Gear regs in conflict with landing obligation

Under-10m fishermen in SE England face having to discard half of their catches because some fishery officers are enforcing catch composition rules, reports Tim Oliver.

There is also confusion because of the conflict between the landing obligation regulations, which force fishermen to land all catches, and the catch composition rules that force them to discard some species.

A fisherman at Hastings received a cautionary letter from the local MMO office after a routine inspection of his vessel, pointing out that 51% of his catch was illegal with the 90mm trammel nets he was using.

Species that he had caught illegally were thornback ray, cod and plaice. They comprised just over half the boat’s catch – 140kg out of the boat’s estimated total catch of 275kg. The 90mm trammels the boat was using allow only target species falling within a 90-99mm mesh size to be landed. A 120mm mesh is needed to catch cod, 100mm plaice and 220mm for thornback ray.

There is a by-catch allowance of 30% by live weight of all non-target species in the overall catch.

The letter referred the skipper to Annex VI of Article 11 of Council Regulation 850/98 for full details of catch composition regulations and provided an online link. The MMO told the skipper that it would not pursue the matter but said ‘future failure to comply with the catch composition requirements may result in more formal action being taken’.

An MMO spokesman told Fishing News: “I can confirm that the landing obligation for pelagic and demersal species is now in force and must be complied with. Catch composition rules do not mandate discarding and are aimed at requiring skippers to fish more selectively.”

Paul Joy, co-chairman of NUTFA, who fishes from Hastings, said the situation was ‘very worrying’ and confusing for both fishermen and fishery officers. He said the catch composition regulations had never been designed for small inshore boats, but some fishery officers spent time ‘reading obscure legislation’ that, if imposed, could lead to fishermen unwittingly committing offences.

He said the catch composition rules were also in conflict with the landing obligation, because while the latter did not permit any discarding, it was obligatory to comply with catch composition rules.

He told Fishing News: “It’s a shame that we’ve got some fishery officers who feel that catch composition rules are part of the under-10m strategy. They weren’t designed for small inshore netting boats in mixed fisheries, but they do legally apply to all boats.”

One problem species locally is ‘mackerel dog’, the local name for lesser spotted smooth-hounds, which are often abundant but which require a 6in mesh under catch composition rules.

“If you’re fishing for sole and you’ve got a lot of mackerel dogs in the catch, you’ve got a landing obligation/discards issue – there’s a lot needs to be thrashed out,” he said.

“The industry needs clarification as to where it stands re the landing obligation. We asked the MMO office in Hastings for the rules on landing mackerel dogs and they said there are no restrictions. Then the office at Shoreham says, ‘we’ve found some legislation that affects you, we can summons you if you do it wrong next time’.

“We looked up the legislation, which was set out in a 24-page document in 1998, and updated in 2009. This is putting unnecessary pressure on the industry and on the fishery officers – no one knows where they stand, unless they sit and read the whole CFP reform document. That’s a huge document, and the ‘Blue Book’ of fishery regulations is continually being updated. What fisherman has the time to keep reading it? You need a head like a Philadelphia lawyer to keep up with it all and keep abreast of obscure regulations. But unless you go through that, you don’t know whether you’re breaking the law or not, and the fishery officers don’t know either – or some don’t.”

Paul Joy said the catch composition regulations also affected skates and rays. He said they are abundant but there is very little quota for them because of the problems relating to Guernsey refusing to recognise the quotas.

“What are we going to do with them?” he asked. “If we bring them in under the landing obligation, how will that fit in with the 30% composition rules? Fishermen don’t realise, or they forget, that if you’ve got skate on board and they make up more than 30% of your catch, you’ve got to have an 8.5in mesh or you have to dump them. You’ve got one rule contradicting another; fishermen don’t know where they are.

“Some fishery officers are being too diligent about enforcing legislation that will become redundant anyway under the landing obligation.”

Paul Joy said he would put the issues on the agenda for next MMO/industry meeting in March.


