Let's take control of our future

Posted on 11/11/14 by David Stevens

Newlyn skipper of the Crystal Sea (SH118), David Stevens, explains why the industry must take centre-stage in implementing the discard ban.

I have been fishing now for nearly 25 years and in all of that time, the decisions that really matter, on how we fish and by what amount we can catch have been controlled by people far away miles from the sea, who most of us have never met.

The decisions that are made in Brussels by the EU have had a huge impact on how we run our businesses. We are often left wondering how simple policies, have been made so complicated and bureaucratic, that once they are introduced to industry level, they just don't work.

I think that with the introduction of the discards ban, the bureaucrats have bitten off more than they can chew, and for once in their lives they are looking for someone else to come up with the answers.

This time it has to be the industry which leads the way, and I am sure that if we step up to the challenge, we can meet it. As long as the commission are prepared to rip up the rule book and afford us more flexibility to run our businesses as we know best, so we can deliver the clean fisheries we know we can achieve.

For the last two years our vessel has been involved with the catch quota scheme, each year the bar has been raised in what we are expected to deliver. This year we have been running a fully documented catch on 3 species.

Adjusting to what is in effect a discard ban trial on 3 species has not been easy, but we have found our way through and we have met the challenges that inevitably get thrown at fisherman, through the course of a year.

This year we were faced with a big problem, we had a huge influx of juvenile haddocks entering the stock. This on the face of it was a good sign as it proves that the stock is healthy and it will receive a huge recruitment year class. However as a fisherman working with the cameras and having to count every fish against our quota this was a problem.

I felt like tearing my hair out in the beginning, but the crew and my brother and I put our heads together and we came up with a plan.

We needed to filter the juvenile haddocks out of the net, and we knew that a square mesh panel in the stocking wouldn't be effective enough. So we took the decision to put the SQMP in the cod end of one of the nets, we are twin rigging, so the other net we left as a control.

At first we made the panel quite small, about 7 meshes across and 15 deep, just to see the impact. After the first haul we saw instant results with 50% less juveniles in our catch.

We found that we were still retaining more haddocks than we would of liked, we reckoned this was due to the panel not being big enough and that we needed to place it further down the cod end.

We ended up with a panel 10 meshes wide and about 30 deep it started 2 meshes up from the cod line, and nearly up to the choker rings.

This proved very effective, and we have been averaging around 90-95% reduction in haddock juveniles and it will filter them up to 38 cm in length, which is a size 4 market grade.

We are working 100mm double 4mm netting in our cod ends and we simply made a SQMP out of the same material and fitted it in place as we needed to.

When I said earlier about ripping up the rule books, this is a good example how the rules actually impinged on our ability to deliver effective measures to reduce discards. This set up is illegal, as we should have only 5 meshes in the salvage, as it is classed as a SQMP just like the regulatory one in the stocking, we have 10 meshes each side up to the slavage.

What we have learned most from this is that if we are given the flexibility to go about our work as we are faced with the challenges, then we can deliver on the top down policies.

We have been lucky that we have had support from the MMO who allowed us to run the two nets alongside to see the results and supplied the dispensation to be able to do this.

We also had CEFAS aboard on our last trip who have backed up the CQT data we have done. They also assessed the whole of the catch, and we have reduced all discards by a very large amount.

We also had an economic impact report done on the loss of other fish, which will be released soon, but it is minimal and for us in our fishery this seems to be an effective tool.

The discards ban as it stands now, poses the industry with a huge problem, from what we have seen so far being involved with CQT, the quota's needs to be more flexible, as do the technical rules.

Their is also a political problem with relative shares of differing member states causing a problem when you apply a discards ban to a mixed fishery. If you take area 7 where we fish for example, then the average UK share is just over 21% of the EU TAC, however on some species this is only 7-10%, and they just so happen to be our potential choke species.

Which is of no surprise to us fisherman but before any discard ban is introduced for these species then this has to be addressed.

What has been good, is that the agencies in the UK who are tasked with delivering this are working with the industry and are working well together. The MMO seem to well understand the problems that we face, and CEFAS are starting to realise that the way we manage stocks at present, will not work very well within a discards ban.

Our industry needs to take control of this situation, explain what we can achieve and what is stopping us from meeting the aims of the discards ban. Then we should guide the management side through the process of how to deliver a fully documented and clean fishery, through workable stock management and technical rules.

This will have to take the simple form of carrot and stick approach, greater compliance from a vessel should be rewarded with more flexibility, the problem we have is to ensure trust on both sides and from what I have seen cameras are the most effective tool to deliver this. This doesn't have to mean big brother at sea, one vessel from each metier could measure fleet activity as a whole quite effectively.

This needs to be done at a more regional level and allow us to implement what we need in our specific fisheries, one rule fits all, should be the only thing that is banned.

This post originally appeared on the Crystal Sea Captain's Blog.

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