Both the Cornwall IFCA and the Devon and Severn IFCA now have by-laws in place that effectively ban fishing with nets in estuaries. Are net free estuaries an indication that public access to public fishery resources, in the form of Recreational Sea Angling, is beginning to achieve more legitimacy?
There are approximately 1500 miles of coastline across the Cornwall and Devon & Severn IFCA Districts and both have a number of estuaries that can provide great recreational angling experiences.
All estuaries are capable of producing good fishing with the main species being flounder, mullet, bass and gilt-head bream. Deeper estuaries such as the Fal and Tamar can also hold squid, codling, rays, bull huss, wrasse and whiting.
Estuaries in the South West have been subject to a variety of netting restrictions for many years but anglers have been concerned that the complexity of legislation has made effective enforcement all but impossible. Some estuaries have Bass Nursery Areas (BNAs) within them and netting has even been legal in such areas providing any captured bass are returned regardless of whether dead or not.
“There are approximately 1500 miles of coastline across the Cornwall and Devon & Severn IFCA Districts and both have a number of estuaries that can provide great recreational angling experiences.”
With the arrival of Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) in 2011 that replaced the old Sea Fisheries Committees, all by-laws have to be reviewed. Anglers felt this was an opportunity to try and get netting removed from estuaries and close-to-shore waters
In the event, the Cornwall IFCA decided to separate its by-law review into two strands: rivers/estuarine and open waters. The open waters netting by-law review process is still underway.
The Devon & Severn IFCA approached the issues differently with a Permitting system that included attached conditions.
The Marine Act 2009 that heralded the arrival of IFCAs laid out a number of overarching objectives that included:
IFCAs must, in performing their duties:
a) seek to ensure that the exploitation of sea fisheries is carried out in a sustainable way,
b) seek to balance the social and economic benefits of exploiting sea fisheries resources of the district with the need to protect the marine environment from, or promote its recovery from, the effects of such exploitation.
c) seek to balance the different needs of persons engaged in the exploitation of sea fisheries resources in the district.
Point c) is a game changing fisheries objective. Anglers believed that the socio-economic value of recreational sea angling, acknowledged by Government as an environmentally friendly fishing activity, warranted the removal of competing netting metiers from estuaries and that the removal of netting was a justifiable conservation measures of long term benefit to all exploiters by allowing more juvenile and adolescent fish to survive and contribute to adult stocks.
The evidence that modern monofilament netting materials introduced in the early 1970’s have had a massive negative impact on fish stocks is overwhelming. A full explanation to support this assertion is available on the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers website here.
Throughout 2013, the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers prepared a petition to seek an end to nets in estuaries and inshore waters inside the ten metre depth contour. Copies were circulated to almost fifty tackle shops across the county and then collected some weeks later. The result was a petition with over 2500 signatures of both resident and visitor anglers. This was presented to the Chairman of the Cornwall IFCA at its statutory meeting at County Hall Truro in December 2013. The no netting in estuaries by-law was eventually made by the Authority in September 2016 and passed on to MMO for quality assurance and finally it would need to be confirmed by Defra, who did so in January 2018. During the four and a bit years the by-law took to be developed, much of the work was delayed due to IFCAs being instructed to prioritise MCZ work by Defra.
In November 2014, a report was published that supported the assertion by recreational anglers that the economic and employment impacts from recreational bass angling are far greater than from commercial exploitation. This new report analysed the economic and employment impacts of different commercial bass fishing metiers and recreational bass angling in Sussex. The research was commissioned by Blue Marine Foundation and carried out by MRAG Consultancy.
“Central to achieving the removal of netting from estuaries was a greater level of engagement by anglers with the IFCAs.”
In Sussex, commercial bass landings in 2013 were 248 tonnes, whilst recreational anglers caught and retained between 11 and 19 tonnes. Despite the far greater tonnage of bass removed by commercial fishing, the final economic output for all commercial bass fishing was £9.25 million, whilst for recreational fishing it was £31 million. The number of jobs based on commercial bass fishing in Sussex was 111, whilst for recreational bass angling the figure was 353. When the data are considered on the basis per tonne of bass removed from the fishery, commercial fishing generated £40,000 of final economic output and 2.51 jobs per tonne whilst recreational bass angling generated £1.6 million to £3 million of final economic output and between 18 and 34 jobs per tonne. Essentially, a bass captured recreationally generates between 40 and 75 times the economic outputs of a bass commercially caught and at least 39 times the level of employment. The report also concluded that by far the most sustainable commercial fishery was that of hook and line.
“The mere presence of a number of sea anglers can affect the behaviour, choice of words and attitude of committee members.”
Central to achieving the removal of netting from estuaries was a greater level of engagement by anglers with the IFCAs. IFCAs hold four statutory meetings annually, all of which are open to the public. Since IFCAs came into being in 2011 a number of anglers have attended IFCA meetings and this provides opportunities to speak with officers and committee members prior to and after the meetings. The mere presence of a number of sea anglers can affect the behaviour, choice of words and attitude of committee members. Councillors who make up a significant proportion of committee members are elected by their various constituencies and having the public watching them can be very effective.
The challenge now is to make sure that these by-laws are enforced effectively. If they are, then the quality of angling in estuaries in the South West has the potential to recover to levels not seen for many decades – indicating just how damaging the proliferation of monofilament netting has been to fish stocks not just in the South West but right throughout the country.
Malcolm Gilbert | March 2018