'Join an association'
John Butterwith, Fisheries Consultant to the NDFA explains the values of fishermen being members of an association.
Being born into a boat building family in a small West Country fishing village, fishing has always been my life. I began commercial fishing in 1982, and soon after I bought my own 12m trawler which I fished out of Bideford in North Devon in the Bristol Channel. I went on to own three inshore fishing vessels and spent time as Chief Engineer on what at the time was the biggest beam trawler in England.
During those early years of fishing, myself and the local fishermen bound together to form the 'Bideford Trawlermen's Association.' As time passed, we realised that the Bideford Trawlermen's Association was too localised, and didn't attract members from wider areas of the Bristol Channel, and so, in 2006 we formed the North Devon Fishermen's Association (NDFA). We are the largest representational body for commercial fishing in the Bristol Channel.
Our members include fishermen from North Devon, and North Cornwall. We are a diverse group, representing a cross section of the industry - with 70 fishermen, as well as 650 from the largest fish processing companies in the South West which makes us rather unique.
Having processors and buyers as members has certainly created inroads for fishermen with the major UK supermarkets, by giving them a direct means of communication. Being a collective body, also gives us much more of a voice when speaking to the Ministry and other organisations where individual fishermen would rarely get a response. Of course being a fishermen's association, we also have a strong backing and recognition from the NFFO.
Up to 70% of our whitefish vessel landings are of the Ray species – amounting to around 500 tonnes per annum. There are unfortunately a lot of misconceptions surrounding Ray, mainly due to scientific advice recommending a reduction in the total allowable catch as some Ray is labelled an endangered species. There has been a lot of negativity surrounding Ray in the media in recent years, due to this flawed scientific information, which unfortunately buyers take notice of.
10 years ago we put in place a very large closed area in the Bristol Channel – with no mobile gear from 1 December to 31 May every year. This is to protect juvenile Ray, and spawning stocks. We also have a voluntary minimal landing size for Ray at 45cm across the wing tips to allow species to be able to grow bigger and aid spawning. Therefore, we are very pro-active in the conservation of Ray.
We also keep records of every Ray, caught by every vessel landing into Bideford Fisheries for the past 7 years. These records show that year on year our fishery has been sustainable, and proves that there is in-fact no need for a reduction in TAC. We are working with Seafish and the Marine Conservation Society to improve the ratings for ray and restore public confidence. By being a highly regarded fishermen's association, the NDFA can negotiate for the final aim, and that is to sell fish. If fish cannot be sold, vessels would move to alternative means of income or go out of business.
It has been a big uphill struggle to convince the buyers that we do have a sustainable product, and that year on year it has been fished sustainably. However, there is currently a lot of positive work being done with the 'Seafish Skates and Rays Group' of which the NDFA is a founder member.
By being a collective body of fishermen, with a sound knowledge of the fishing industry, those empowered with decision making do take our reasonings on board. I strongly urge every fisherman to be part of an association to represent their interests, as being an individual does not draw any response from authority, and if it does, the stereotyped letter could have been copied and pasted from a website.