HL Deb 19 July 1901 vol 97 cc959-66

My Lords, in accordance with the notice standing in my name, I rise to draw attention to the Report of the Irish Inland Fisheries Commission, and to present a Bill. I think I can justify my position with regard to this matter by saying at the outset that I am devoted to the gentle art. It was evident some years ago that the rivers of Ireland were gradually becoming depleted of salmon. A committee of the Irish Tourists' Association considered the matter in 1896, and decided to send out a series of questions to gentlemen interested in the different rivers in Ireland. I must draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that, being a tourists' association, we were only able to deal with rod-fishing. The questions asked were: (1) Has the rod-fishing for salmon, sea trout, and brown trout deteriorated in your district? (2) Has the net-fishing for salmon, sea trout, and brown trout deteriorated in your district? Causes of deterioration (if any)? (4) Do the constabulary take any active part in enforcing the Fishery Laws? (5) Do the coastguard take any active part in enforcing these laws? And (6) what remedial measures should, in your opinion, be adopted in your district? We received 103 answers to those queries, and a Report was drawn up which stated that— The deterioration in Irish angling has been most noticeable during the last ten or twelve years, in which space of time matters seem to have been going from bad to worse. The lakes and rivers, except in some few favoured districts, seem to be without supervision of any kind, at the mercy of poachers, whom the law seems unable to reach. In Ireland there are the most perfect natural salmon and trout rivers in the world; rivers whose upper waters offer the best possible spawning ground, and whose deeper and lower reaches afford everything necessary in the way of suitable shelter and haunts for mature fish. The causes militating against an adequate supply of fish are found to be poaching and the want of proper protection. A quickening of the authorities took place after that, and in some cases, no doubt, the constabulary gave assistance by stopping the poaching of salmon whilst the fish were spawning. About two years later it was suggested by Mr. Maguire, of the Board of Conservators of the Drogheda District, that a conference should be held of the different boards of conservators in Ireland. These boards met and sent delegates to a conference, at which most conflicting interests had to be dealt with—the interests of net men and rod men, and also the milling interest. The conference appointed committees to deal with certain points, and met again to receive the reports of the committees, and it was then decided to go in a deputation to the Lord Lieutenant. The movement began in 1896, and the deputation to the Lord Lieutenant took place last year or the year before. I had the honour of being chairman at the conferences, and also spokesman of the deputation to the Lord Lieutenant. The result was, his Excellency appointed a Vice-regal Commission, the Report of which has been laid on the Table of both Houses. In Ireland we are most satisfied with the Report of that Commission, and I will read to your Lordships the names of the Commis- sioners. They were the Right Hon. Samuel Walker, Lord Justice of Appeal in Ireland (Chairman); Professor Daniel John Cunningham, M.D., Trinity College, Dublin; Sir Thomas Esmonde, Bart., M.P.; Sir R. U. Penrose Fitzgerald, Bart., M.P.; the Rev. William Spotswood Green, M.A., one of H.M. Inspectors of Fisheries in Ireland; Professor William Carmichael McIntosh, M.D., St. Andrews University; and the Rt. Hon. O'Conor Don. In their Report the Commissioners stated that they received evidence as to all the principal rivers, estuaries, and fishing waters in Ireland, and also made personal inspections of the Shannon from Killaloe to Scattery Island, the Laune and Killarney Lakes, the Lee, the Black water down to Youghal, the Boyne, the Moy, the Sligo river, the Ballysadare, the Bush, the Bann, the Foyle, the Galway river, and the Slaney. They say— We consider that the principle of preserving the supply of salmon and trout for the use of the public, and maintaining the benefits which, directly and indirectly, accrue to the country from the maintenance of a sufficient number of fish in the rivers, estuaries, and waters of Ireland, underlies the granting of the present Commission; and we have carefully kept this fact in view throughout our entire inquiry. The former Irish Fisheries Commission was in 1837, and an Act was passed in 1842, but after that things went from bad to worse. Then we had a Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1863. This led to the passing of a most important Act, which swept away a number of those engines and machines that impeded the salmon from ascending the rivers. There important legislation stopped, but we hope to get further legislation as the result of this Commission. One of my reasons for bringing this Report before your Lordships is the statement of the Commissioners with regard to salmon and trout being valuable food. I should like to see this harvest of our inland fisheries sold at 6d. per 1b. in the markets of the United Kingdom, and there is no reason why, with proper regulation and due regard to all the interests involved, this should not become a fact After the Report of the Commission was laid on the Table of both Houses the conference of delegates from the different boards of conservators met again, and that meeting was better attended than the previous ones, sixteen out of the twenty-four boards being represented. The Report was fully discussed, and although all the boards did not send delegates there was no hostile feeling shown, and nothing adverse appeared in the Irish press. I will deal, firstly, with the recommendations of the Commission. It was found undesirable to introduce in the Bill, which I hope to present to your Lordships' House when I conclude my remarks, provisions dealing with the constabulary, which are under the Irish Executive. The Commission in their Report say— We are strongly of opinion that the public interest makes it desirable that it should be made part of the duty of the constabulary to assist in the protection of salmon and trout during the spawning season and on the spawning beds. That is all we can hope that the constabulary will do for the present. I will only quote the evidence of one witness out of the many who were examined by the Commission. Lord Morris, whom we hope soon to see back in his place, said— I want to state, after long experience, not indeed in a fishing way, but I went fifty-three circuits through Ireland as judge, and in my opinion there will never be anything practical in the way of putting down poaching unless the constabulary are to do it. I look upon everything else as the merest palliative—utterly useless unless the police are authorised and empowered to put it down. It is illegal under various statutes. Why should not the police put down what is illegal, as they do illicit whisky? … … Therefore I have no belief in anything unless the police are to be employed to put down poaching. The question was asked— That would be on the spawning beds? and Lord Morris's reply was— Of course, during the illegal time. He was next asked— They are no man's property, then? and his reply was— They are no man's property; they are not mine. I could not meddle with the fish myself. And why is it supposed to be the duty of the owner of the fisheries to put down an illegality at the time that he has no control over it, no more than any other member of society? Therefore, I think it is entirely a police duty. I cannot understand some suggestions I saw about taking the police out of their proper sphere, and all that sort of thing. What is their proper sphere but to assert the law? This is a breach of the law. I trust I have made it clear that what we hope will be done is to protect the fish on the spawning beds. The coastguard question is a very difficult one to deal with, because, broadly speaking, the attitude of the Admiralty is unfavourable. The Commissioners say— We are unable to see why the powers, given by the law to the coastguard, should not be carried out, and we are of opinion that the interests of the public in the fisheries render it most desirable that the restrictions imposed by the authorities at the Admiralty should be removed and the coastguard authorised to assist in the enforcement of the close seasons.', At one time gunboats did seize nets, but when the bad times came in Ireland it was thought advisable that there should not be collisions between our bluejackets and the people on the coast, and since then no action has been taken by the coastguard. The recommendations of the Commissions with regard to hatcheries have not been embodied in the Bill, because it was felt that our new Department were dealing with the matter and that they should have a fair trial. The Commissioners state that the establishment and maintenance of hatcheries formed a question so important that a very considerable portion of the evidence submitted to them was naturally devoted to that subject. I wish to draw attention to the effect of hatcheries on the Atlantic seaboard of America. The evidence was that on the Atlantic seaboard of America salmon, after having been practically exterminated by poaching and other causes, were reintroduced by the artificial hatching of eggs obtained from Canada. Evidence of a similar nature, although not so striking, was forthcoming from other countries. The Commissioners recommend that a central hatchery should be established in each province of Ireland, which should be erected, fitted up, and maintained out of funds under the control of the fishery authority, and be directly under the supervision of the Department, and that the capture and sale of salmon and fry, in connection with artificial propagation, should be made lawful. Since this report Mr. S. Jaffé, of Osnabrück, in a letter in the Field of July 6th of this year on the success of the salmon hatcheries in the River Weser, where natural spawning has practically ceased since 1892, gave the following statistics, which are founded on the number of fish caught in the third, fourth, and fifth years after the fry were planted in the river—

