Wally GoBy Andy Hargreaves
A tag placed on the back of a spiny lobster
Stocks of crawfish in the waters around Scilly are on the verge of “a catastrophic collapse.”
That was the dire warning issued by officer Doug Holt at the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority meeting yesterday.
But a new byelaw designed to protect the crustacea, also known as spiny lobsters, has been delayed until at least June to allow further consultation with commercial fishermen.
The proposed rules would require fishermen to throw back any crawfish that are carrying eggs or are below a new larger minimum size of 110mm. That’s 15mm longer than the current 95mm limit for landing the species.
It follows a three-year research project undertaken by Scilly’s IFCA, which found that there was a scarcity of small juvenile crawfish in the fishery.
Their analysis of the catch of commercial fishermen also showed that a higher than expected number of so-called ‘berried’ females carrying eggs were being landed.
Doug told members that the species, which was abundant in Scilly in the 60s and 70s, has been gradually declining and is close to reaching a critical point.
That’s possibly due to the switch from using pots to less selective nets to catch the lobsters.
Joanna Smith from Natural England said the study showed an “alarming number” of females with eggs being landed.
And she said if new rules weren’t introduced “there won’t be a fishery here in the future.”
But industry representative Tim Allsop felt fishermen using our waters needed more time to review the data.
He said they had helped with the study but could be upset if the data was now used against them to introduce restrictions on their catch.
And he queried the evidence, saying the commercial fishermen claim they are throwing back more berried females than the data suggested.
Tim wanted to delay a decision on the byelaw for a year and instead pay fishermen to record and release all berried females they caught.
That, he said, would have the same effect as the proposed restrictions while gathering more evidence and keeping the fishermen on side.
A new byelaw could take up to two years to reach a decision stage and some members felt they should vote to start that process now, while continuing to consult with the industry.
Members of the IFCA committee eventually voted to delay a decision on introducing a new byelaw until their next meeting in June.
That would give them time to meet with the commercial fishermen to discuss the disputed data.