivered through the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB). In summary, the Department's main functions are conservation and the protection of salmon and inland fisheries. That is carried out through the FCB regulating and assisting the development of private fisheries, commercial fisheries and inland aquaculture. Assistance is provided by way of advice from the Department's technical staff to the industry and through the provision of grant aid to assist investment and the provision of public angling facilities through the management and development of the public angling estate.


I am committed to maintaining and improving the public angling estate, which provides an excellent range of venues for the public at cheaper prices than private angling. One of the key issues which has been brought to the Committee's attention is funding. It is apparent that the level of funding transferred to my Department from the former Department of Agriculture is insufficient to provide the level of service that we want to provide. Specific funding pressures that I wish to draw your attention to concern the Fisheries Conservancy Board. Currently the FCB does not receive any core funding from central Government, and that is a problem. It has been operating at a financial deficit for some years. I accept that it is not feasible for the board to take additional enforcement duties to protect fish stocks and implement the Salmon Carcass Tagging Scheme from the income generated from licence fees.


Similarly, additional funding is needed for the public angling estate, not only to maintain the existing facilities, but to improve public access and the quality of fishing to make the estate more attractive. I bid for additional funding in the spending review 2000 and I am hopeful that I will be able to secure at least some of what we have requested. I have also sought assistance for an angling development programme under the next round of EU structural funds as a follow-up to the Salmonid Enhancement Programme (SEP) for habitat improvement, stock enhancement and improvement of access facilities. As we mentioned in our earlier session, we also suffer from outdated legislation. The legislation inherited by my Department dates back to the 1960s.


There are also wider structural issues created by the split between sea and inland fisheries and, furthermore, the creation of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. This has led to some fragmentation of responsibilities concerning funding.


Pollution has been constantly in the news because of the high incidences of it. We have already discussed some of this today, but I must mention pollution, even though responsibility for pollution control is not in my Department's remit. The number of fish kills this year has been deplorable and some have been severe, for example, the Moyola incident which caused significant damage to the fish population. My staff have been working with angling clubs on the Salmonid Enhancement Programme, and it is very discouraging for them to see the results of that work obliterated because of a pollution incident. The FCB carries out pollution detection and prosecution work on behalf of the Department of the Environment's Environment and Heritage Service.


I am keen to ensure that anti-pollution laws are rigorously applied and enforced. The Committee will be aware that the key to the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, which was discussed this morning, is that the board must have the power to pursue the polluter and make him pay. That is the only way that we are going to get relief on this issue.


The other issue is water abstraction, and the Committee will be aware of anglers' concerns that adequate fishery protection measures are in place at water abstraction facilities and primarily at hydro-electric developments. We are also aware of a requirement under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) relating to the production of energy, which means that hydro- electric schemes are not going to go away. We need to look closely at this, and there are concerns that proper fishery protection measures are in place and are adequate and working.


The last issue I come to is the status of wild fish stocks. The Department is aware of international concerns about the declining population of wild salmon stocks in the North Atlantic. We are committed to a precautionary approach to the conservation, management and exploitation of salmon. To support this the Department is working with the FCB and the Department of Agriculture on the implementation of the Salmon Management Plan, focused on catchment-based spawning targets as required by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO), Recent advice from scientists about declining marine survival has raised concerns about the future stock status of wild salmon. We are now addressing this with the FCB.


I am aware from questions forwarded to me that this issue is of particular interest to the Committee. I am happy to end there and deal with any questions you may have. To deal with any technical questions I am supported by Dr Walter Crozier, who is a scientist and our own in-house expert.


Mr J Wilson: The content of my question will come as no surprise to the Minister. The angling inquiry is reaching the end of its work in terms of taking evidence and calling public hearings. Repetitively and with unmistakable clarity each hearing has focused on a number of issues which individually and collectively have brought the sport of freshwater game angling almost to its knees. These issues include legal and illegal netting and pollution - agricultural, industrial and by Government agencies. Arising from these problems are issues such as poor detection and conviction practices, derisory fines and poor water quality. There are also the serious eutrophication problems on our large lakes - Lough Erne and Lough Neagh - which I saw for myself for the first time last year. Surprisingly it was also on Lough Melvin. Other problems are poaching in all its forms; drainage practices, which have caused havoc on our nursery streams; hydroelectric plants and other water abstraction practices; and the complexity of the licence and permit arrangements. Overriding all of this is the serious underfunding of the Fisheries Department and the FCB during the latter years of direct rule which led to ineffective practices.


In the short time that you, Minister, have been at the helm, do you recognise that this is not just an angler's whinge and that we are looking at serious problems? What message do you have for the angling community to show that you recognise the seriousness of the problems and that you are in a position to deal with them urgently?


Mr McGimpsey: I hope, as I have indicated in my opening statement, that we are aware of the seriousness of these problems. That is one of the reasons this Department was set up in the manner and with the responsibility that it has. In those areas such as pollution, water abstraction, outdated legislation and powers to make the polluter pay, et cetera, over the past 25 years of direct rule little or no interest was shown by the Government.


I hope there is a new beginning now. To address all the issues that were raised will have consequences for revenue. I have to bid for revenue, and there are many serious issues - not just in this area, but in others, not least health, education and the infrastructure - that have suffered from neglect and underfunding for 25 years. However, we do not require much money to make a difference in this area. We are not looking for tens or hundreds of millions of pounds. Comparitively modest sums will allow us to make progress, for example, to employ extra staff in the Department and the FCB. The FCB has only 15 staff at present, but about 30 staff are required to do the job properly. That would cost approximately £250,000 per annum and would empower the FCB. We intend to review the FCB shortly to find out how it can adapt to the changing situation.


There are other areas, which my colleagues can talk about, that are outside our control. For example, the declining numbers of salmon returns is a direct result of falling salmon survival rates in their natural marine environment. What happens in the Atlantic is beyond our control. However, measures within our jurisdiction can be taken to enhance the survival and return rates, perhaps by examining ways of reducing predation or helping fish to escape nets. Angling is far more valuable to the economy than commercial netting.


We want to look at those areas, and again, relatively modest sums of money will enable the Department to make a difference. It looks after all of inland fisheries, and there is fragmentation, for example, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, and between ourselves and DARD, which is responsible for marine matters. It is not simply a case of "suck it and see"; it is a case of taking one step at a time. There is enough expertise in this Committee to highlight the concerns and problems that exist, and the Department has sufficient skills to address those concerns. Exercises such as this are invaluable for all of us, because we can exchange opinions, views, suggestions, ideas and proposals. I am not unduly pessimistic. It is a pity that this did not happen long ago, but we must start from where we are.


Mr J Wilson: Thank you, Minister. The angling community will be reassured by your comments. My antennae immediately picked up on one thing, and that was the review of the FCB. Would it not be good practice to await the outcome of the angling inquiry before proceeding with that, because you will be aware that the FCB has come under the microscope during the course of this inquiry?


Mr McGimpsey: That is useful advice. There is no plan to launch the review immediately. Your inquiry's findings will be useful to it, but most of us believe that the FCB needs enhanced responsibilities - particular in light of the legislation that we examined this morning - and that has consequences for revenue.


We are looking at how the FCB could effectively police matters such as pollution control. A lot of that is down to the fact that it does not have the personnel. It would not require huge amounts of money to produce the complement of people that we need and to define their strategy and business plan. It can be something as simple as that. I take the point. The findings of this inquiry will be very useful in informing any future review.


The Chairperson: Thank you. A lot of the issues that you touched on will come up again in more detail during the questioning.


You mentioned the serious decline in wild salmon stocks, particularly in the marine environment. On page five of your submission you say that if this trend continues, there may have to be further restrictions on the exploitation of salmon stocks. At what stage would that happen? How serious does it have to become before the Department takes action? Would it not be better to abide by the precautionary principle and place restrictions on the exploitation of salmon stocks now? Even a temporary prohibition, until we see exactly where we are, might help.


With regard to the commercial netting of wild salmon, has the Department determined whether a prohibition on commercial netting would increase salmon numbers in freshwater conditions? Would the economic benefits of angling tourism not outweigh the loss of jobs and income from closing commercial salmon netting fisheries?


Mr McGimpsey: Our scientists have informed both the Department and the FCB of a recent serious decline in the natural marine survival of salmon, with implications for future stock status. There is a four-year cycle. A decline in natural marine survival will have a kick-on effect, and that will show up in actual numbers four years later.


As I understand it, returns on the River Bush this year were about 1,000. That is down from around 4,000 two or three years ago. It rises and falls, so it is hard to be absolutely definite about the numbers, but what we can do is determine trends. The average return rate of wild salmon to coastal waters has halved from about 30% to 15%.


As I said, some of the factors implicated in the decline in marine survival are outside our control, but our scientists have indicated that precautionary restrictions on exploitation will be required in order to compensate for poorer natural survival and protect the stock. A special meeting of the FCB to discuss these issues has been arranged for 25 October. The Department will consider, as a matter of priority, any recommendations that the board may make.


The Committee should note that is only because of the River Bush project that we are in a position to quantify these trends. It is important to see them. It is not simply a matter of taking a count year in, year out. There is a rise and fall, but we do see a trend. The returns this year have been poor. We need to be able to build the model to give us the potential effects on the stock status and the scientific data on natural marine survival and marine exploitation.


It is a learning curve for me. I did not know much about the life cycle of salmon six months ago, and there are probably many people who would say that I do not know much about it now, but I do recognise that a number of factors contribute to the decline.


The trend is clear - there is a serious decline in salmon returns. Each year the class of spawners contributes recruits to the next generation, and that next generation occurs four years later. Therefore if you have a major decline in year one, that has a knock-on effect and really bites in after four years.


NASCO seeks to apply the precautionary approach, primarily through setting river-specific spawning targets, with action if stock levels fall below those limits. Work is under way on a salmon management plan for the FCB area, based on that principle. In this case, however, we are going further than NASCO suggests by using additional sources of evidence on marine survival to give precautionary advice to managers on stock status. It is clear that we require action. The next stage will be on 25 October with the FCB.


Fish returns are down from 30% to 15%, and commercial nets take about 60% of the fish returning to home waters. Using this information, our scientists have developed a model which can provide an assessment of possible positive impact on return rates to fresh water, under reduced levels of marine exploitation. The model is used to advise the FCB. As I have already said, there is much greater value from rod-caught salmon than from netted fish.


We are looking at much wider water-based tourism. There are issues of employment, accommodation, transport, gillie services and sale of sundries. There is huge potential.


