Concerns about inadequate MMO monitoring of foreign vessels

A Channel rod and line bass fisherman who claims that French trawlers are catching large quantities of bass inside the UK 12-mile limit, which would put them in breach of landings limits, is calling on inshore fishermen to report any they see to the MMO.

Jim Hackett, who operates the under-10m Sally Ann III in the Selsey Bill area, says that he has witnessed the French trawlers switching off their AIS systems – a clear strategy, he says, to avoid patrol vessels, whose own whereabouts they seem to be acutely aware of.

“The week before last there was a fishery patrol boat off the south coast near Selsey and no French trawlers to be seen,” he told Fishing News.

“When they left, the French trawlers turned up. They were targeting bass on the banks we regularly fish. I reported this to the MMO, and was told it would be passed over to the ops team.

“Last week the same vessel was there again. I was on a bass mark on the bank, and he came straight through and at us and over the bank. That totally ruined it for us, and then he carried on west, and then pulled his gear up and headed back to France. I again reported this to the MMO.

“They only do it when the patrol boat disappears, and then they’re in there. I filmed one a couple of years ago, and his codend was full. They are allowed 5%, but you don’t see them putting the fish back.

“When the MMO said they’ve only got two boats to monitor the whole of the Channel, I said: ‘I thought you’ve got counterparts in France – why can’t you ring them and ask them to board them before they get back?’ They said: ‘It’s not as simple as that.’

french bass trawlers

French trawlers working right up to the six-mile line are suspected of deliberately targeting bass, in contravention of joint UK-EU regulations, which only allow bass to be taken as a bycatch.

“Can I ask all rod and line bass fishermen to report any deliberate trawling for bass by French trawlers, as the MMO are monitoring the situation.

“I guess we have Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage to thank for this, as they promised to ban French trawlers in our waters. They promised us we would be reclaiming our waters, and they just lied through their teeth.

“When the licences were withheld, we didn’t see a French trawler, but they screamed and shouted, and now they’ve issued the licences again, the whole French fleet from Dieppe is here.

“We’ve had to burn two miles of drift nets because of the bass drift-netting ban – yet they allow these big French trawlers to come in while we’re there with two of us fishing with two rods catching a few fish – it’s disgraceful.”

He added that his local MMO always answers the phone, and he appreciated that ‘they’ve got a lot on their plate with this iVMS’.

Trawlers are allowed to catch only 5% by weight of bass per trip as a bycatch, with a total catch limit of 3.8t per vessel per year, under joint UK-EU regulations. A number of bass line fishermen contacted FN last summer claiming that they were being ‘bulldozed’ off their marks. They also suggested that the French vessels are targeting bass, and taking way in excess of their catch limits.

One suggestion from a bass rod and liner working offshore, south of the Isle of Wight, who experienced several weeks of ‘harassment’, was for IFCA vessels in the Channel to be used by the MMO for patrols beyond six miles.

A spokesperson for the MMO told FN: “We can confirm that our patrol vessels were present in the Channel over the last bank holiday weekend (27-29 May), conducting boardings and carrying out inspections on both UK and EU-registered fishing vessels.

“These actions were based on risk-based intelligence, which acts as a deterrent to illegal fishing activities. Where infringements occur, we can impose a range of sanctions, including legal action when required.”

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

Sign up to Fishing News’ FREE e-newsletter here


Subscribe to Fishing News magazine today; never miss an issue and save 55%!