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Fisheries: Environment Protection

Volume 476: debated on Monday 19 May 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what fishing and related activities took place in the proposed offshore special areas of conservation at (a) Braemar Pockmarks, (b) Scanner Pockmark, (c) North Norfolk sandbanks and Saturn reef, (d) Haig Frais, (e) Stanton Banks, (f) Darwin Mounds and (g) Wyville Thomson Ridge in the latest period for which information is available; how often fishing took place in each; which boats were identified; in which countries those boats were registered; what species were targeted in each; what catch techniques were used; and what the commercial value was of each catch. (203974)

The Joint Nature Conservation Council (JNCC) is required to prepare conservation objectives and advice on operations as soon as practicable after sites are submitted to the European Commission. For each of the offshore Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) subject to consultation in 2007-08, JNCC prepared draft documents to the best of its existing knowledge, in consultation with various Government Departments and agencies who hold such information.

JNCC intends to update its conservation objectives and advice on operations taking into account additional information received during the consultation process.

The following summarises all the information relating to fishing activity, which is available for each site in JNCC's draft conservation objectives and advice on Operations for each possible site:

Braemar Pockmarks

Information for 12 months (ending July 2007) from the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency's (SFPA) Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) database indicates that there is currently significant fishing activity within the proposed boundary of this site. A 2006 survey of the site by an energy supply company also identifies that there is significant trawling in the site. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation (SFF) report that fishing in this area will include Nephrops trawling, seine netting, single boat demersal trawling, pair trawling and both single boat pelagic and pair pelagic trawling. SFF also indicate the data show that herring followed by haddock are the most important species with significant quantities of cod, monkfish, saithe and whiting. SFPA suggest it may be impossible to construct quantities data given the small size of the area.

Scanner Pockmark

Information for 12 months ending July 2007 from the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency's (SFPA) Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) database indicates that there is currently little fishing activity within the proposed boundary of this site. It is possible that this is because there is an obstruction in the area and this is under investigation. SFPA report that fishing in this area will generally be Nephrops (Norway lobster or ‘scampi’) trawling by Scottish vessels. There is also some Danish industrial fishing of pout and sand eel, and some pelagic UK, Danish and Swedish vessels targeting mackerel and herring. The SFF indicate that data show that there has been only one day of pelagic fishing in the past three years in the statistical square that the area lies in and that there is a significant number of days by vessels targeting whitefish using single boat demersal gear and demersal pair trawl. SFPA suggest it may be impossible to construct quantities data given the small size of the area.

North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef

This area is heavily commercially fished with mixed demersal fisheries and shellfisheries. The majority of beam trawlers are Dutch and Belgian operating around the banks and targeting sole, plaice and possibly cod, skate and rays. There are also some UK beam trawls and UK vessels using static fishing gear. There may be an occasional UK trawler operating in the area. While the area was popular with Grimsby based trawlers many years ago, the decline in that sector has meant that there has been little recorded activity by them in recent times. French stern trawlers work the area for whiting at certain times of the year (according to French fishing industry information).

Vessels targeting shellfish which are based on the coast from Caister to Weybourne, including the Cromer/Sheringham crab and lobster fleet, tend to work fairly close inshore and operate mainly on the inner sandbanks. However some of these vessels will venture further off shore. Wells based potting vessels in North Norfolk are more likely to operate further offshore and in the proposed SAC area. The offshore potters based in Grimsby, Bridlington and Scarborough are active throughout the general area. Some five UK long-liners can work the area, principally for cod, skate and dogfish, though the numbers have declined in recent years, with some of the vessels now concentrating on survey and guardship duties. Data from the Marine Fisheries Agency's Fishery Activity Database (FAD) show that the value of landings of fish caught within the boundary of the proposed site, in England by UK vessels, is £841,000 from beam trawls and £68,000 from other demersal towed gear.

Haig Fras

Fishing is known to take place within the site. Information from the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA) indicates that the area is commercially fished in relation to mixed demersal fisheries, including hake and that there are the following activities:

Netters: Haig Fras is well within range of the netting fleet based at Newlyn. The area is fished by all of the western based static gear netting vessels (12 in number) and all are members of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO). In some cases these vessels are believed to work directly on top of the proposed SAC area. French netters also appear to work in or near Haig Fras at times.

Beam trawlers: There are a number of Newlyn based beam trawlers, probably less than 10, that work around this general area and possibly within part of the proposed SAC site at times. There may be some Belgium and Irish activity here as well, at certain times of the year.

Demersal trawlers: French stern trawlers fish quite widely in the general area around and possibly within Haig Fras for nephrops and demersal species (according to French fishing industry information). A couple of Anglo-Spanish trawlers may also work the area.

Long-liners: A couple of Anglo-Spanish vessels are known to work in the general area.

Data on UK landings in England from the Marine and Fisheries Agency show that the value of demersal fishing to UK vessels is about £230,000. There is also known to be French and Irish demersal trawling.

Stanton Banks

Information for 12 months ending July 2007 from the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency's (SFPA) Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) database indicates that there is currently significant fishing activity within the proposed boundary of this site, particularly to the north-west of the site. SFPA report that it is fished heavily by vessels based in west coast of Scotland. The site tends to be a seasonal fishery because of weather and as such provides a good fishing area for larger boats during summer months. The effort is nearly all demersal trawling. The main species targeted are Nephrops (Norway lobster or ‘scampi’), haddock, hake and monkfish as well as various other species. The West of Scotland Fish Producers Organisation note that their vessels target nephrops and take by-catches of monk, megrim whiting, haddock and hake suing bottom trawls. In addition there is seasonal pelagic boat activity and significant crab fishing. Irish vessels (using both pelagic and demersal gear) also operate in this area; indeed part of the proposed site lies in Irish grey zone where UK-and Irish-claimed fishing limits overlap and there is an agreed system for enforcement. SFPA report that the industry are aware of coral in the area, and that fishermen make an effort to steer clear of it as it damages their nets.

Darwin Mounds

Mobile demersal gear is known to cause an impact to the reefs and has therefore been banned over the reef under the common fisheries policy.

Wyville Thomson Ridge

Information for 12 months ending July 2007 from the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency's (SFPA) Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) database indicates that there is currently significant fishing activity in the area. Generally the target species for demersal trawling are blueing, ling, greater fork beard and other associated deep sea species. These are targeted mostly by French (according to French fishing industry information), some UK (Scottish) vessels and possibly Spanish vessels. Given the areas rocky nature, it will generally be larger vessels. French pelagic trawlers also operate in this area. Because this site is adjacent to the recently agreed UK-Faeroese Median Line (S.I. 1999 No. 2031) there remains confusion as to the precise UK/Faeroese fishing limits in practice.