We estimate that it would require quite a substantial figure to buy out the nets; I do not want to be specific in public. However, we do recognise that about 60% of fish returning are taken by commercial netters. If you consider that our returns on salmon are down by half - from about 30% to 15% - it gives you an indication of the effect that netting has.


The Chairperson: Are you saying that there is a point at which you accede that one outweighs the other?


Mr McGimpsey: Absolutely. I think that that is very important. There is a balance to be struck. However, the marine environment is outside our control to some extent. We also have to look at areas within our control. Perhaps Walter Crozier could explain how the models are produced.


Dr Crozier: The Minister is right in his broad assessment. We have given very clear, firm advice to the FCB, through the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure, about our concerns on the decline in natural marine survival. Salmon marine survival has been declining in many other areas for some years now. We were quite fortunate in that that decline did not affect our stocks until quite recently. However, because of the work in the Bush river, we have been able to show that, in the last two years, the survival rate has fallen to an all-time low.


It is plain from a scientific point of view that a healthy stock can sustain moderately high levels of exploitation. Salmon are capable of overreproducing, given a chance. Therefore, there is a surplus generated from a healthy stock which can be cropped.


However, when you are in a situation where natural survival in an environment totally outside our control has fallen to half, exploitation at current levels cannot be permitted to continue. The basis of the recommendations to the FCB next week will be that we are seeking significant cuts in marine exploitation in order to compensate for the decline in marine survival.


The Chairperson: Thank you. That is welcome news. We look forward to hearing the outcome.


Mr McCarthy: We were discussing buying out commercial nets. I am not quite sure whether the Minister said that he did not know or did not want to say how much he thought it would cost to buy out the nets.


However, the North Atlantic Salmon Fund informed us that the figure would be around £1·5 million. The submission said that measures to reduce salmon exploitation by commercial fishermen would be one of the options considered. Who will decide if salmon exploitation needs to be restricted and when will this assessment take place?


Mr McGimpsey: We are working on that process now and taking scientific advice. The Department is responsible for inland fisheries and the Fisheries Conservancy Board is responsible for conservation and the protection of fish stocks, with the exception of those in the Foyle and Carlingford catchment areas. The Department looks to the FCB for an assessment, and a special meeting has been arranged for 25 October to discuss these issues and make judgements and recommendations informed by evidence provided by our scientists.


Mr J Wilson: Over the past four or five years considerable sums of money have been directed to fishing clubs through the peace and reconciliation funded Salmonid Enhancement Programme. This includes a number of clubs in Northern Ireland. Would the Department consider diverting some of that money away from the clubs and using the funding itself to buyout nets?


Mr McGimpsey: That is an interesting suggestion on which I will have to take advice. The clubs will also have an opinion. Commercial netting cannot continue at its present rate. Mr McCarthy has suggested a figure of around £1·5 million. I am not clear on how that figure was arrived at. We do not want to divulge how much we think the netting is worth, but I have made a bid to have this included in the Budget, which, so far, has been unsuccessful. I am looking for other means of funding. Together with our own scientific evidence, the findings of this inquiry will constitute an important piece of evidence that I can present to the Executive Committee.


I do not want to be definitive about taking money away from angling clubs or from the departmental grant pool to which they can apply - many clubs apply for grants, and I see representatives from angling clubs on a regular basis. I need to consider this carefully, and I will come back to you with a written response.


Mr J Wilson: Perhaps I expressed myself carelessly. The clubs would not regard such a move as taking money away from them - they would see it as the best news they had heard in a long time.


Mr McMenamin: The Department refers to the River Bush salmon project as a long-term scientific project. How much does this project cost and what have been the tangible benefits to salmon enhancement in rivers other than the River Bush?


Mr McGimpsey: The River Bush salmon project costs £92,000 per annum. We have already outlined some of the research benefits and the Rivers Agency is implementing the habitat restoration technologies developed on the River Bush throughout Northern Ireland. Those disciplines and techniques are used much further afield than Northern Ireland. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the FCB and the Foyle Carlingford Irish Lights Commission are using the stock assessment techniques developed on the River Bush to assess juvenile salmonid status in most rivers in Northern Ireland.


Stocking carried out to enhance stocks or mitigate pollution are using methods developed on the Bush. Economic modelling of the value of salmonid habitat and stocks arising from the project have been used extensively in assessing the cost and the benefits of schemes which impact on stock or habitat status. Life cycle survival and economic data has also been used in compensation claims following pollution incidents in several rivers in Northern Ireland.


The recent Salmonid Enhancement Programme has combined many of these technologies to benefit rivers in Northern Ireland. Genetic research is also carried out on the River Bush. This has contributed to our knowledge of the genetic status of wild salmon populations, the genetic impact of hatchery rearing of salmon, and the impact of escaped farm salmon interbreeding with wild stocks. This information was fed directly into Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure's policy on the introduction and movement of salmon. This ensures that genetic issues are taken into account when considering a request for information on the import movements of salmon. The project is recognised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) as an index river providing long-term data on survival of wild Atlantic salmon. Many countries are using the Bush river technology and data for stock assessment and enhancement programmes.


Mr McMenamin: The submission stated that the success of the research project on the Bush depends on the necessary base-line data obtained from fish traps. The Committee has been informed that, after fish have been anaesthetised, they are not as lively when they go up hurdles. Is this detrimental to the fish?


It has also been indicated that other rivers have long-term counter traps added that can indicate the status of salmonid populations. Does the Department plan to extend this data collection programme so that enhancement, either of the habitat or of salmon numbers by restocking, can be quantitatively assessed through fish counts? Surely this approach will benefit monitoring and assess the success of any enhancement programme and, therefore, be used to target such programmes for funding?


Mr McGimpsey: That is a complex question, so I apologise for a reasonably detailed answer. The monitoring of stocks of salmon in rivers, apart from the Bush, is a central themes of the Salmon Management Plan for the FCB area and similar to the catchment management system operating successfully in the Foyle. If the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation's (NASCO) spawning targets are to be set and monitored, index rivers covering several areas and river types throughout the FCB area will need to be used. We cannot count adults in all of the rivers, so we use index rivers. This is well underway and EU funding has been received, as outlined in phase one of the fish counter programme. Surveys of juveniles in other index rivers will lead to a comprehensive appreciation of stock status through a FCB area.


The Bush project is central to the process of providing the biological data necessary to set spawning targets in the FCB areas and provide long-term data on marine survival. This can be radically achieved through extensive tagging programmes, which can never be done for the index rivers. This means that the River Bush data will remain the source of advice on marine survival and exploitation. The strategy allows us to provide a comprehensive annual assessment of stock status, which is crucial to help us see when to protect wild stocks, verify the success of existing enhancement programmes and know if there is a need for possible future enhancement programmes.


Mr McMenamin: Thank you, Minister. Would you like to comment on the anaethetising?


Mr McGimpsey: Anaesthetising is an animal rights issue. Wild salmon, when they are taken into the trap, have to be handled for tagging purposes and suffer enormous trauma. A mild sedative is used and allows the salmon to be weighed and data collected without too much damage to the salmon.


It is universally used, not simply in Northern Ireland, but as common practice. Afterwards, the fish quickly recovers and goes into the next stage.


Dr Crozier: What happens at the Bush traps has been subject to some misinterpretation over the years, and I welcome this opportunity to comment on it. The reason we trap fish is to get a total count of adults ascending the river, something absolutely essential for our survival data. We should not have data on marine survival and exploitation without that count of adults on the river.


It is necessary to do it in a way that is not damaging to the fish, and that is why we use mild sedatives on them. We do not examine, handle or deal with every salmon in the same way. The vast majority of salmon are very quickly sedated and passed on upstream. We take only a small subsample - less than 10% - to measure length and weight and take some scales to examine the age structure of the fish population. We carry out the minimum handling necessary for the project's science and compatible with the salmon's survival, for they have to go on to spawn after all.


Another issue concerns the angling potential of fish once they have been handled and released. We have some evidence on this, for the simple reason that the Department controls the angling stretch immediately above the trap, called the "leap stretch". We have catch per unit effort data - a measure of angling success, or the catchability of the fish - from that stretch. In some years, we have noted that catch per unit effort above the traps has been as high or, in one or two cases, higher than that below the traps where the fish are intercepted. In our view, the trapping exercise does not seriously affect the angling or the spawning potential of the fish. It is necessary to do it, with minimal intervention, to get the data for the project.


Mr McGimpsey: It would be very useful if the Committee got an opportunity to view the Bush project. It would not take long and would enable you to see the very primitive conditions in which staff work. If, as I have done, you do it during the salmon run and see them trying to box the wild salmon, you may agree with me that the only way to do this is to sedate the fish, for otherwise the release of energy would be spectacular. One simply could not handle these animals without some mild sedation. It is common practice to reduce the trauma, not just for salmon, but for wildlife generally.


The Chairperson: We have heard evidence that the fish are sluggish at first afterwards, something which interferes with their determination to get up the river to the spawning beds and that, in some cases, they are transported higher up the river by bucket or container to assist with spawning. What evidence do you have, Dr Crozier, on the impact of these two areas? Do you have any evidence to confirm this or otherwise?


Dr Crozier: There are several issues. The fish are quiescent while under sedation. We hold them in fresh water in tanks until they are fully recovered and have regained their full mobility. At that point, we release them just upstream of the salmon station into the angling stretch we mentioned, the "leap stretch".


Towards the end of the season, there was a practice in some years of transporting fish above the leap falls, but this has nothing to do with the condition of the fish. It takes place at the request of the local anglers who wish to see end-of-season fish quickly taken up to higher stretches of the river to improve the angling potential. When a fish enters the river late in the season, it may not naturally - even if uninterrupted in its migration - make it the full distance up the river. A little helping hand is occasionally given to some fish, but only at the request of local anglers. We are working with anglers to do this, not against them.


Trap-related issues are all subject to inspection by departmental veterinarians from the DHSS. We are subject, like any other establishment, to licensing and inspection, and departmental representatives from the DHSS visit the Bush regularly and have looked at all our activities, frequently discussing them with us. They are entirely satisfied that there are no issues to concern them.


Mr McMenamin: You raised the issue of the predation of young salmon by cormorants as a major problem. Have you any data to support this claim? What measures does the Department suggest to minimise the threat? The problem of predating cormorants has been a priority for almost all of the angling associations which made submissions to us.


