Keep watch on French fleet urges Whitby owner Published: 13 March, 2007
A LEADING East Coast trawler operator has suggested that an official watch should be kept on the activities of a large French trawler fleet fishing for whiting in the North Sea.
Arnold Locker of Whitby-based Locker Trawlers Ltd said the activities of the vessels, which are based in Etaples, near Boulogne, had increased considerably in recent weeks and while they were not doing anything that was obviously illegal he was intrigued by the fact they were now landing their catches back in France.
Mr Locker said: “Until recently they had been landing their whiting in Grimsby and then sending it over to France by road to save money and time spent at sea. Now they are taking it back to France themselves which suggests they might have a large proportion of cod in their nets as well as whiting which is not allowed.”
He commented: “You have to ask why else are they going back to France? It means they are using up their days at sea allocation a lot faster – which of course is not a bad thing from our point of view. Hopefully, they will run of days at sea.”
He added: “I think it is something that Defra should take a close look at.”
Mr Locker, who has a fleet of five trawlers operating mainly out of Whitby, said his skippers had reported increased activity by the French in an area of 100 square miles North of Flamborough Head. The boats have been granted a large whiting quota, but they are not allowed to catch cod. They vessels moved further north last hear following a round the table agreement with the Bridlington boat owners after a dispute which had seen the two sides almost come to blows during the summer.
The Bridlington men accused the French of causing hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage to their lobster pots off the Yorkshire Coast. But after a meeting brokered by MEP Edward MacMillan-Scott, they agreed to move to a zone further north, although the area was used by the shell fishermen. The deal was hailed as a classic example of ‘give and take’ by both sides.
Mr Locker said the French were now ‘cleaning up’ in this new area because they are only using 80 mm sized meshes in their nets whereas local Scarborough and Whitby crews are using 120mm sized meshes which allowed the young fish to escape. Sometimes up to 15 French trawlers have been fishing off Flamborough, although in recent days it has been down to six or seven.
There have been suggestions that some boats have been infringing the 12 mile limit, but so far there is no evidence to back this up.
Following reports from local crews that the French were flouting the rules, a spokesperson for the Marine Fisheries Agency said they were operating off the Yorkshire coast but they are all outside the 12-mile limit where they can legally fish.
Mr Locker said that current cod fishing in that area and off the Yorkshire coast in general has been among the best for years, partly because some of the grounds have remained fallow for a period.
He now has a new 21.5 metre long trawler under construction which should be ready to start fishing operations by the middle of the summer. The Yorkshire Coast is still one of Britain’s leading fishing areas. Scarborough still has a fleet of eight white fish trawlers while Whitby has 10 and more are being added to the fleet.
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