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Gear regs in conflict with landing obligation

Under-10m fishermen in SE England face having to discard half of their catches because some fishery officers are enforcing catch composition rules, reports Tim Oliver.

There is also confusion because of the conflict between the landing obligation regulations, which force fishermen to land all catches, and the catch composition rules that force them to discard some species.

A fisherman at Hastings received a cautionary letter from the local MMO office after a routine inspection of his vessel, pointing out that 51% of his catch was illegal with the 90mm trammel nets he was using.

Species that he had caught illegally were thornback ray, cod and plaice. They comprised just over half the boat’s catch – 140kg out of the boat’s estimated total catch of 275kg. The 90mm trammels the boat was using allow only target species falling within a 90-99mm mesh size to be landed. A 120mm mesh is needed to catch cod, 100mm plaice and 220mm for thornback ray.

There is a by-catch allowance of 30% by live weight of all non-target species in the overall catch.

The letter referred the skipper to Annex VI of Article 11 of Council Regulation 850/98 for full details of catch composition regulations and provided an online link. The MMO told the skipper that it would not pursue the matter but said ‘future failure to comply with the catch composition requirements may result in more formal action being taken’.

An MMO spokesman told Fishing News: “I can confirm that the landing obligation for pelagic and demersal species is now in force and must be complied with. Catch composition rules do not mandate discarding and are aimed at requiring skippers to fish more selectively.”

Paul Joy, co-chairman of NUTFA, who fishes from Hastings, said the situation was ‘very worrying’ and confusing for both fishermen and fishery officers. He said the catch composition regulations had never been designed for small inshore boats, but some fishery officers spent time ‘reading obscure legislation’ that, if imposed, could lead to fishermen unwittingly committing offences.

He said the catch composition rules were also in conflict with the landing obligation, because while the latter did not permit any discarding, it was obligatory to comply with catch composition rules.

He told Fishing News: “It’s a shame that we’ve got some fishery officers who feel that catch composition rules are part of the under-10m strategy. They weren’t designed for small inshore netting boats in mixed fisheries, but they do legally apply to all boats.”

One problem species locally is ‘mackerel dog’, the local name for lesser spotted smooth-hounds, which are often abundant but which require a 6in mesh under catch composition rules.

“If you’re fishing for sole and you’ve got a lot of mackerel dogs in the catch, you’ve got a landing obligation/discards issue – there’s a lot needs to be thrashed out,” he said.

“The industry needs clarification as to where it stands re the landing obligation. We asked the MMO office in Hastings for the rules on landing mackerel dogs and they said there are no restrictions. Then the office at Shoreham says, ‘we’ve found some legislation that affects you, we can summons you if you do it wrong next time’.

“We looked up the legislation, which was set out in a 24-page document in 1998, and updated in 2009. This is putting unnecessary pressure on the industry and on the fishery officers – no one knows where they stand, unless they sit and read the whole CFP reform document. That’s a huge document, and the ‘Blue Book’ of fishery regulations is continually being updated. What fisherman has the time to keep reading it? You need a head like a Philadelphia lawyer to keep up with it all and keep abreast of obscure regulations. But unless you go through that, you don’t know whether you’re breaking the law or not, and the fishery officers don’t know either – or some don’t.”

Paul Joy said the catch composition regulations also affected skates and rays. He said they are abundant but there is very little quota for them because of the problems relating to Guernsey refusing to recognise the quotas.

“What are we going to do with them?” he asked. “If we bring them in under the landing obligation, how will that fit in with the 30% composition rules? Fishermen don’t realise, or they forget, that if you’ve got skate on board and they make up more than 30% of your catch, you’ve got to have an 8.5in mesh or you have to dump them. You’ve got one rule contradicting another; fishermen don’t know where they are.

“Some fishery officers are being too diligent about enforcing legislation that will become redundant anyway under the landing obligation.”

Paul Joy said he would put the issues on the agenda for next MMO/industry meeting in March.


Read more stories from Fishing News

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