Minutes of a meeting of the North Western & North Wales Sea Fisheries Committee Angling Meeting held on 10 May 2005 at Deganwy, Conwy, (Courtesy of Steve Evans, SACN)

Minutes of the meeting, as recorded by Steve Evans, SACN
(NB. These minutes record Steve Evans’s (SACN) understanding of the meeting and intended actions arising therefrom. Your agreement that the minutes form a true record of the discussions will be assumed unless adverse comments are received.)

Attendees:
Geoff Hancock – Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS)
Gwyn Evans -Welsh Federation of Sea Anglers (WFSA)
Mike Flynn – Welsh Federation of Sea Anglers (WFSA)
Keith – Conwy Valley fisheries and Conservation Association
Phil Capper – NW & NWSFC Fisheries Officer
Greta Hughes – NW & NWSFC Fisheries Officer
Steve Evans – SACN
Colin Charmin – Defra
Roland Sharp – Recreational Sea Angling
Richard Brassington – Environment Agency, Wales (EAW)

SFC Bylaws

Jim Andrews stated that the SFC has had recent discussions with local netsmen, which have recently objected to the proposed changes to Byelaws 24 and 25. These Byelaws were proposing changes/extensions to the closed season for netting in the Menai strait, the Conwy mouth, and the ‘associated area’. This associated area covers a ‘triangular-ish’ point from the Gt. Orme head (Llandudno West shore) to the Penmon Point area (Anglesey).

Byelaw 24 deals with restrictions on ‘fixed Engines’ (a net that is somehow anchored) and Byelaw 25 deals with restrictions on ‘Drift Nets’.

Jim stated that the objections, made by the netters to the SFC and the National Assembly for Wales (NAfW), were sufficient to prevent the proposed Byelaws from being passed by the NAfW. However, Jim also stated that he had informed the NAfW that the Anglers would need to be involved with the outcome of this ongoing debate.

Jim therefore proposed that the SFC would attempt to facilitate dialogue between both parties i.e. the Anglers and the Netsmen, in an attempt to prevent the ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ that will inevitably develop.

Various discussion ensued and it was mentioned that the SFC usually only make amendments to byelaws with the advice of, or via the request from, the EA. Richard Brassington (EA) stated that existing (non-temporary) byelaws came into being in the early 90’s to prevent the netting of sea trout and salmanoids and that these laws were again amended approximately 4 years ago to further protest those species from being targeted via the use of drift nets.

It was questioned as to why the byelaws needed amending i.e. do the EA know of any netting offences being committed in order for it to be sufficient enough of a problem that could justify the proposed closures to the fishery in that area? The EA stated that with staff resources, etc, being in very short supply that the actual information and any such incoming/collected associated evidence of offences are no longer available as they were in the past. He further stated that it took approximately 5 years evidence to get the original byelaws implemented. He therefore emphasised that the actual reason for the latest proposed changes to the byelaws were based on precautionary measures, rather than evidential.

The EA further went on to emphasise that they thought that there was possibly a problem with the byelaws, especially byelaw 25-which deals with drift nets, being abused in the associated area, and it was mentioned that the SFC must have perceived a problem which thereby started the whole byelaw amendment argument off in the first place. It was agreed that if byelaws were being abused then the byelaw could temporarily be prevented.

The EA stated that they do have the power to restrict the netting of fish in the area but that official liaison between themselves, the SFC and possibly Defra was required as it was insinuated that the EA were responsible for the fixed engines and that the SFC have the responsibility with drift nets.

This led to a debate on the perpetrators of these abuses and the question was asked about how many prosecutions have actually been made in the area. This was remarkably met with a bold statement of none (not 1) in at least the last 15 years as the netters are all generally law-abiding in this area. The SFC further stated it was not the netsmen where they perceived the problem to be from, but from so called ‘Anglers’.

The SFC stated that the outcome of the conversations/meetings had with the netters was that they were very determined to see the return of unrestricted drift netting, with the inclusion of the smaller mesh sizes, being allowed in the area, and were quite happy to adhere to the changes planned (i.e. not object) to bylaw 24 which deals with restrictions on fixed nets.

The above statement raised some concern by the anglers present, and the question was raised as to how much drift netting actually goes on in the area marked Area 3? There was no definitive answer to this question but it was suggested that were regularly 2 or 3 boats in the area at any time.

With the last few points in mind it was relatively clear that there would be objections from both sides which would result in an ongoing argument which could take months to resolve. Jim Andrews then suggested that the various groups of persons representing RSA should provide a number (4) of reps to hold meetings with the netsmen, which had already arranged for 4 reps to argue the commercial aspect wrt netting in the area.

