Omega Net Gauge: Mishandled and Flawed

16th February 2010 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The introduction of the new Omega net gauge has been seriously mishandled and there are mounting concerns whether it is fit for purpose.

Although few would argue against a method of measuring mesh size in a way that increases consistency and reduces the scope for error, there are now serious doubts whether the Omega Gauge delivers this.

The collective failure of the European Commission, the European Fisheries Control Agency and member states to communicate adequately with the fishing industry on the introduction of the Omega gauge has left fishing vessels with many thousands of pounds worth of nets, on vessels and in net stores that overnight, have been deemed to be illegal. Net manufactures and distributors likewise have been badly affected.

The Commission’s attitude to date has been to ignore the practical issues which the introduction of the gauge has given rise to in the hope that although costly and frustrating for the fishing industry, these are essentially transitional frictions that will die down in due course.

However, as the enforcement authorities across Europe begin to use the Omega in place of the manual wedge gauge, the issues associated with the new gauge are increasing rather than diminishing, raising the question of whether the Omega is fit for purpose.

It is now clear that that:

  1. The introduction of the Omega gauge has been associated with a wholesale failure to communicate the implications of the change to the new method. This has cost the fishing industry and net suppliers thousands of pounds.
  2. There are systematic differences in the mesh measurements provided by the omega by comparison with the wedge gauge
  3. In particular, there are serious doubts whether the new gauges are being calibrated in the way specified by the manufacturers. This could point to a failure in training procedures in the enforcement authorities, or a more deep seated problem with the gauge itself
  4. There has been a systematic failure to trial the new gauges in a wide range of practical conditions

Against this background, the NFFO has taken the issue up on a number of fronts:

  • We have taken legal advice on the position of fishermen whose nets are measured by the Omega gauge. Whilst of course, to refuse an inspection of gear amounts to criminal obstruction and should not be countenanced, at this stage it is important that skippers, when asked whether they accept the legality of the measurement of their nets using the Omega gauge, do not sign any document to this effect. If there are concerns about the accuracy of the mesh measurement, skippers should question the validity/accuracy of the gauge. It is not necessary to get drawn into lengthy questions on the issue as skippers in this position can quite properly defer further questioning until legal advice is available.
  • To issue advice that it is entirely legal for fishing vessels to ask and be given the opportunity to wash their nets to clear sand or mud from the twine that could have an effect on mesh measurement. In borderline cases where under the old method the nets would have been legal but under the Omega determined to be illegal, this could be decisive.
  • Through the North Sea and North West Waters RACs to raise, and continue to raise the issue at the highest levels until the failure of governance associated with the introduction of the Omega is recognised and addressed
  • To offer, along with other national fishing federations, financial support for an objective study into the performance of the Omega gauge as an instrument fit for purpose