Fry planted. Salmon returned and were caught in Caught. Percentage of salmon returned to fry planted.
1892. 1894. 1895. 1896. Total.
1,411,250. 2,556 3,204 2,060 7,820 over 5½ per 1000. *
1893. 1895. 1896. 1897.
1,085,850 933 1,606 659 3,198 under 3 per 1000. ‡
1894. 1896. 1897. 1898.
1,264,200 1,384 1,538 1,046 3,968 over 3 per 1000. §
1895. 1897. 1898. 1899.
1,263,000 1,166 1,918 919 4,003 over 3 per 1000.
* Being 5,547 salmon per million fry planted, † Being 2,945 salmon per million fry planted. ‡ Being 3,138 salmon per million fry planted. § Being 3,169 salmon per million fry planted.
The proportion of about three per 1,000 of returning salmon to fry planted, that is to say, three adult salmon returning to every 1,000 fry planted artificially, may appear small at first sight. Considering, however, that the cost of 1,000 fry planted on the Weser does not exceed 7s. 6d., for which we get three salmon of an average of 12lb. each back, we get a very fair return for our money on a river on which we now depend wholly on artificial planting for our catch. Mr. Jaffé concluded by saying that he thinks these percentages will become considerably higher owing to new and improved means of planting the fry. All this has come as a shock to those who have attempted to minimise the importance of hatcheries, and is most interesting.

