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Get the nets out of the Southern estuaries - save our salmon, seatrout, mullet and bass

23.11.18

Monofilament netting

Plans by the Southern Inshore Fisheries Conservation Association (SIFCA) to allow ‘ring netting’ for declining mullet stocks in the estuaries of some of England’s most famous salmon and sea trout rivers, including the Test, Itchen and Avon, have been slammed as dangerous and irresponsible by the Angling Trust and other fishery and conservation organisations.  
  
The SIFCA proposals envisage ring nets up to 6 metres deep and 350 metres long strung across 75% of the river channel. This represents a 2000 square metre wall of lethal monofilament which could cause untold damage to salmon, seatrout and bass in addition to further reducing already declining mullet stocks. 
  
The Environment Agency (EA)  has expressed serious concerns about the impact of estuary netting on threatened and legally protected salmon and sea trout stocks which are highly vulnerable to ‘accidental’ capture by netsmen targeting mullet in the same locations. An EA study of Poole and Christchurch Harbour states:

“Over 80% of the nets checked by Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officers over the last 25 years have contained migratory fish. Migratory fish have made up 30% of the catch in some instances. The majority of migratory fish were already badly damaged or dead and only a few able to be released when net inspections were carried out by Environment Agency Fisheries Officers ...(who)...have also observed sea trout caught as a bycatch dumped in the water off the Mudeford slipway.”
  
In their response to the SIFCA consultation on net management in their district, which covers Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the Angling Trust concludes:
  
“No economic case has been made for promoting a ring net mullet fishery in which salmon, seatrout and bass will inevitably feature as a high value, and unlawful by-catch. Many of these protected species will end up being sold on the black market and the measures are likely to be used as a cover for increased poaching. 

Furthermore, with a declining mullet population this slow growing, low value species should really be the subject of a stock recovery programme in a sustainably managed fishery rather the target of a highly dubious proposal for further exploitation. 

Finally, with six principal salmon rivers within the Southern IFCA District constituting 10% of the principal salmon rivers in England and Wales and representing an economic value vastly greater than the existing commercial mullet fishery it is difficult to accept what justification there is for bringing forward these proposals.”

Andy Burt, Conservation Officer for the National Mullet Club, said: “The National Mullet Club is not calling for a complete ban on commercial mullet fishing but we do want to see our estuaries protected and the establishment of a fully documented and sustainable fishery that reverses the current trend in both fewer numbers and mature grey mullet. For such a vulnerable species it is unacceptable that further decline is countenanced under these ill-thought out and unevidenced bylaws. Both Devon & Severn and Cornwall IFCAs have fully protected their harbours and estuaries and Sussex IFCA looks likely to follow suit. We are very disappointed that Southern IFCA are not following their lead and are merely trying to give the appearance of protecting these areas whilst actually allowing commercial netting to continue almost unregulated.

Please read our report 'Vulnerability and Over-Exploitation of Grey Mullet' for more information”.
  
Martin Salter, Head of Campaigns at Angling Trust, added: “These netting proposals from the Southern IFCA fly in the face of both science and common sense and need a serious rewrite. The estuaries of Hampshire and Dorset include some of the most famous salmon and sea trout rivers in England such as the Test, Itchen and Frome. The tidal stretches hold wonderful bass and mullet stocks and they all need protecting from over fishing and illegal poaching with nets. Other IFCAs have brought in sensible conservation measures but SIFCA seems to be heading in the opposite direction. I would urge all anglers to make their voices heard before the consultation closes on December 7th.”
  
The Angling Trust is encouraging anglers to study the proposals and responses from concerned organisations such as the Wild Trout Trust, the National Mullet Club and Salmon and Trout Conservation Trust and send off their own comments, with a copy to local MPs. 
  
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal and a keen salmon and sea trout angler, concluded: “It beggars belief that an organisation with the word conservation in its name can even consider permitting a net fishery that will do such damage to severely depleted stocks of a wide range of migratory and marine fish species.  These dangerous and irresponsible proposals should be dropped immediately”.

Notes:
  • More information on the SIFCA consultation available here.
  • Responses to the consultation should be sent to enquiries@southern-ifca.gov.uk by 7th December
  • The response from the Angling Trust is available here.
  • The National Mullet Club's report - 'Vulnerability and Over-Exploitation of Grey Mullet' - can be downloaded here.
The Angling Trust is encouraging all anglers who fish in Hampshire, Dorset or the Isle of Wight to respond to this consultation. We've made it really easy for you - just follow the simple instructions on our campaign webpage.

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