Mr McGimpsey: I am sure you are aware that it is not simply a problem in Northern Ireland but also in Germany, Holland and Belgium. These countries are asking for the right to control the cormorants because they are also protected there. Studies into cormorant predation were undertaken by what was the Department of Agriculture and Department of the Environment's Countryside and Wildlife Branch in the mid-1980s and their findings were published in 1988. Counts made of cormorants feeding on the River Bush during May 1986 indicated that up to 264 birds may have been feeding at least once a day in the catchment area during the smolt run. Stomach samples from shot birds showed that upstream feeding was concentrated on wild smolts and brown trout. The total daily predation rates were estimated to be up to 1,200 wild smolts and 800 brown trout. This represents significant predation, with up to 60% of annual Bush smolt production being lost, and the situation has not improved since those figures were arrived at.


Bird predation is known to be a problem in most Northern Ireland salmon rivers, although possibly not to the extent of that in the River Bush, which is near a large breeding colony. Cormorants are protected under the Wildlife (NI) Order but there is provision in the legislation to protect fisheries. The Department shoots cormorants on the River Bush where they are a major threat to the salmon fishery under terms of a licence issued by the Environment and Heritage Service, though its preferred approach is the removal of protection for cormorants under the Wildlife (NI) Order. However, this is a matter for the DOE. We view predation by cormorants on the river to be a serious threat, compounded by factors such as the natural marine environment. You will appreciate the obstacles and challenges involved in establishing a wild salmon run.


Mr McMenamin: In relation to hydroelectric schemes, the Department refers to a recently published report that indicated 20 issues of concern, all of which are in the process of being resolved. Does the Department have an established monitoring programme to ensure that improvements are made at each of the six hydroelectric developments referred to in the report? Will you also tell me why some of these hydro schemes are exempted from grilles?


Mr McGimpsey: The Department is committed to implementing the recommendations in the report which fall within its remit. The majority of the 20 issues of concern have already been addressed. The Department is currently evaluating tenders for additional work to allow an automated flow regime to be introduced to the Randalstown hydro - a key recommendation of the report. Inspectorate staff are assessing the improvements at each of the hydro developments. The operating regime of each hydro, with regard to the protection of fish stocks agreed between the operator and the Department, is also subject to monitoring by the FCB.


Mr McCaughan will deal with the issue of exemption from grilles.


Mr McCaughan: The term exemption is unfortunate, because it frees individuals from the requirements of the Act. However, this measure also enables the Department to place conditions on the exemption permit, which are a great deal more stringent than those provided in the Act. Therefore, when the Department issues an exemption permit for abstraction, we can put in site-specific measures more appropriate to fishery protection. We are convinced that we get better fish protection measures through the conditions of the exemption permit than through the provisions of the Act.


For example, Randalstown hydro is presently working with an independent consultant to ensure an automatic flow regime at Randalstown where the draw of water through a turbine would be altered by the river conditions. It is during periods of flood, and particularly immediately after flood, that salmon might run. If the hydro can be automated to reduce its draw of water under those conditions, salmon will run effectively through the pass. It is better to do that through a conditional exemption permit rather than through a legal instrument that insists on grills and gratings.


The Chairperson: This is probably a big job, but it is important that we get a balanced picture of this exemption situation. Can the Department write to the Committee on all the exemptions that are issued, and the benefit he sees accruing from them in different areas?


Mr McGimpsey: We will do that.


Dr Adamson: I have three questions on the development of salmon and inland fisheries. You have stated in your submission that the £4.9million from the Salmonid Enhancement Programme has resulted in "improvements to river habitats for trout and salmon, enhancement of stocks and improvement of access for anglers". Before this programme started, was there an established baseline of salmonid numbers, against which future numbers could be assessed, and which could consequently determine whether spending £4.9million on the SEP represented good value for money?


Mr McGimpsey: Yes, there is specific data for some fisheries before the enhancement programme, which will yield results following electro fishing, should resources permit. Elsewhere, DCAL staff carried out inspections to record the benefit of the habitat as the work has been completed, and this will be transferred to the Department's GIS database. Regrettably, some of the habitat improvement and stock enhancement works done with the assistance of EU funding has suffered because of pollution incidents. It should also be noted that the enhancement programme was community driven with projects emanating at grassroots level; it was funded under the peace and reconciliation programme and its benefits include the impact of different communities working together as well as enhancement of salmon stocks. As a direct result of the programme some 400 additional day-tickets are available to tourists, which has potential to impact positively on the rural economy. One of the most difficult things to address for field officers like Gary dealing with this sort of programme, is that once you get it finished, along comes a pollution incident, and it wipes out all the good work that so many people have put in. That has often had an effect on the outcomes and the results, but basically we still believe it represents good value for money. We are not talking about huge sums of money when you look at the potential of this scheme. Our earlier suggestions for empowering the FCB and finding resources for them will reinforce this type of project.


Dr Adamson: Mr McGimpsey has indicated that he plans to seek further funding to extend the work of the SEP under the next round of the EU Structural Funds 2000 to 2006.


Given that the proposed EU Water Framework Directive will require Member States to establish river basin management plans requiring an integrated approach to management of water resources, would it not be more beneficial to incorporate strategies and funding for inland fisheries into such a plan, rather than maintaining the piecemeal approach exemplified by the Salmonid Enhancement Programme?


Mr McGimpsey: The EU Water Framework Directive on which the Department of the Environment takes the lead has not been implemented in Northern Ireland yet. The relevant Departments support the concept of an integrated approach to river management, and inland fisheries will make a positive contribution to the future implementation of river basin management plans.


However, the Department's primary responsibility is to conserve, protect and develop inland fisheries as defined in the Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Act 1966. We are correct to avail of EU funding to improve Northern Ireland's fisheries when possible. If we did not do so we could certainly anticipate criticism for not taking up the opportunities of EU funding support.


Dr Adamson: You have stated that the Department takes into account

"the development needs and potential of the commercial fisheries, aquaculture and recreational angling sectors".

While the Department outlines its main functions and policies in its submission there is no discernible, coherent strategy for inland fisheries per se. Considering the complexity of these issues, the number of statutory bodies involved, and the wide range of users of the resource, would it not be beneficial to develop an interdepartmental strategy to adequately address all the issues raised by these interested parties?


Mr McGimpsey: The Department recognises and broadly supports the thrust and tenor of your question. We recognise that responsibilities in conservation and in the management of inland fisheries are best discharged through a catchment-based management approach involving all the relevant interests. That approach is compatible with the EU Water Framework Directive, and the Department could play a major role.


Mr J Wilson: I would like to ask a question about carp fisheries. We wrote to you recently about this matter and we await your reply. Would you care to take a question now about carp fisheries?


Mr McGimpsey: I would be happy to do so.


Mr J Wilson: You will be aware that in some angling quarters the news that your Department had given the go ahead for a carp fishery was received with alarm. It is a significant step forward and I need not deal here with all the problems that can arise from your decision - they are well catalogued. Would you comment on why the go-ahead was given and on the precautions which are going to be taken? Is it likely to be something that will be repeated?


Mr McGimpsey: We know that carp angling has a firm following, particularly on the mainland and in continental Europe. Carp fisheries are available in Great Britain and in the Republic of Ireland and they actually provide a valuable resource for angling tourists. They are popular venues wherever they are available.


The Department is aware that common carp were introduced locally in the 1960s. We and our colleagues in the Environment and Heritage Service agreed to allow the development at Ballyroney Lake to proceed, as it has little fishery value at present and can be adequately screened to prevent escapes. The Department and the Environment and Heritage Service have agreed to examine further applications on a site-by-site basis to adequately address their environmental implications.


This is the first time that this has happened, but I took the decision based on the advice I was given and also because there are carp fisheries in the Irish Republic. I saw no reason why it should not happen here. It is very difficult for carp to breed in the wild because of the water temperature in Northern Ireland. I believe that it has been achieved on one occasion but that was as a result of heating the water to facilitate breeding.


Stocking is required to sustain the carp population; it cannot be sustained easily in the wild, and not over a long period. Provided they cannot escape into natural watercourses - because carp can live for a very long time - it is a risk worth taking. A strong lobby was emerging in favour of the scheme, and the potential benefits, not least the economic benefits, of developing this could be substantial.


Mr J Wilson: Was the Fisheries Conservancy Board consulted on the matter?


Mr McGimpsey: There was full consultation. The proposal first came to me last December, before suspension. I put it out for widespread consultation, and we formally announced the decision about four weeks ago. Consultations were ongoing for six months.


The Chairperson: Minister, are you tied for time? We still have quite a few questions to ask.


Mr McGimpsey: I am due to attend the Executive Committee, although I have indicated that I might not be there. I can stay here for a while, or I can write to the Committee with answers to the notified questions.


The Chairperson: I am keen for everything to be in the record. Perhaps the best way of proceeding is for us to read the questions into the record and for you to then write to us with the answers.


Mr Shannon: If possible, I would like to move on to the questions on tourism. I want to ask some questions on that issue in addition to simply reading the primary questions.


The Chairperson: Minister, can you stay to cover those?


Mr McGimpsey: Yes, I can.


Mr Shannon: Chairman, I thank you and the Minister for agreeing to that.


Other than under-investment, what does the Department see as the main obstacle to the development of the angling market? Many deputations have appeared before the Committee, and they have all made suggestions on how to promote angling. You mentioned earlier that rod anglers are most beneficial to tourism from a financial point of view.


Mr McGimpsey: Angling tourism, like tourism generally in Northern Ireland, has suffered from the political unrest over the last three decades. Northern Ireland did not appear to be a warm, friendly destination for visitors. That had a major effect, and it will take time to recover from that and to build up a positive image. My Department and other sectors are constantly looking for opportunities to promote a positive image.


Additionally, a relatively small proportion of the game angling resource in Northern Ireland is available to tourists. Most fishing rights are in the hands of private individuals or clubs, and access for the public, including tourists, has not always been encouraged. Exceptions to this include Lough Erne, where the rights are owned by the Department. However, development resources are limited.


Sea angling is free, however. It falls outside the Department's remit. Tourist access to fishing was an issue addressed by the Salmonid Enhancement Plan. If a private club availed of funding, it was required to make tickets available to the public and tourists. So the take-up, the degree of demand, and how the demand was addressed are also salient factors when we consider tourism.


There is also the complexity of having two licensing authorities; this is confusing for me, never mind for tourists. We are addressing these issues with particular regard to empowering the FCB to be flexible with licences. This change is not just for the benefit of disabled anglers, who are an important part of clubs as Mr McMenamin said, but also for tourists. We need to simplify the whole licensing/permit issue for tourists and also come to a decision about the size of the estate that visitors and tourists are permitted to fish in.


