Safe havens

Mike Handy­side be­lieves our es­tu­ar­ies and har­bours should be net-free fish sanc­tu­ar­ies

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Content - PHOTOGRAPHY: MIKE HANDY­SIDE

THE NETSMEN’S stran­gle­hold on the law may end soon with the ban­ning of nets in the es­tu­ar­ies and har­bours of Dorset, Hamp­shire and the Isle of Wight. Sea- and game-an­glers are be­ing urged to con­trib­ute to an im­mi­nent (De­cem­ber 7) re­view of net­ting reg­u­la­tions, which could set a prece­dent for pro­tect­ing other coast­lines, al­low­ing UK fish­ery pol­icy to catch up with for­ward-think­ing coun­tries such as the USA and Aus­tralia. In Florida, a gill-net ban has proved hugely suc­cess­ful at sav­ing fish stocks, while New South Wales has ben­e­fited from Recre­ational Fish­ing Havens and Queens­land has net-free zones. Could Hamp­shire’s fa­mous havens soon jus­tify their name, with fish en­ter­ing Southamp­ton Wa­ter and Portsmouth Har­bour re­ceiv­ing le­gal pro­tec­tion. It’s an ex­cit­ing prospect. The South­ern In­shore Fish­eries and Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity (IFCA), one of ten re­gional IFCAS with ju­ris­dic­tion to six nau­ti­cal miles off­shore, recog­nises the im­por­tance of the So­lent and sur­round­ing coast­line to de­clin­ing mi­gra­tory fish stocks. It also ac­knowl­edges that sea an­gling across Eng­land sup­ports a stag­ger­ing £2.1 bil­lion of to­tal spend­ing, along with 23,600 jobs (2012 fig­ures). These sta­tis­tics would be mas­sively higher if, to the 884,000 sea an­glers, you were to add res­i­dent and vis­it­ing salmon and sea-trout an­glers. Net-free zones would un­doubt­edly swell the ranks of over­seas fish­ers who flood to Bri­tain, not least to his­toric rivers such as the Itchen, Test and Hamp­shire Avon. Oth­ers rivers that would ben­e­fit from a ban in­clude the Meon, Stour, Pid­dle and Frome. Sea-trout mi­grate along the coast so we can also in­clude the Arun, Adur and Ouse in Sus­sex and the Axe in Devon. Net gains would be vast com­pared to Defra’s fig­ures of only 6,000 com­mer­cial fish­er­men land­ing just £160 mil­lion worth of fish. These netsmen cur­rently work in an ab­surd, over-com­pli­cated le­gal en­tan­gle­ment of rules and reg­u­la­tions, con­tain­ing more loop­holes than some of the mesh they shoot. Fol­low­ing a ban, com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors, in­stead of haul­ing huge lengths of gill-net­ting, might choose to carry rod-and-line fish­ers, ex­cited and happy to pay hand­somely for vastly im­proved stocks. Surely, the net re­turn would be higher than fish­ing for al­most worth­less mul­let, which be­come cat food and crab bait? Un­less they were, per­haps, catch­ing some­thing else in their nets, with a far greater price on its head: a by­catch of salmon, sea-trout and bass (other than those taken with au­tho­rised quota)? All of which must be re­turned to the sea dead or alive, ac­cord­ing to law. Grey mul­let have typ­i­cally been tar­geted in har­bours and es­tu­ar­ies us­ing ring nets, hand-hauled by sin­gle op­er­a­tors on small shal­low-drafted ves­sels. Should this form of net­ting con­tinue (one of three pro­posed op­tions in the re­view) South­ern IFCA sug­gests that a se­ries of prin­ci­ples be adopted, but, these, like pre­vi­ous reg­u­la­tions, are open to abuse. For ex­am­ple a ring net, no more than 350m long or deeper than 6m, shall be at­tended con­stantly and shall not be set across more than three quar­ters of a chan­nel, and re­trieval, with­out pause or de­lay, must be­gin within ten min­utes of the net be­ing set. Who will be watch­ing all this? Surely this isn’t the pre­ferred op­tion. Nor is the sec­ond op­tion, where ring nets op­er­ate at least 3m be­low the sur­face. In the­ory, salmon and sea-trout swim close to the sur­face and nets set 3m be­low the sur­face, sup­pos­edly, don’t take them. In prac­tice, that’s non­sense. South­ern IFCA are keen to point out in their con­sul­ta­tion doc­u­ment that har­bours and es­tu­ar­ies are “…im­por­tant places for peo­ple to en­joy through recre­ation”. They also say that net­ting reg­u­la­tions should “sup­port the use of es­tu­ar­ies and har­bours by bass and other fish pop­u­la­tions as nurs­ery and refuge ar­eas” and “pro­vide pro­tec­tion to mi­gra­tory fish species as they tran­sit through…”. The au­thor­ity also states it has re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to man­age fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in sites of con­ser­va­tion im­por­tance: “This is of par­tic­u­lar rel­e­vance to this re­view as, within the dis­trict, the At­lantic salmon is listed as a species of Com­mu­nity in­ter­est in two Spe­cial Ar­eas of Con­ser­va­tion and both the At­lantic salmon and the brown/sea-trout are ref­er­enced in the ci­ta­tions of sev­eral Sites of Spe­cific Sci­en­tific In­ter­est. Ad­di­tion­ally, the At­lantic salmon was iden­ti­fied as a

BE­LOW Not just a blot on the pub­lic coast­line, but present-day net­ting is a le­gal en­ta­gle­ment, with more loop­holes than some of the in­stru­ments them­selves, caus­ing mi­gra­tory fish de­cline.

MIKE HANDY­SIDE is an en­quir­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal fish­eries pho­to­jour­nal­ist. He has worked on rivers, pro­fes­sion­ally and vol­un­tar­ily, and has fly­fished for more than 40 years.

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