Government Sanctions North East Net Fishery Property Grab

10th December 2012 in Domestic Fisheries Policy, North East

Drift Net Fishery Axed

Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon and Secretary of State, Owen Patterson, have announced the closure of the North East drift net fishery and phasing out of the traditional T and J net fishery, to placate the powerful landed/riparian lobby.

The main features of the new Net Limitation Order are:

  • Closure of the Drift Net Fishery in 2022
  • T and J Net to be phased out
  • No Transfers to licence endorsees
  • Review introduction of quotas and effort controls to regulate salmon catches in future

This Net Limitation Order is the culmination of nearly thirty years of continuous pressure from the riparian and angling lobby who have deeply resented that they have had to share the salmon and sea trout resource with small-scale fishermen. The reason that until now, they have had limited success is due entirely due two three factors:

  • The NE commercial fishery has been an exemplar of how a small scale, traditional fishery should be managed
  • The scientific case against the drift net fishery was not there
  • The stalwart efforts of the NFFO Salmon Committee, led by Derek Heselton, to expose the angling lobby’s manoeuvres for what they were: a property grab.

However, in recent weeks the signs have been ominous. Owen Patterson, with direct family connections to riparian owners was appointed Secretary of State and has taken a direct interest. The salmon and trout lobby has used its immense financial clout to buy expertise to handle the issue and has applied pressure with an intensity that only great financial resources can provide.

With this weight of powerful and systematic opposition and the numbers of netsmen reduced by the 1992 phase-out, it has been a matter of fighting against the odds.

No Science Just Greed

There is no conservation case that would justify closing the NE net fishery. The reasons used to cover a naked political decision to close the fishery are based on NASCO advice to close interceptory mixed stock fisheries. But:

  • The scientific evidence demonstrates that the stocks which the NE fishery are exploiting are stable, improving and above their conservation targets in both English and Scottish rivers
  • NASCO advice allows for socio-economic considerations to be taken into account if the Government is minded: The Government has ignored this
  • There is an identifiable harvest surplus in these stocks which justify the continuation of the North East net fishery
  • Comparing the annual catch of the drift net fishery to the natural rate of mortality or the annual catch of the rod fishery indicates that the net catch in this small traditional fishery is insignificant
  • NASCO has no commercial fishing input and is dominated by angling and riparian interests
  • Not least, there is a large local hatchery in the North East that is used to support salmon stocks: a fine example of sustainable practice

T and J Nets

The justification for the phase out of the T&J net fishery is even weaker:

  • Previous NASCO advice was to encourage a move from drift netting to T&J netting on the grounds that T& J nets tend to exploit single river stocks
  • This advice has changed and T&J nets are now classed as mixed stock fisheries
  • The conservation status of all of the stocks exploited by the T&J net fishery are stable, improving or in excess of conservation targets

The Angling Lobby

No, the explanation for this closure does not lie with the science or conservation concerns. It lies with the powerful salmon angling lobby which reflects the opinions of some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country who have decided that there is no place for a small-scale well managed net fishery.

It is not that we catch too much salmon that is the issue, it is that we have the effrontery to catch any salmon at all that is the root problem here.” said Derek Heselton, Chairman of the NFFO Salmon Committee.

There is no overwhelming or urgent conservation case that would justify this closure. The explanation lies entirely in the fact that one group of vested interests has put sufficient pressure in the right places at the right time to secure a closure.”

“Prior to this decision we were hopeful Government would be holding up the salmon fishery as an example of the sustainable, small-scale, community based, fishery that should be nurtured and encouraged. The Government had the option to halting the phase out of drift net licences, begun in 1992 on equally spurious conservation arguments.“

Turning of the Screw

It is plainly the Government’s intention to turn the screw on the remaining netsmen with a review whether catch quotas or effort control should be introduced.

Reverse Decision

The NFFO will be doing all in its power, up to and including legal action, to reverse this disgraceful decision.

Editor’s Notes

  1. Prior to the phase out of NE salmon drift nets instigated by John Selwyn Gummer in 1992, there were 181 drift net licences issued in Northumbria and Yorkshire. There are now 14.
  2. T&J net licences were issued by the Environment Agency in 2012 for the Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire coasts.
  3. Drift netting for salmon was banned in Scotland in the 1960s under another Conservative administration and under similar pressure from landed/ riparian interests.