Mr Shannon: One of the obstacles to the development of the angling market is the tourist board. Perhaps your Department could address that issue? I was concerned to learn from reports and visiting deputations that 8,000 people come to fish in Northern Ireland while almost 120,000 go to the Republic of Ireland. Fishermen who come to Northern Ireland only seem to know about Fermanagh. They do not know about Strangford Lough or anywhere else. Are you aware, Minister, of schemes that could propel £6·7 million of revenue into the economy of the Strangford Lough, Down and north Down area, and create 260 jobs? When the tourist board deputation visited a Committee session they were not able to answer any questions relevant to it. I do not know whether they were completely ignorant of it, or just ill-versed. So far as promoting tourism is concerned - angling tourism in particular - the tourist board needs to get its act together.


There are positive projects that could create employment, revenue and boost the economy. But when the tourist board does not push these projects I feel disappointed and let down by their inability or reluctance. The world does not begin and end in Fermanagh. It starts when you get off the plane at Aldergrove or Belfast, or off the boat at Larne.


Mr McGimpsey: I understand and appreciate the comments made. Like Mr Shannon, I am an Ards man, so I am well aware that the world does not start and end in Fermanagh. The Strangford Lough scheme is outside my Department's remit. We are responsible for freshwater fishing, not sea fishing. The tourist board is part of DETI; it is not part of our remit. But we do have a role to play, primarily because we plan to take the lead in the area of angling and tourism.


I cannot respond to you now on the particulars, but we will examine these concerns and write to you and to the Committee with our ideas. Angling has great potential, so the impact of our work with other projects, such as the Strangford Lough Scheme, is very important. We must present a holistic view to tourists.


Mr Shannon: The rivers that feed Strangford Lough are fresh water, so in that respect, the area concerns us. The hatchery and the fish will go into the fresh rivers and thence into Strangford Lough. There would be fishing all the year round regardless of the weather - that is the potential I am trying to focus on.


The Chairperson: Minister, I have clarified the situation with regard to the record. It is sufficient for you to take questions and come back with the replies and we can put them in as an addendum.


Mr McCarthy: Minister, you state in your submission that the onus is on the Planning Service to contact the relevant statutory body when a planning application could impact on the responsibility of that authority. What happens if the Planning Service does not contact you, and the development then has an adverse effect on the fisheries environment?


The Committee visited the Carnroe beat last week. We were all astonished, astounded and appalled that planning permission had been given to a developer almost alongside that very important river. Are you aware of that permission, and can you comment on it? Another factor was that it was serviced by a totally inadequate loanen.


Mr McGimpsey: I will have to write to you as I am not aware of the specific grant of planning permission.


As to the wider planning issues, we are not aware of any recent cases where the Planning Service has failed to notify us about development proposals that are likely to impact on fisheries. However, we will certainly investigate that - Mr ONeill is personally aware of it but whether we are officially aware of it is another matter. I will find out and come back to you on that issue.


If we inadvertently missed a consultation process, we would hear about the development from local anglers. We would try to intervene at that stage, involving the Fisheries Conservancy Board, who have statutory responsibility for the protection of fish. I suppose keeping everybody informed is part of joined up government but they are supposed to notify us, and we then give our response. I will find out about whether we were notified, the nature of the notification and what our response was, and I will communicate those details to you. Our response is obviously key because it would be very important if, as you say, this development went ahead.


Mr McCarthy: Mr Chairman, on a previous visit to Upper Lough Erne a new development, right alongside the river edge, was pointed out to us. We asked how it got there. It was on the southern side and the authorities there had stopped it because it was so obviously causing problems to the Lough. We do not want to reach that stage.


The Chairperson: Thank you very much. I hope you will not be disadvantaged by omitting the questions on pollution and the indigenous fish stocks. You have already given us a considerable amount of your time and we have covered a lot of important ground. On behalf of the Committee, may I thank you for your assistance. We look forward to the publication of our report, at last.


26 October 2000


Q. It has been suggested during this inquiry that anglers would be willing to pay more for an enhanced product and that rod licences are under-valued.

How does the Department arrive at a value of £53.00 for a Season Game Permit that allows fishing throughout the public angling estate? Is this not too low?

A. The Department has conducted a customer survey which determined that some anglers would be content to pay a higher permit free for better angling.

The Department needs to balance this ambition against a desire to attract as many of the public to angling as possible, including the under privileged and juveniles, and the resources we have available to maintain and develop the estate.

The permit structure reflects this, for example although a general season game permit costs £53, we have a juvenile permit costing £8.00 and reduced rates for the disabled. On the other hand a single day on the special stretch of the Bush can cost £60.00.

The Department is also mindful of the needs of private fishery owners and would not wish to establish ourselves as a competitor in their market.


Q. How does the Department envisage the Rivers Agency and the Fisheries Conservancy Board will liaise in order to ensure there is no conflict if the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill is adopted, giving powers to the FCB in relation to the removal of river bed material?

A. Under the "Crown Exemption" provisions of section 7 of the Interpretation Act (NI) 1954 Rivers Agency, as an agency of Government, would not be bound by Clause 3 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, when enacted. However I have taken the matter up with the Rivers Agency and I can confirm that it has been agreed that Rivers Agency will take the opportunity presented by the enactment of the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill to review its arrangements for consultation with fishery interests. The Agency has agreed to engage in meaningful consultation and to take on board all reasonable suggestions for measures to protect fisheries.


Q. Under the proposed EU Water Framework Directive Member States will have to establish monitoring programmes for water status which, among other things, will have to cover

(i) the volume and level or rate of flow to the extent relevant for ecological and chemical status and ecological potential; and

(ii) the ecological and chemical status and ecological potential of surface waters.

While the responsibility for water quality monitoring lies with EHS what role is DCAL playing to ensure that these requirements of the Directive will be fulfilled, considering that they are required to be operational at the latest six years after the date of entry into force of this Directive?

A. The Directive will require an integrated approach by Departments. DCAL, as Department with statutory responsibility for Inland Fisheries will participate, and through this process will be able to interact with other Departments with statutory responsibility for water quality.

Q. You indicate in your submission that DCAL staff participate in a Water Quality Management Committee that brings together all the relevant government Departments and agencies with an interest in water quality.

Is this a suitable forum for the Department to raise issues relating to the requirements of the proposed EU Water Framework Directive, such as River Basin Management Plans, or should a new body be established in order to ensure that these Plans are as integrated and comprehensive as possible?

A. The EU Framework Directive will require River Basin Management Committees to be set up. I anticipate that Inland Fisheries will participate in these Committees.

Inland aquaculture

Q. It is indicated in the submission that the current scheme to provide grant aid to develop inland aquaculture is outdated and is being revised through liaison with the Department of Agriculture.

Has there been any assessment of the potential for expansion of fish farming in Northern Ireland and the consequent likely impact on freshwaters?

A. Aquaculture has contracted by about 50% between the last two independent surveys conducted by Northern Ireland Seafood in 1995, and the Cross-Border Aquaculture Team in 2000. The Industry largely based on rainbow trout is presently focused on reducing production costs to improve cost-effectiveness, on introducing a Quality Assurance Scheme to give confidence to retailers, and moving towards organic production to improve consumer appeal. The problem of reduced prices and contracting markets need to be overcome to achieve stability in the trout sector and expansion is unlikely with several production units present idle.

The Department will progress a new grand aid scheme to assist inland aquaculture business under the next round of EU Structural Funds.



31 October 2000

Refers - Paras 2459 and 2463 - The references which I made to the future staffing needs and responsibilities of the FCB could be misinterpreted. As the Committee is aware I intend to carry out a review of the Fisheries Conservancy Board in accordance with the attached terms of reference which was previously circulated to the Committee. I would wish to emphasise the openness of these terms of reference and that the Committee will be consulted in the review process. I would not wish to prejudice the outcome of that review.

Refers - Para 2464 - The intention of my reference here is that the FCB needs to be adequately resourced to carry out its statutory duties, including enforcement work. I mentioned policing in relation to pollution control as an example. I wish to clarify that pollution control work carried out by the Fisheries Conservancy Board is done on behalf of the Department of Environment Environment Heritage Service and that Department funds this aspect of the work. This therefore was not the best example.

Refers - Para 2492 - I wish to clarify that the figure of £92,000 per annum which I gave as the cost for running the River Bush Salmon Project relates only to the scientific work carried out by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It does not include the cost incurred by my Department in running the Bush Hatchery or any assistance DCAL staff provides in trapping fish.

Refers - Para 2536 - In response to Mr Wilson's question about whether the Fisheries Conservancy Board were consulted on the Department's proposal to introduce carp, I indicated that the Departmental had carried out wide spread consultation. This could be misleading. Initially there were detailed consultations between my Department and the Environment and Heritage Service of DOE and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to determine a way forward. Once they were in a position to recommend a way forward, the Department wrote to the Fisheries Conservancy Board, which of course represents a wide range of fisheries and other interest groups, as part of the consultation process and the issue was discussed at the Board's meeting on 12 June. The Department also had an approach from the Ulster Angling Federation for clarification on the Department's thinking and officials from my Department discussed the matter with the Secretary and Chairman of the Ulster Angling Federation at a meeting in Interpoint. This meeting took place prior to the formal consultation with the Fisheries Conservancy Board on which the Ulster Angling Federation are represented. The views of both the Fisheries Conservancy Board and the Ulster Angling Federation were conveyed to me when I took the decision. No further consultation was carried out.

Refers - Paras 2546 - 2548 - The reference to sea angling falling outside this Department's remit is incorrect. Sea angling is within my Department's remit.

Refers - Para 2551 - Mr Shannon asked me about a specific angling tourism proposal regarding Strangford Lough. I was not familiar with this proposal and because I thought it related to sea fisheries I indicated that it was outside my Department's remit. However I now understand that the proposal relates to sea trout and is therefore within my Department's area of responsibility. The reference to the Strangford Lough Scheme being outside my Department's remit on Page 44 is therefore wrong. I indicated that I would write to the Committee about the Strangford Lough Scheme and further information on this is given below.

These are the only points I wish to raise in terms of providing further clarification. There were also a number of issues on which I agreed to provide the Committee with further information. These issues are dealt with below.

Refers - Para 2487 - Mr Wilson asked if some of the funding for the Salmonid Enhancement Programme could be diverted to buy out commercial salmon nets. The current position is as follows:-

The Salmonid Enhancement Programme is funded under the EU's Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation - Water Based Tourism Programme. Because it was funded under Peace the programme was specifically targeted at rural communities that had suffered because of the troubles and there was a clear emphasis on encouraging cross community participation. The ultimate objective was to provide quality angling to attract tourists to promote rural regeneration. The current programme is being administered by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and all of the funding under the existing Peace programme has already been allocated.

