Fishermen in the South West have broadly welcomed the announcement by the MMO last week of a move to raise the MLS for crawfish to 110mm carapace length, and to consult on the establishment of a closed season. The MLS will come into effect on 1 January.

Two options are being consulted on with respect to a closed season, which the MMO suggests could run either from 1 December each year, or 1 January, reopening either on 31 March, in line with the French regulations, or 31 May. The short consultation, available here, closes next Monday, 27 November.

Chris Ranford, chief executive of the Cornish FPO, welcomed the announcement. The CFPO has been campaigning since mid-2022 for the 110mm minimum size to be applied across the country. CFPO members announced a voluntary move by its members to 110mm, an MLS that already applied to crawfish taken within the Isles of Scilly, Devon and Severn and Cornwall IFCA districts.

Monthly landings of crawfish in the UK. Proponents of a closed season that runs to 31 May say that this will impact only a handful of the larger vessels, and also allow the MMO to consider other measures to protect the fishery, at a time when it is als

“Crawfish was part of the Crab and Lobster Fisheries Management Plan, and the MMO held a workshop on crawfish about six weeks ago here in Newlyn,” Chris Ranford told Fishing News. “We had a really good attendance – about 35 fishermen were there to discuss some other options as well as the minimum size. There was unanimous support for the MLS increase, and that’s now been agreed, so I think we can celebrate.”

He said the industry had been asking for management of crawfish for the best part of two years, and its introduction was also ‘a bit of a test of the post-Brexit system’. “If you want to change anything, you’ve got to be prepared to wait, let’s put it that way,” he said.

“But we’re grateful, and recognise that Defra and the MMO have done something about it, even if it’s taken them a bit of time, so fair play – we’ve got to say thanks. The system can work – we can influence fisheries management for the good.

“It will be interesting to see where the consultation takes us next year. I think it’s the first sign of a Fisheries Management Plan being implemented, so I’m encouraged.

“If this is how post-Brexit fisheries management goes – having a consultation, then a workshop with the right people in the room, then action, that’s good. We’ve got a bunch of other things we want to get on with and do better with in terms of management.”

As part of wider research on both sides of the Channel, scientists from the University of Plymouth have been working with Isles of Scilly IFCA officers in ground-breaking work tracking the movement of tagged crawfish. (Photo: University of Plymouth)

Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, confirmed that Jersey followed the existing French regulations, with a closed season until 31 March, as well as a berried ban and the 110mm MLS, but said that despite these being in place, catch rates have fallen in the fishery.

“One of our boats in particular has been involved in a lot of tagging work to learn more about the stocks over here. Unfortunately, although we continue to see good numbers of juveniles here, we are not seeing ones that have matured – probably due to the heavy fishing with spider crab nets in our waters by French boats.”

The crawfish fishery has seen a huge rise in interest in the last few years, after a ‘boom and bust’ fishery 20 years ago. One fisherman involved then told FN that he is alarmed to see the warning signs of a repeat of the situation, despite the welcome increase in MLS.

“The CFPO move to 110mm was great,” he said “but the year-class that was most abundant and needed the protection has largely reached this size now. We’re seeing a bunch of bigger boats move into this fishery, with massive amounts of gear, and this is before the possible introduction of a zero TAC in the pollack fishery. That is going to hit really hard and push even more effort onto crawfish if we are not careful.

“This move by the MMO is very welcome, but it is very much the ‘lowest common denominator’ step that everyone can agree to, and the door is still wide open to an increase in effort.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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