Yorkshire shellfishermen call for action as valuable gear destroyed

Fishermen want action to prevent tens of thousands pounds worth of pots being destroyed
Fishermen want action to prevent tens of thousands pounds worth of pots being destroyed

Shellfishermen are calling for an automatic tracking system to become a legal requirement to stop tens of thousands of pounds of damage being done to their pots by outsiders every year.

Jason Harrison, from Filey, said local boats had again had hundreds of lobster and crab pots towed away by visiting scallop dredgers from around the UK, as well as French fishing boats.

In recent years fishermen have repeatedly complained about losing gear to visiting boats.

Mr Harrison also said that as a result of “every man and his dog ploughing the seabed” for the past three months there was nothing left for the handful of local boats.

The fisherman said his own crab boat had 70 pots towed away by a large scalloper off Scarborough on Saturday.

“I’ve just been speaking to local scallopers who are seething, because there is nothing on the grounds. If it had been controlled and policed well, it would have sustained it for longer.

"But because it has been hammered, there’s nothing for them now,” he said.

Most boats carry the automatic identification system (AIS) but it is mandatory only for vessels over 300 tonnes.

It allows crew onboard a vessel as well as the maritime authorities to track and monitor boats’ movements.

A Scarborough fisherman, who wanted to remain anonymous, had nearly £2,000 of pots trawled away by a French vessel last week.

He said the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority patrol boat Guardian, which undertakes offshore enforcement, was like a fixed speed camera, adding: “Everyone knows where it is.”

An AIS system which everyone would have to turn on “would help without a shadow of a doubt”, the fisherman said, although it would give away his position too.

But it was a price he was prepared to pay.

“There would be no excuse then,” he added. “You could tell them where your gear is and if they were in your area fishing near you would have a culprit and you could take the information to the local authorities.”

Chief fisheries officer David McCandless said the authority had been trying to get such a bylaw for three years – and it was now awaiting ministerial approval.

He said there was still a problem with nomadic scallop dredgers coming in illegally within six miles.

A publicly transmitted AIS system would act as a strong deterrent because “everybody would be accountable for their actions”.

The bylaw would mean the system had to be fully functioning – and if it broke down the vessel would have to come back into port.

A number of vessels are being investigated for illegal transgressions within the six-mile limit.

The Marine Management Organisation, which licenses and regulates marine activities, has been approached for comment.