I have already indicated to the Committee that I am seeking funding for a follow up angling development programme under the Peace II measure in the next round of EU Structural Funds. Negotiations with the EU Commission on this programme are still ongoing and therefore the detailed criteria for funding have not yet been finalised. However as the programme will be Peace II there will again be a strong emphasis on cross-community participation and assisting disadvantaged areas. I am not therefore in a position to advise whether some of the funding under the new programme could be directed towards by-out of commercial nets. I will let the Committee know when the position has been clarified.

Refers - Para 2519 - I agreed that we would provide the Committee with information on all the exemption permits which are currently in place under Section 59 of the Fisheries Act 1966. This information is being collated and will be forwarded shortly.

Refers - Para 2552 - I agreed to provide further information about the Strangford Lough Scheme raised by Mr Shannon. The project referred to is the Ards and Down Salmonid Enhancement Association Project (ADSEA Project) which seeks to enhance sea trout in the Strangford Lough and Dundrum Bay areas to produce a quality sea angling project along the lines of the fishery at Funen in Denmark.

Officials from the previous Department of Agriculture appraised the project on a number of occasions as it had been submitted to various bodies seeking grant aid support. While the Department was supportive of the objectives of the project and believed that they could be achieved with current technology, it had concerns about the cost of the project and the project outputs as outlined in the original applications and the economic appraisal prepared by Capita management consultants. Prior to devolution, Department of Agriculture officials met with the project sponsors and Capita to discuss their reservations. The Department had concerns about the scale of the project which sought to cover all sea trout angling from Newcastle to Bangor and because this is presently a free public fishery consent would be required from both DARD and DCAL which could possibly precipitate a local public enquiry. The Department of Agriculture therefore encouraged the team to review the scale of the application such that outputs are achievable and where the costs could be more attractive to funding agencies. I understand that the project is currently under review by the Cross-Border Aquaculture Initiative Team and I would hope that the project will emerge in a form that we would find easier to support.

Refers - Paras 2557 - 2559 - I undertook to write to the Committee on the Planning Application at Carnroe raised by Mr McCarthy. Planning Service have advised that the development consists of a small group of "Lock Keepers Cottages" (10 in number) replacing an existing house on the site. The approval for this development was issued in 1994. Fisheries Division of the then Department of Agriculture was consulted in 1991 and had no comments to make on the application as the development was not considered to impact on fisheries. I have also been advised that the owners of the fishery at Carnroe, Bann System Ltd, were also consulted and that there was considerable discussion between the applicant and the fishery owner prior to the final approval being given. I would wish to clarify that the Department role in commenting on planning applications is to make recommendations where appropriate to the Planning Service to mitigate any impact on fisheries. We would not object to planning applications per se. Whether a development is appropriate for the area, the number, size and type of dwellings and the nature of access are matters for the Planning Service.




Members present:
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Dr Adamson
Mr Hilditch
Mr McCarthy
Mr Shannon
Mr J Wilson

Mr J Lamont )
Dr J Faulkner ) Environment and
Dr R Ramsay ) Heritage Service

Mr R Davidson )


The Chairperson: Good morning, Gentlemen. You are very welcome.


Mr Lamont: My position in Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) is director of environmental protection - the head of pollution control - but, pending the appointment of a new chief executive, I am also acting chief executive. I am therefore wearing two hats.


Environment and Heritage Service's mission is to protect and conserve the natural and built environment and to promote its appreciation for the benefit of present and future generations. There are three directorates. Built Heritage Directorate is responsible for the built environment, including monuments. Natural Heritage Directorate is responsible for the protection of nature and the countryside. Environmental Protection Directorate is essentially the pollution inspectorate. It deals with the pollution of water and air, the contamination of land, and waste issues.


We are also responsible for designations - for example, introducing necessary protection for habitats and species in Northern Ireland. We will be touching on some of those later. We are also involved in licensing of and consenting to discharges into the environment, and in water quality. We enforce the Water Act (Northern Ireland) 1972, and we will enforce the new Water Order to be introduced shortly.


EHS is an agency of the Department of the Environment with a regulatory function in relation to the environment, whether by designations giving effect to European directives or by setting standards for discharges and policing them by sampling and monitoring. We take forward a basic body of research to establish environmental information on issues where we have regulatory functions. We do not engage in blue sky research; we simply collate information to enable us to take the correct regulatory decisions. We co-operate with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Environment Agency in England and Wales. We collaborate where there is a common need for information.


EHS is also working with the North/South Ministerial Council where it addresses environmental issues. We seek to establish a common understanding of the environment, and a body of research will be accessible to anyone who is interested in this area of work. There is more work going ahead in that respect. As you can see, we are engaged in a number of activities to support our regulatory function.


Mr Hilditch: You say in your submission that watercourse maintenance agreements are agreed with the Rivers Agency for rivers within, or impacting upon, designated Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs), Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) or Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Are these arrangements restricted to designated sites? What consultation occurs between EHS and the Rivers Agency for the maintenance of rivers outside these designated areas?


Mr Lamont: Environment and Heritage Service has a very close relationship with the Rivers Agency. We meet with the chief executive and his colleagues from time to time to ensure that we have a common way of thinking about these issues. We work together as closely as possible.


Dr Faulkner: Environment and Heritage Service is consulted by the Rivers Agency on its entire programme each year. However, that programme includes a very large number of proposals for maintenance of watercourses, so one of the main purposes of our arrangement with the Rivers Agency is to enable us to focus on the cases that are going to matter most from the natural heritage perspective.


The agreements that we are working on at the moment cover the statutory designated areas because that is a way of narrowing down the most important areas. They provide for agreement between the two services on what type of work is going to be undertaken and with what frequency. That means that we do not have to have detailed discussions about each site every year or every time it comes up.


However, that is not the sum total of our consultation with the Rivers Agency. We receive information on all of their proposals and, although it would be beyond our resources to look in great detail into every one of them, we do try to pick out those of the greatest significance.


Mr McCarthy: I have three questions on planning issues. In your submission you say that only sites of the highest quality will be protected through formal designation as statutory sites of nature conservation importance. How do you define "high quality?"


Dr Faulkner: The criteria are scientific rather than social or economic. The Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 states that where the Department is satisfied that a site is important because of its flora, fauna or physiographic or geological features, it should be declared an ASSI. We are concerned with such factors as how natural the site is and the diversity of its wild species. The area or length of the site is also an important factor. For example, if it is very small it is unlikely to qualify as having special interest. The presence of any special, rare or unusual features also contributes to its potential to be regarded as a special area.


I am happy to say that the scientific criteria were published in a set of guidelines last year. They follow a pattern that we have been implementing in practice for quite a number of years, even though they were only recently published.


Mr McCarthy: EHS liases with Planning Service to ensure that the importance of conservation and landscape, including lakes and rivers, is addressed in planning policy statements. Does that include potential adverse effects on river or lake water quality of a proposed development? For example, the Committee has been advised that planning permission has been granted for the building of holiday homes close to the river at Carnroe beat on the Lower Bann. Are you aware of that, and would you like to comment on it?


Mr Lamont: As with the Rivers Agency, we have a series of interlinking relationships with the Planning Service. We meet at director level to clear the air and understand what the issues are. There is a service level agreement between us, under which we have to respond to them within a certain time frame. That is being reviewed at the moment, as there are some problems with meeting timetables, but we are working on it.


We also get involved at an operational level. In an application such as the one you cited, we would be required to give consent under the Water Act (Northern Ireland) 1972. We are well aware of that development.


Dr Ramsay: We issued a Water Act consent in 1992. The development did not take place, and a further application was received in 1998. We issued a new Water Act consent in April 1999. I admit that Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB) was concerned about the discharge because of the high fisheries value of the receiving waterway. However, they recognised that our consent conditions were adequate to protect the receiving waterway, and agreed to them.


Mr McCarthy: Have you seen the site? It is very close to the river. We were, quite frankly, astonished that permission had been granted.


You said that the liaison between EHS and Planning Service helps to ensure appropriate protection is afforded to rivers and lakes in development plans. When there is disagreement between EHS and Planning Service over this level of protection, how is the conflict resolved? Who wins?


Mr Lamont: It will come as no surprise to you that the Environment Committee has also challenged me on how that balance is struck. A procedure is laid down in the service level agreement: in the event of a disagreement or conflict between our two services, we try to resolve it at director or chief executive level. Failing that, we would go to the departmental deputy secretary and seek mediation, but that is not the only option. Many contentious issues are ultimately resolved at public inquiries, when both sides give evidence about the nature of their interest. There are, I think, certain protections built into the system to ensure that equity is delivered. There are very few cases where we have had to resort to taking it upstairs, as it were, to seek someone to mediate. We generally reach consensus between our two services.


Dr Adamson: You refer to the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Group, which has just published its recommendations for a biodiversity strategy for Northern Ireland. One of the recommendations proposed is:

"Draw up and implement a comprehensive strategy for river conservation in order to maintain and enhance the biodiversity of inland waterways."

The group proposes EHS as the organisation with lead responsibility. Will EHS be making a formal response to this proposal?


Mr Lamont: The response will essentially come from the Department.


Dr Faulkner: The recommendations were published on 4 October and presented to the Minister. The response will be co-ordinated by our Department, rather than by EHS, but it will also have input from all parts of Government, because some of the recommendations are addressed to more than one Department.


As for the strategy for river conservation, in practice EHS has a draft river conservation strategy in place and has consulted recently with a number of interested parties. We are finalising that strategy with a view to publication early in the new year. In this case we are certainly making a positive response.


Dr Adamson: EHS, as you state in your submission, has already drawn up three catchment management plans, for the Lagan, River Foyle/Lough Foyle and Erne catchments. To what extent do the current catchment management plans meet the requirements of the EC Water Framework Directive, which requires that river basin management plans be established and implemented?


Mr Lamont: The original catchment plans were clearly focused on water quality issues. They were taken forward in both jurisdictions on a North/South basis. Those early studies, as you will see from our submission, formed the basis of the Foyle and Erne catchment studies, in particular.


We recognise that the Water Framework Directive is a big issue for all member states, as it goes far beyond the pure water quality issues that we have traditionally thought about. It will involve us all taking the whole question of nature conservation, socio- economic habits and the way in which society treats its waterways forward right across the board. A great deal of work is going on to take it forward.