As to the scientific investigations recommended by the Commission, I may say that the new Department have taken the matter in hand, and are commencing, or have commenced, work. The Commission also recommended that a fishery board should be constructed. With regard to that there was a difference of opinion at our conference, but I stopped discussion on the matter by pointing out that we should give our new Department a fair chance. I said I thought it better that the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, which had appointed a Fishery Committee, should for the present deal with the matter. I think I have said enough with regard to the matters recommended by the Irish Inland Fisheries Commission. You will have seen how step by step, since 1896, those interested in the matter have done everything in their power to obtain this Commission, and I think you will allow that we have done our duty in the matter. Conflicting interests have been reconciled. Nearly all the members of our conference were witnesses before the Commission, and now we trust that His Majesty's Government, as represented by the Irish Executive, will take measures which will lead to the improvement of our inland fisheries. There is one form of poaching peculiar to Ireland—namely, the poisoning of the rivers in Kerry by means of a plant commonly called spurge, of which the botanical name is Euphorbia Hibernica. I now beg to present my Bill, which is entitled Salmon Fisheries (Ireland) Bill, and embodies two principles—the free passage of the fish and the protection and enforcement of the law.

Bill to amend the laws relating to the salmon fisheries of Ireland, presented by the Earl of Mayo.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 1a.— (The Earl of Mayo.)


My Lords, I do not know whether any remarks from me are called for, because it is not possible to say anything with regard to a Bill we have not seen. But I can promise my noble friend that his Bill will be regarded with great interest and attention, and although, of course, it is impossible to carry out anything in the way of legislation this year, it is very likely that some provisions of this Bill may afford a practical basis for useful legislation afterwards. The recommendations of the Commission may be divided into two classes—those which require legislation, and those which do not. The noble Lord has touched upon one or two of the recommendations which he said could be carried out by the Executive without legislation, and I think I shall be able to show your Lordships that the matter is not being allowed to sleep. With regard to the question of hatcheries, the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction began last year a system of developing hatcheries, offering the owners of hatcheries £25 for every 100,000 fry turned out over the output of the year before. Four hundred and twenty-four thousand beyond their average output were turned out by five hatcheries. This system has worked very well, and will be repeated. In addition to this the Department have issued to boards of conservators and others a scheme for the establishment of new hatcheries and the further development of existing ones, although on somewhat different lines from those of the plan suggested by the Commission. It was also in the interest of the salmon fisheries that the Department entered an opposition this year before Parliament to the Shannon Water and Electric Power Bill, on the ground of the injury the scheme was calculated to do to the spawning beds, and they only withdrew their opposition on terms which they believed would adequately protect the interests of salmon fisheries. These included the contribution of £2,500 by the company towards the construction of a special hatchway. Scientific investigation into the life history of salmon is being undertaken almost precisely on the lines recommended by the Commission. As to the protection that the constabulary can give, and the suppression of poaching, the Department have entered into communication with the Inspector-General of the Royal Irish Constabulary on the subject of the co-operation of the constabulary, and the result has been the issue of a circular to the men of the constabulary. I hope these statements will be satisfactory to the noble Lord, who may rest assured that the Government will do all they can to promote this question.

On Question, agreed to.

Bill read 1a accordingly; and to be printed. (No. 170.)