Static-gear fishermen from Portsmouth and Selsey have voiced their concerns and frustration about two French trawlers that appeared to be specifically targeting bass off the south coast of England over the Bank Holiday weekend of 27-29 May, reports David Linkie.
Above: The French trawlers Equinoxe…
Selsey Bill skipper Jim Hackett, who was line-fishing for bass on his under-10m boat Sally Ann III SM 6, said: “At a time when a large number of UK skippers are not permitted to fish for bass in any shape or form, while those who were issued with licences by the MMO are subject to catch restrictions and are constantly monitored, it is extremely annoying that two French trawlers were targeting bass south of Portsmouth.
“Together with several other inshore line boats from Portsmouth and the surrounding area, I steamed 11 miles off to an area which, for unknown reasons, is regularly favoured by bass at this time of the year.
“On nearing the area, it was immediately obvious that bass were in the vicinity, as indicated by an abundance of bird life, as well as two French trawlers from Dieppe.
“From starting to fish in the area, line catches of bass were fairly consistent. These consisted of a mix of sizes, including smaller fish under the 42cm MLS, which were immediately returned to the sea alive.
“The French skippers were continually taking short tows through an area about ½ mile square, before hauling up and steaming up through the tide before shooting away again. Although they were reasonable amounts of fish aboard, no fish appeared to be discarded.
“The key question for me is why these French trawlers are being allowed to do what they were blatantly doing – targeting bass – at a time when they are only permitted a 3% by-catch and a maximum of 400kg a month.
“In order for these boats to comply with the by-catch regulation, they would need to land nearly 13t of other species, which clearly is not happening.
“Every time I steamed towards the trawlers to try to get photographs of the codend being taken aboard, the skippers deliberately continued to tow their gear half hauled in order to foil my attempts, which to me was a blatant admission of guilt.
“Reporting the presence and activities of the French trawlers to the MMO over the Bank Holiday weekend, even with the assistance of Portsmouth harbour police, took time, which undoubtedly is why the French skippers chose to fish over that specific weekend.
“When the MMO were informed of the situation, they said they would contact the relevant French authorities in Dieppe. Concern was also expressed that although I provided the MMO with the readings of where the two French vessels were fishing, the trawlers could not be located as presumably the skippers had turned off their AIS systems, even though doing so is illegal.
“While I realise that for any vessel to be charged with illegal fishing suitable evidence is required, how can this be achieved if the boats in question are not even monitored? Yet again, this appears to be a case of UK fishermen being subjected to strict enforcement of EU regulations, unlike their European counterparts even though they are fishing alongside us in our waters.”
A spokesman for the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) said: “The MMO takes all suspicions of illegal activity that are reported to us seriously, and this case was no exception.
“We are aware of the presence of French trawlers operating in UK waters. All EU member states are subject to the same bass rules and regulations as the UK.
“In this case we carried out investigations with the French Authorities regarding the activity of the vessels concerned and no evidence of infringements has been detected.
“We will continue to monitor the activity of all vessels operating within our jurisdiction in line with our risk based approach to enforcement.”
Read more in Fishing News here.