Dr Ramsay: This is probably the most significant water directive to come out of Europe in many years. It recognises the island of Ireland as an eco-region. As the only part of the United Kingdom with a land frontier, we have to work with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland to identify an international river basin district. There are major implications there. The catchment management plans we developed in the 1990s will form a basis, but could never be seen as river basin management plans. They were very narrowly focused on water. The river basin plans envisaged by the directive have to be much wider. It is fair to say that they provide a good basis, and we will develop on that.


Dr Adamson: Is the current funding of EHS adequate to ensure full implementation of the EC Water Framework Directive?


Mr Lamont: Probably not, but the full implications have not really been assessed yet. The directive has been agreed, but it has not yet been published in the official journal and has not yet come into effect. Once that happens, we then have to have transposing legislation for Northern Ireland - regulations to give it effect here - and that will be the time to bid for resources. The current budget before the Assembly is the one comfort that EHS is getting at the moment. Ministers have set the pressures relating to European directives as their number one priority, and we are comfortable with that. While we do not have the resources, at this stage, to do all of the work, we are particularly strong on water issues. We will bid for the additional resources once the implications and the budgeting needs become clearer as the directive is introduced into national legislation.


Dr Adamson: You also refer to the establishment of the Northern Ireland Water Quality Management Committee (WQMC), which comprises of representatives from several government agencies. To what extent has this committee alleviated conflict between the organisations involved, and does EHS intend to use this committee as a forum for consultation in the development of the river basin management plans?


Mr Lamont: We have established a very useful grouping. While it existed some years ago in a different form, it has been reconstituted, ensuring that we have representation from right across the entire Northern Ireland administration: Government Departments, specialist groups and fisheries bodies. It is an extremely useful sounding board to take things forward.


As I said earlier, the EC Water Framework Directive will require a major rethink, and I am quite sure that the WQMC will have an important role. It is too early to say to what extent that role will be a formal one. We simply have not defined the scope of the issue yet. As the directive rolls out, we begin to see more clearly what we must do. I am quite sure there will be a role for the committee, but it is too early to say what its precise nature will be.


Mr McCarthy: You refer separately to species action plans and habitat action plans in your submission. Is it not impossible to protect a species without protecting its habitat? For example, you refer specifically to Ranunculus fluitans, for which a species action plan is proposed. Since this species has only been found in the Six Mile Water, would it not be better to designate this river for protection?


Mr Lamont: I must admit that I had to ask myself what that species was. For those who do not know, it is a water-crowfoot which does indeed appear only in a stretch of the Six Mile Water. We are well aware of it, though I should not recognise a water-crowfoot if I met one. We differentiate between looking specifically at a species and when the habitat itself might be more significant.


Dr Faulkner: I should know a water-crowfoot if I met one, although there are quite a number of different kinds that are quite difficult to tell apart, and I could only do it with the aid of a lens and a book.


On the subject of these plans, I agree that one cannot conserve a species without looking after its habitat. In the great majority of cases, habitat action plans are more significant than species action plans. However, there are a small number of cases where individual species are dependent not on one kind of habitat but on a whole range, or on factors that originate outside the habitat.


I can give you one or two examples from recently publicised action plans. The Irish hare is a species for which we have just published an action plan. It is dependent on a whole range of agricultural habitats such as grassland, woodland and arable land. A plan that addresses one kind of habitat would not cope with the problems of the Irish hare.


Another example is the action plan for curlews, which, for nesting purposes, need wet grassland or other damp habitats. However, we understand that one of the major problems for curlews is predation. Foxes, which come from off site, are an example. There are cases where we need individual species action plans.


In relation to Ranunculus fluitans, I am not convinced that a species action plan would be all that helpful. We should primarily address the Six Mile Water and its problems. It is to be hoped that the water-crowfoot will then look after itself.


Mr McCarthy: Moving on to the question of predator control, you raised the issue of cormorants as a perceived threat to local fishery interests and favour non-lethal methods to discourage them from feeding. If these methods and the very limited culling that is allowed both fail, what do you recommend to fishery interests to minimise the impact on fish populations?


Mr Lamont: We must look closely at the perception that current methods fail. We are not aware of particular issues. The overall population is modest, and stable throughout the UK, although Northern Ireland may have seen a modest increase. We are examining any apparent trend very closely and are not really aware of any problems with the licences granted. My colleagues have some information about the number of culls that have been approved. The numbers are fairly modest.


Mr Davidson: Cormorants are protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, and Environment and Heritage Service can issue licences to control them. Each year, the service issues about 30 licences to control cormorants. Normally, the licence allows the culling of up to five or 10 birds. Those managing put-and-take fisheries sometimes have problems.


The normal practice is to go out in the early hours of the morning to frighten the birds off. It is hard work keeping the birds away. An exceptional case was a licence for the River Bush that permitted the culling of up to 30 birds in places where the cormorants had evidently impacted on the salmon smolts.


Mr Lamont: There is an overall population of around 2,000 in Northern Ireland. It is not a massive population.


Mr McCarthy: Are you happy with that volume of culling?


Mr Lamont: There is no evidence to say that we need more, or that we are not playing the game. We have had no pressures on the licensing.


The Chairperson: Some of the submissions that we received from different sources would indicate that there is a lot of concern. There is concern about the number of smolts taken by individual cormorants. We heard some alarming statistics about cormorants that had been killed and opened and found to have six, eight, and, indeed, 10 smolts on one occasion, inside them.


Where the River Bann exits Lough Neagh, clouds of cormorants have been witnessed in the early morning moving gradually from coastal areas into inland areas in greater numbers. There is a breeding island off the coast - Sheep Island. Some steps were taken to eradicate rodents from the island, rats in particular. As a result, the cormorant population boomed. That appears to be a picture of growing difficulty. We received complaints about the limited number of birds that were permitted to be culled, and that the prescribed methods are ineffective in preventing this menace.


Mr Lamont: In terms of the numbers of folk that come for licences or the representations made to us, there is nothing to suggest that there is real pressure there. If there were, we would certainly look at it and take it forward.


Mr Davidson: Based on the advice I receive from our wildlife officer, who issues the licences and is in close touch with the people involved in the programme, the clear message is that the scaring off of birds does work. However, a lot of effort is required. It is not a matter of shooting more birds; it is a matter of being able to afford the overtime and the effort of having people out early in the morning. It is not simply a question of targeting more birds. It is more a question of putting the effort in.


Mr Shannon: Are you against the method of shooting more birds as a means of control? Returning to your suggested method of scaring them, you may scare the birds from A to B, but they still have to eat. If they are not eating salmon smolts in one place, they will eat them somewhere else. As a consequence, you have not stopped the problem but moved it sideways. It is similar to drinking in public places. Once you scare them away from one place, they go and drink somewhere else. Perhaps the best solution would be either to reintroduce rats onto Sheep Island or to kill more birds.


Dr Faulkner: The cormorant is protected under the EC Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (74/409/EEC). The Northern Ireland breeding population is a significant part of the European population of one of its subspecies. We are able to justify a limited amount of culling of this species, although we must demonstrate that every effort is made to control the effects of cormorant predation by means other than culling.


Yes, the scaring procedure does send them to other places. We try to scare them away from places where they would cause critical damage to salmon populations, and towards places where they can feed on other species, such as roach, which do not have the same significance.


Mr Shannon: You said that a large proportion of the numbers in Europe are concentrated in Northern Ireland. Does that mean that they are not prevalent in other parts of Europe?


Dr Faulkner: A particular subspecies of cormorant occurs around parts of the British Isles. One of the major areas is Sheep Island, which is situated off the north coast of County Antrim. It is a designated Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds on account of its cormorant population.


Mr Shannon: Could we net the cormorants and send them to Germany, Denmark or Finland? I am being facetious.


Mr Hilditch: You want to encourage the Rivers Agency to become involved in river restoration projects, specifically to identify locations, partnerships and mechanisms through which enhancement and restoration can be achieved. Would it not be more beneficial if this approach were formalised, for example by the establishment of an interdepartmental river enhancement and restoration committee?


Mr Lamont: As I said earlier, we liaise closely with the Rivers Agency on areas of common interest. The Rivers Agency also plays a part in another interdepartmental group - the Department of Agriculture/Department of the Environment Scientific Liaison Group, where those involved in scientific and technical work come together. A subgroup was specifically established to look at freshwater science.


We have been involved with the Rivers Agency in that group, and we are establishing a couple of pilot projects to see if there is a way to take that forward. We could formalise it along the lines you indicated. We have looked at two significant rivers: the River Bush, which is an important salmonid river; and the Colin Glen river, which is an urban river with different problems, but with significant importance in relation to the fish populations.


We are working with the Rivers Agency to establish just how we might best take forward river restoration schemes. It is possible that, ultimately, we will come together with other Departments in the interests of formal co-operation in enhancement and restoration schemes, but we have not reached that stage yet. Much is already being done, but there is room for improvement.


Mr Shannon: Environment and Heritage Service is currently involved in a public consultation exercise to develop a river consultation strategy, the aim of which is to protect and conserve the environmental and heritage qualities of rivers and facilitate their sustainable use. Where does this strategy fit in with the already published catchment management plans, and when you refer to the sustainable use of rivers, what do you mean? Do you agree that the problem with the concept of sustainable use is that all related issues should be addressed and treated with the same importance, and that some issues, such as water quality and sewage treatment, will take precedence, so that sustainability is not addressed at all?


Mr Lamont: The catchment management plans were oriented towards water quality, and looked at the impacts and uses of the rivers in those catchments. The rivers have been used for leisure activities, fishing and receiving effluent from sewage treatment works. That has been a pattern of society for many hundreds of years; where people congregate, natural rivers are used, but it is a question of balance. River conservation involves the wider dimension of the natural habitats, as well as water quality issues.


In preparing me for this meeting, my colleagues pointed out that rivers are a good example of the debate about sustainability. It is a lesson that can be transposed into the wider debate on sustainable development, and it is a nice parable.


Dr Faulkner: There are two contrasting elements to sustainability. One is whether or not you can continue with an activity indefinitely, for example, taking a sustainable harvest of salmon, eels or pearl mussels out of a river. If that type of fishing is sustainable, you can continue to do it at the present levels indefinitely, because it is self-sustaining.


The second element is the external dimension. Take the example of hydroelectric generation in a river system. There is no obvious problem in continuing to use the fall of a river to generate electricity indefinitely. However, an installation can impact on other river uses, for example, on angling, if the installation interferes with the passage of migratory fish. It could also impact on upstream flooding or recreational or navigational uses. Sustainable use of a river has these two dimensions: can you continue to use it for that purpose indefinitely, and will it impact adversely on other uses of the river system? To me that seems as good an example as you could get of sustainability in practice.


