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Peter Caunter , Skipper/owner of the under-10metre netter MFV Yvonne Anne, writes about the impact that the total ban on EU drift nets would have on
Reference points: Dover (Kent) to Yarmouth ( Suffolk) For hundreds of years traditional drift netting has been carried out by small to medium sized boats targeting herring and sprat all along the south east coast with no known adverse effect on the environment. In this fishery, there is very little if any in the way of bycatch of non-target species of any kind be it fish, mammal or bird.
In recent years these fisheries have declined to a few small communities, but none- the-less this fishery is important to make up boats’ annual income, very often because of the limited range of these small boats at a time when there is no access to other species.
In more recent years, since the invention monofilament netting, a small-scale drift net fishery for bass and mullet has developed and is now the predominant fishing method of the under-10 meter fleet in the south east region. Within the last 20 years several variations to the drift net fishery have come into the fishery none more so than the use of drifting trammel nets along the sea bed for Dover sole. By changing mesh sizes the same method has proved to be very economical way of catching a variety of commercially valuable fish species all year round - not just a short seasonal fishery as being suggested by the Commission With the clean sandy nature of much of the sea bed in the region this method has replaced the trawl, mainly due to the ever rising cost of fuel. Boats using drift nets, of one sort or another, outnumber trawlers by around 10 to 1.
A total ban on all drift netting if implemented would have frightening consequences for the under-10m fleet of the south east, rendering most redundant. These boats are designed and built solely for the drift net fishery and would not be able to revert to other fishing methods. Similarly, the scope for setting nets on anchors as an alternative, would very limited due to the strong tides and turbulent nature of most areas fished, along with other issues of catch quality and discards. Rough ground, suitable for lobsters and crab is limited and already fully exploited. I suppose some boats could revert back to trawling but with fuel prices as they are, trawling with a small boat has become less and less viable.
It could be argued that a drift net with a light lead line tickling along the sea bed actually has a very low environmental impact.
Long lining, another traditional fishery, has become less popular due to the price of bait and as far as I am aware nobody has ever made a living catching Dover sole on a long line.
The reasons for the proposed ban of all drift net fisheries by the EU Commission are due to by catch of protected species of fish, diving birds , turtles and cetaceans; most of the references given concern the tuna fishery of the Mediterranean.
In recent years there have been several quite detailed surveys of the inshore fisheries of the south-east, including observers monitoring discards and catches of birds, especially with reference to the red throated diver which overwinter along this coast in large numbers. As far as I am aware, there have been no reports of any catches of birds of any species; catches of cetaceans are so rare as to be negligible and are thought to pose no overall threat to the populations of these mammals. Discards of fish are at a minimum in some cases non-existent. All in all, there seem to be no similarities to the drift net fisheries of the Mediterranean, which seems to be the target for this ban. CEFAS should have all the data needed to confirm what I have said.
There is no justification for such a drastic heavy handed approach as a total ban on drift net fisheries of the south-east.
I would hope that the fishing industry has the full backing of all fishery management departments to stop this proposed ban becoming a reality.