Four representatives were therefore put forward to attend a meeting with the netting community reps and the joint committee at 19.00hrs on the 21 June 2005.

Information was requested by SACN as to the legality of the netsmen, especially those that were the main objectors to the temporary bylaw. Jim Andrews stated that they were all bona-fide registered commercial fishermen.

SACN, and BASS, then stated that if they were all registered commercial fishermen then surely they should be providing data on their catches to Defra and as such Defra should know exactly how many licensed fishermen were fishing the region and exactly what past and present, catches have been landed.

It was agreed that this information ‘should’ be available. However, when asked as to the availability of the info to the general public under the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ there seemed to be some contention as whether this info actually fell under this new law. This will require further effort and review.

It was pointed out by SACN that if the restrictions to netting in areas 3 and 4 are reduced from 30 November to only 30 June, then this would surely be allowing legal netting to be promoted in an area that is classed as a Bass Nursery area, as this Bass nursery area is protected from 30 April until the 30 November. During this period it has been stipulated that there is to be absolutely no fishing for bass via boat in the allocated area.

Remarkably the SFC stated that this was not an issue as any commercial netters in the region would not be fishing for Bass, and if any Bass were ‘accidentally’ caught then they would be safely returned. SACN disagreed with this statement and suggested that in their view nearly all fish actually caught in nets probably die for one reason or another.

Skates and Rays

Jim Andrews Stated that the NW & NWSFC has made absolutely no progress at all with the issue regarding the conservation/preservation of Skates and Rays within their allocated regions of control mainly due to the fact that they do not have the resources to take any other work on board at the moment.

It was noted by RSA that the South Wales SFC had taken a far more pro-active stance on the issue on Skates and Rays and have now managed to introduce a MLS for both species.

Bass

The issue of Bass netting in the Conwy river mouth and the associated areas was discussed under Section 1 of these minutes: SFC Bylaws.

It was re-iterated that BASS had produced a very detailed document on behalf of Defra: The Bass Management Plan (BMP).

Geoff Hancock, the local representative for BASS provided a detailed description of the proposals and intentions of the BMP. He stated that some of the proposals within the BMP have been provisionally put forward as genuine proposals to the fisheries policy. He stated that Ben Bradshaw (The Minister for Fisheries) had instructed that draft legislation be prepared. This draft legislation shall include, but is not limited to, the proposals for a Closed Season, MLS increases and Inshore netting restrictions. Geoff further confirmed that the decision to push these proposals forward had been officially agreed prior to the close of parliament for the recent elections.

BASS’s understanding is that Defra had stated that any changes actually implemented in accordance with the BMP would also be covering Wales, and that the Welsh Fisheries had been approached and that a coherence should be agreed thereby assuring that there would be no objections to the proposals by Welsh RSA.

The issue of bag limits was raised and it was agreed that this would currently require ‘Primary Legislation’. This will remain the case until a possible new ‘Marine Bill’ is devised.

It was agreed that the implementation of aspects of the BMP would allow tighter controls an all types of fishing, including angling, but will obviously have more of an impact on certain fisheries. However, it was agreed that these implications are necessary in order to provide ‘The best value of the product’. BASS further stated that they felt that the BMP was the best for the fishery.

At this stage of the meeting the SFC fishery officers present were keen to point out that “they are there to protect the fishery”, and not the netting, angling or any other interested communities.

Any Other Business

Various discussions took place re enforcement and the procedures by which possible breaches to the law could be highlighted. The SFC officers present stated that if members of the public had any information and/or suspicion of illegal fishing then they should report it to either the SFC, Defra or the EA via the existing channels of communication.

The issue of the current method of advertising of any proposed bylaw changes was highlighted. It was suggested that the current method was not effective enough to be able to reach all the interested parties as it is currently only channelled through the commercial fishing press.

It was suggested that the SFC and/or Defra should be advertising any proposed bylaws via their associated websites as well as the current channels. The response: “Not enough time and money”.

Jim Andrews stated that he would be joining the EA as ‘Marine Policy Manager’ and that his replacement at the NW & NWSFC would be a Mr. Stephen Atkins.

Jim Andrews was thanked by all RSA representatives present for his time and commitment in his attempts at getting anglers and commercial fishermen together for what could hopefully become constructive talks, and was wished the best in his new appointment.

If you would like to make a comment on this article, please contact BASS and we’ll add your comment below.

25 January 2006 – From Anonymous:
Having just read these pages. I have been involved in these talks. It was the commercial fishermen who agreed to close the mainland side of area 3, due to the bylaw being changed, to protect the run of migratory fish. The EA had no evidence of migratory fish, or droves of bass taken by nets. I have fished this area for 20 years both net and rod. The fact of the matter is, the rods way out catch the nets.