Mr Lamont: Does that answer your question?


Mr Shannon: Yes. Various groups have come before the Committee to highlight pollution as a key issue. Agriculture and waste water treatment works are the two major pollutants. First, which category creates the greater problem? Secondly, do you think that EHS should have the right to prosecute Government agencies that pollute waterways and that currently enjoy Crown immunity?


Dr Ramsay: We have given the Committee a league table of pollution incidents, and in high and medium pollution incidents, agriculture tops the league. Where water quality is concerned, the greatest problem in Northern Ireland is eutrophication. The majority of our major water bodies are showing signs of eutrophication, particularly Lough Neagh and Lough Erne. Agriculture is the main contributor of phosphorus to these water bodies: over 60% in Lough Neagh, and over 70% in Lough Erne. By whatever yardstick you use, agriculture is the main factor in pollution incidents and eutrophication.


Mr Lamont: When we talk about regulation, we are actually talking about the regulation of the Department for Regional Development and the Water Service. It is for Ministers to decide about Crown immunity and how to deal with Departments. I have my own views, but I wonder if they are relevant. It is a much wider issue than Crown immunity. Crown immunity could be lifted at the stroke of a pen, but it would not change very much because we do prosecute. Prosecutions, and the threat of them, are important in showing that we take pollution incidents and the quality of our environment seriously.


If you separate the prosecution issue from the public expenditure regime that Government Departments must live by, you are missing the point. It would be pointless for me to prosecute the Water Service, for example, if it did not have the resources to improve the infrastructure and waste water treatment works to appropriate standards. That is not to say that there is total immunity. In an administrative arrangement between Departments, we set standards for the Water Service's waste water treatment works. These standards are published on open registers. Anyone can look at them and compare the Water Service's performance against them.


Those standards are increasingly being raised to meet the requirements of another European directive - the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive - which has a series of deadlines, going back a couple of years and going about five years into the future, by which various categories of works have to meet standards. The very first of those commitments was to phase out the dumping of sewage sludge at sea. The Water Service did not resile from that. They had to find an alternative way of dealing with sludge, so they built a state-of-the-art incinerator.


As our standards are raised to the statutory standards of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, they are inescapable for Water Service, and Crown immunity does not come in to it. It is not specifically the Water Service that will fail the directive; it is the United Kingdom Government that will not be meeting the standards of the directive. There will be increasing pressure for them to come into line.


In case you think that that is a fudge, Mr Shannon, I am simply not in a position to say that I would like Crown immunity struck away. Unless they had the money to put into the infrastructure, it would be meaningless. That is my view.


Mr Shannon: I accept and understand your point, but why should a Government Department not have to adhere to all the regulations that others have to? That is the point I am trying to make. We are accountable; they should be the same.


Mr Lamont: I understand that and, as far as they can within their resources, they do try to do that. All Government Departments have a commitment to live by the law and to meet the standards. The standards we set are derived in the same way as other standards that apply to the private sector. It is a question for Government.


What happened in other parts of the United Kingdom is interesting. They got funding in to it by taking the industry out of Government. That decision has not really been taken in Northern Ireland. We still have the Water Service as a public authority, protected if you like, and you have to find another way to achieve it. Ministers are currently looking at it, and they will have to decide on whether or not the present arrangements will still pertain in the future.


The Chairperson: Would you agree that had there not been Crown immunity, the Departments responsible for the infrastructure shortfall that we recognise now might have been more inclined to spend on refurbishment of that infrastructure in the years when they did not necessarily have to?


Mr Lamont: I am not sure I would agree, Chairman. We have found the Water Service to be professional, and they recognise the standards that we apply. We are not dreaming them up, they are not some "pie in the sky." They are required to protect water quality and ensure our commitment under the Water Act (Northern Ireland) 1972, and it was a departmental commitment. In those days we were part of the same Department, and there were real benefits in being side-by-side in that way. Ministers had to decide where the priorities lay between complying with good practice - all our regulations are about good practice - and the financial implications. I am not sure that Crown immunity made a great difference, unless there is a recognition of the funding issue. It ill behoves me to support the polluter, if you like, but that is my own view on the matter.


The Chairperson: I understand that. I am sure your colleagues in the other Department would be delighted by your defence of their position, but having been a public representative for many years I would take a different view.


Returning to the question of phosphates, Dr Ramsay, are there not phosphate-free fertilisers? What is the extent of their availability? Could something not be done to ensure that only phosphate-free fertilisers were available? Do you understand what I am getting at?


Mr Lamont: Absolutely.


Dr Ramsay: The role the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has played in discussions with the fertiliser manufacturers is recogniszd. My understanding is that phosphate-free fertilisers are available, but farmers seem reluctant to use them. There may well be an economic reason. I understand that phosphate-free fertilisers are slightly more expensive. Why would a farmer put on a phosphate-free fertiliser when he can spend less by putting on a fertiliser with phosphorus? I think farmers do feel there is a need for phosphorus.


Parts of Northern Ireland are over-fertilised, but other parts are not. There may well be a view that if one tablet is good for you, two tablets are better. There is probably an educational role required. As you know, we have issued eutrophication strategy proposals. We are looking at the responses to that.


We are minded to go down the voluntary route, but it must involve a very focused educational programme based on good science and good economics, and we must attempt to persuade farmers of that. Perhaps there is a need for statutory nutrient management plans. The Lough Erne nutrient scheme was a major initiative funded by the peace and reconciliation funds. Twelve hundred farmers took part - a 95% uptake. It cost almost £1 million. Initial indications suggest that it has been successful, but a major evaluation of the scheme will take place.


A voluntary scheme could work, but if it does not we will have to consider legislative options, and that was quite clearly set out in our paper. It is much more desirable to achieve what you want by the voluntary route. We are bringing forward regulations on agricultural fuel oil, silage and slurry that will look at the storage of wastes on farms. Based on the GB experience, it will help reduce the number of agriculture pollution incidents. It will have attendant benefits for eutrophication.


I look forward to the results of the evaluation of the Erne scheme. What it produces will be very important in determining whether there has been a demonstrable improvement in water quality.


The Chairperson: When do you expect the results?


Dr Ramsay: The scheme finishes this year and the initial indications are favourable. We should have a full evaluation next year. One aspect of our discussion with our colleagues in the South is how you would actually demonstrate the value of the scheme - the cause and effect issue. It is not an easy scheme to evaluate but it is something we must address.


Mr Lamont: We were recently visited by the Cabinet Office's Better Regulation Unit. They were particularly interested in whether our regulatory role in the agriculture industry was appropriate. Their report is still being prepared. They talked to various regulators about their attitudes to the farming industry and enforcing regulations and standards. They said they were keen to see a light approach rather than a robust enforcement regime.


Mr McCarthy: Do you think it is grossly unfair that farmers are pulled up for pollution incidents when the Department can walk away from major sewage spills? There is no accountability. Have you had any instances where the chief executive of Water Service, feeling that such a situation was ridiculous, accepted responsibility?


Mr Lamont: We have a procedure whereby my service mediates in the restoration process when Water Service admits responsibility for overflows or spills affecting rivers. In such cases they have engaged in the clean up and, more importantly, they have engaged with the clubs in the area to restore fisheries. In those cases, they have recognised that they were culpable.


Mr McCarthy: Have heads rolled? We visited a facility at which there had been a spill that caused a lot of damage and no one was held accountable for it.


Mr Lamont: The service, as a whole, was held accountable. I think you are asking whether individuals were held responsible.


Mr McCarthy: That is correct.


Mr Lamont: I think they probably were not held responsible, but that is not within my remit. Water Service does, from time to time, recognise that there has been a malfunction, or negligence, or that something has gone wrong. They have recognised that in real terms, by offering compensation.


Dr Adamson: You state that EHS is fully committed to a programme of research to develop river water quality classification systems as required by the EC Water Framework Directive. What does the current research programme entail, and what proportion of the Environment and Heritage Service budget is devoted to research?


Mr Lamont: We engage in research by gathering various types of information to enhance our understanding of what needs to be done. We have a very strong relationship with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and we pool our research budgets to take forward areas of common interest. That has been a very successful practice for some years. Through that, we buy into the Environment Agency and we can get ownership of scientific research being conducted in this field.


The EC Water Framework Directive is very important and the implications are enormous. We need to minimise the cost to Northern Ireland if we can, and buy in and get extra value for what we are doing. We also carry out a lot of monitoring. It is very difficult to split the specific research from the routine monitoring and analysis.


Dr Adamson: I would also like to know about lakes. Apparently it took about 20 years to research Rivers before implementation. Do you have methods for lake classification in time for implementing the EC directive?


Dr Ramsay: The EC Water Framework Directive challenges all member states to produce classification systems. Currently no member state has a classification system that would satisfy the terms of the directive. All member states are probably further advanced with regard to the river classification system than the lakes; we certainly are.


However, we are investing £50,000 over the next two years to improve the River Invertebrate Prediction and Classification System (RIVPACS), which is the software model used to classify rivers biologically. It has been developing for 20 years. We began biological monitoring of rivers in the early 1980s. RIVPACS was a software module developed initially for Great Britain. Because we are an island off an island, we do not have the same biodiversity, so it had to be adapted for Northern Ireland, and it continues to be adapted. We are refining it even further, and it will cost £50,000 over the next two years.


Also, since 1994 we have been looking at plant life in rivers, and we have now awarded a three-year research studentship to the University of Ulster to incorporate that data into our river classification system. That costs £11,000 a year. So we are talking about £61,000 for two years and then £11,000 for the year beyond.


My overall programme budget is about £2·5 million a year, most of which goes on field staff. Within that, my research budget is about £180,000 a year. The Committee should not feel that finance is the real determinant; I have enough money at my disposal to deliver on the classification systems.


Lake and groundwater classifications are not far advanced in any of the member states. We are currently awarding four research studentships, three to the University of Ulster and one to Queen's University, to develop lake classification systems using macrophytes, phytoplankton, macroinvertebrates and fish populations. A lot needs to be done for lakes and groundwater. We work very closely with colleagues in the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, with the Environment Agency in England and Wales, and also with our colleagues in the Republic of Ireland, because the island of Ireland is regarded as one eco-region. We have to ensure that our system is compatible with their systems. There has to be a read-across so that we can compare results.


The differences came to light most notably when we looked at the Erne and Foyle. For many years, the Republic has been using biological monitoring more than we have. We monitor chemically, because we control discharges chemically, so the Republic is probably slightly ahead of us in that respect. They have always majored in biology and we have not. We are building up our biological monitoring.


