Northern Irish fishermen welcomed an announcement from DAERA last week confirming a ban on landing soft-shell brown crab.

The initial moves for new legislation came from the Northern Ireland Fishermen’s Federation in 2020, part of wider requests from the industry that also involved a ban on landing berried crab and an increase in the MLS.

Changes to legislation in response to these requests have already been made, banning retention of berried crabs and increasing the MLS, first to 140mm in 2020, and then to 150mm in January 2021.

This third step, relating to soft-shell crab, comes after an additional round of consultation that closed this March.

Initial approaches made by Northern Irish fishermen for a tightening of the legislation were partly as a result of a small but potentially growing market for soft- shell crab as bait in the whelk fishery. Whilst the vast majority of fishermen continued to voluntarily return soft- shell and berried crab to the sea without a need for legislation, there were growing concerns about the possible impact on stocks of a market for bait, on what is Northern Ireland’s third most valuable species landed.

Further protection for NI crab welcomed by industry

The prohibition on landing soft- shell crab follows two increases in the Northern Ireland crab MLS, which is now 150mm. (Photo: Geoffrey Lee)

All respondents to the consultation supported a ban on landing soft-shell crab, and the vast majority also supported a ban on the sale of crab for whelk bait, and an extension of the ban to cover velvet and green crabs.

Responding to the consultation, DAERA acknowledged concerns about the use of crab as bait, but suggested that an outright ban would prevent the small and legitimate sale of processed or part-processed crab for use in the whelk fishery.

DAERA also acknowledged concerns that were expressed about the difficulty of checking every crab caught in green or velvet fisheries. It confirmed that these species would not be included in the new legislation, but did commit to exploring the inclusion of these species during the development of the new Fisheries Management Plans.

Alan McCulla, chief executive of ANIFPO, welcomed the announcement, saying: “We have a supportive minister who has delivered on this, and we’re delighted this protection is coming into place.

“All the new measures for brown crab have been proposed and supported by responsible fishermen. This is not some diktat imposed on us from above, but a move by a department that has listened to us.”

Harry Wick, CEO at NIFPO, said the fishermen in NIFPO were equally pleased, and added: “One hundred percent of the fishermen who responded were in favour of a total ban. This explodes the myth that fishermen have a poor attitude towards sustainability, and proves that we can achieve genuinely meaningful progress when government is prepared to listen.”

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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