A lot needs to be done and we are addressing that. I have the financial wherewithal needed to deliver. We have six years from the implementation of the directive to set up adequate monitoring regimes. The directive has been approved and will come into effect when it is published in the Official Journal of the European Communities.


Dr Adamson: Do you think that is long enough?


Dr Ramsay: Yes. Certainly at the end of three years we will have something to test, and we have three years beyond that.


Mr Hilditch: The average fine for pollution is approximately £500. Is that large enough to discourage potential polluters?


Mr Lamont: Obviously it is not. I do not believe that it is sufficient.


Mr Hilditch: Could you give us any idea?


Mr Lamont: The legislation provides for fines of up to £20,000, and quite often the figure of £500 seems to be snatched out of the air in the middle of a hearing. On three occasions Environment and Heritage Service has written to the magistrature - I signed the most recent letter myself - at the behest of other bodies. Trying to influence the magistrature is a very difficult line to tread; the courts protect their independence. The House of Commons Select Committee - which met in this Chamber many years ago - invited the Department to write to the magistrates. I wrote again earlier this year and offered training to magistrates who were about to take up appointment, if that were thought appropriate, to help them understand the significance and sensitivity of the situation.


Even when a punitive fine is imposed which would create the right sort of "stick" in the carrot-and-stick analogy, we sometimes fail to be awarded the costs. The analytical costs that go along with the prosecution can be very high and are not always recognised by the courts. Where there is a stipendiary magistrature there is a need to understand the implications. I have to say that they do not appreciate being lectured, but we would be prepared to talk to them in a training context, if that would be appropriate. A fine of £500 will not dissuade a company and when the legislation allows £20,000, it is a slap on the wrist. We would like to see that being brought up to the maximum in order to make the punishment fit the crime.


Dr Ramsay: We have been considering what we could possibly do to encourage a higher level of fine. We are looking at the information we present to the courts in terms of the cost or the damage done. Under the new Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 we will have the legislative basis to seek greater costs from the courts. While the level of fines is low, you also have to look at the costs awarded by the courts. Perhaps magistrates feel that the higher the costs awarded, the lower the fine should be. We are looking at what we can do to bring the full picture of costs and damage to the courts.


The Chairperson: Does the range available have anything to do with it? Is the minimum too low?


Mr Lamont: There is no minimum that I am aware of. The legislation is written in such a way that it details fines of up to £20,000. The amounts of those fines can and have been enhanced from time to time as fines in a particular band are moved up by a percentage. It is up to the court to decide just how they want to recognise the offence.


Dr Ramsay: Many years ago, Lord Hailsham said that magistrates should think of the top fine and then come down, as opposed to coming up. They should think of £20,000 and then take account of mitigating factors to bring it down.


The Chairperson: Would there be any advantage in having a minimum fine?


Mr Lamont: It would be a matter for the Assembly to consider any amendments that would be appropriate. That would be a fundamental change to the whole legislative base, rather than picking out one area of water pollution incidents.


The Chairperson: You have not answered the question. Do you see an advantage in there being a minimum fine?


Mr Lamont: I would have thought so. I find it difficult to get my head round the concept. If it became law, then yes, it would be a pointer. However, there are other ways of doing it. It has not worked yet, but we are still trying. We took the matter up again as recently as this summer.


Mr Hilditch: The average fine is £500. Do the courts take a different approach to persistent polluters, or is it the same for the second or third offence?


Mr Lamont: No. Persistence and deliberate negligence are recognised. Five hundred pounds is the average; some of the fines are quite low and others run into thousands of pounds, which reflects persistence. A procedure is available to take repeat offenders to a higher court.


The Chairperson: Has that ever happened?


Mr Lamont: Not for water pollution, but it has happened for other issues.


The Chairperson: What about the £20,000 fine?


Mr Lamont: No. In other parts of these islands, higher courts have issued fines of up to £1 million, because the £20,000 fine is not applicable. In a higher court the penalty is not prescribed; it is a matter for the judge to consider.


Mr Hilditch: What is the response of farmers when you promote pollution prevention initiatives in co-operation with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD)?


Mr Lamont: Our main contact with farmers is through our colleagues in the Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB), who work with us and are authorised by the legislation to undertake certain aspects of the work.


Dr Ramsay: EHS does not have any direct contact with farmers at present. That is left to DARD and the FCB. The FCB works on our behalf on pollution incidents, which are primarily agricultural. We work closely with DARD in drawing up codes of good agricultural practice, but the time is coming when EHS staff will be directly involved with farmers. The nitrate vulnerable zones will probably present the first opportunity for that.


As I said earlier, we are also introducing regulations for agricultural fuel oil, silage and slurry, which will deal with storage on farms. As a result, EHS staff will become more involved and proactive in relation to farmers. We have a very strong proactive campaign for industry and that will be developed for the farming community too.


Mr J Wilson: Coming back to Ranunculus fluitans, I must declare an interest and say that I am chairman of one of the two angling clubs on the Six Mile Water. What does Ranunculus Fluitans indicate? Does it indicate clean water or polluted water, a river that could be described as "holding a good head of trout" or the opposite? When I hear your answer, I can decide whether or not to invite you to remove it from the Six Mile Water next summer and put it in someone else's river. I have lost many a good trout that has ducked underneath it and kept my dry fly.


Dr Faulkner: I can answer in general about water-crowfoot. They indicate, as a minimum, reasonably unpolluted water and quite good conditions for trout feeding, because there have to be some nutrients present in the system. I appreciate the problems of getting tangled in long crowfoot, but that is part of the fun of angling. It is a sport after all.


Mr J Wilson: Is it bad news for a river?


Dr Faulkner: It is not bad news at all. It is good news for a river.


Mr J Wilson: The issue of eutrophication has already been touched on. We have climbed a steep learning curve about this. It would be useful if you could outline the chain of events that lead to a waterway being described as suffering from eutrophication, or even worse, eutrophic, and the consequent reduction in fish stocks.


Dr Ramsay: Eutrophication is the biggest water quality issue in Northern Ireland at present. Its genesis was in the 1960s when Lough Neagh was affected by a particularly bad algal bloom that was very visible. The Freshwater Biological Investigation Unit was established, steered by the former Departments of Agriculture and the Environment. At the beginning, industry and, in particular, sewage, were seen as the main culprits. In the original phosphorus budgets for Lough Neagh it was suggested that industry and the Water Service were to blame. The latter installed phosphorus reduction measures at its major sewage treatment works around Lough Neagh. There was also a major campaign to look at ways in which industry could reduce phosphorus free levels, as part of which the dairy industry began using phosphorus cleaning agents.


After the Water Service installed phosphorus reduction devices, lower quantities of phosphorus entered Lough Neagh. Nonetheless, the measures became less effective over time because the input of phosphorus from agricultural activity was rapidly increasing. Pie charts for phosphorus inputs to Lough Neagh and Lough Erne clearly show that the predominant source is diffuse pollution from agriculture. That has been established for many years.


I do not believe that nutrient enrichment per se is damaging. It depends on how it manifests itself. Unacceptable manifestations include particularly toxic algal blooms or very visible blooms that affect the shoreline. The unacceptable impact of nutrient enrichment is becoming evident in many of our principal water bodies, including lakes and rivers.


Therefore, it is really only when nutrient enrichment creates unacceptable results that there is a problem. At present, our main approach is to address agriculture and agricultural pollution. DARD is playing its part by discussing the issue with farmers, but the difficulty lies in getting the message through to farmers. They have their traditional methods and they probably feel that phosphorus fertilisers should be used, so they may require some economic incentive to use non-phosphorus fertilisers.


We have scope to educate farmers, and when we launch our strategy, which we are still considering, it is likely that we will initially go down the voluntary route. However, we shall set a number of indicators to let us know if the strategy is working and if not, we will need to consider legislative controls, such as statutory nutrient management plans for farms. We may have to use legislative controls, but for now we intend to go down the voluntary route, while developing legislative controls in parallel. If we can show that voluntary controls are not working, we will bring in the appropriate legislation. However, it is a major problem and we are determined to do something about it - it cannot continue.


Mr J Wilson: The voluntary route concerns me. I am not familiar with the extensive algal bloom on Lough Neagh because few people fish there with flies. However, on Lough Erne, and alarmingly now on Lough Melvin, there is an extensive algal bloom, which has already been described as "critical" by many. Therefore, the voluntary approach will not reverse the process and we may have to look at another way of prescribing mixtures and levels of fertiliser. It is too late to merely consider introducing legislative control. We have to do something quicker - the voluntary route will not turn around what is already a crisis.


Dr Ramsay: A number of people responded to our consultation paper by advocating the legislative route. Others wanted us to develop both, and in a sense we are doing so. We may initially stop short of statutory nutrient management plans, but we are proposing to bring in fuel oil, silage and slurry regulations, which will have a bearing on the eutrophication debate.


Mr Lamont: There may be a misunderstanding of terms. A voluntary system sounds as if it is a bit weak and wishy-washy: "we might come in, or we might not." We were impressed by the work done in the west of the Province, where there was a very high uptake of a voluntary scheme. The nutrient scheme was taken up by 95% of farmers in that location and was very effective. It is a structured process and will be underpinned by proposed legislation.


Dr Ramsay: We have to recognise that in the Erne scheme, farmers were getting paid. There may need to be an economic incentive, either through significantly cheaper phosphorus-free fertilisers or some sort of financial assistance. However, how does that sit with the "polluter pays" principle?


Mr J Wilson: You drive along the roads of Ulster and you see the words "3 in 1" on fertiliser bags. Fertiliser is still being sold with a high phosphorus content. Are the fertiliser manufacturers part of the team that is looking at this?


Dr Ramsay: There are phosphorus-free fertilisers available. I do not think there is an economic incentive to use them.


Mr Lamont: And possibly even a disincentive, as you said earlier.


Dr Ramsay: If you can pay less for a fertiliser that has phosphorus in it, why would you not add phosphorus? Perhaps farmers are not convinced of the science of the argument. Perhaps they are staid in their ways, reluctant to change, and suspicious of phosphorus-free fertilisers. They have always done it that way. If one pill is good for you, two must be infinitely better.


The Chairperson: Gentlemen, thank you for your presentation and your answers to our questions. Your evidence has helped us considerably. As you may be aware, we have almost completed the stage of taking evidence and we hope to draw all this - and there is an awful lot of it - together into a series of recommendations to put to the Minister, the Department and the Assembly