Call to halt wild wrasse ‘gold rush’

THE Angling Trust has called for an immediate suspension of the wrasse ‘gold rush’ that supplies live, wild caught fish to salmon farmers in Scotland.
Some 89 tonnes of wrasse, used as cleaner fish to control sea lice on salmon, were caught in 2015, much of this in the inshore waters of the south-west of England, according to government figures from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).
‘Members of the public fishing recreationally should be extremely concerned over a new and rapidly expanding commercial fishery which threatens the south west’s wrasse populations,’ said the Trust, that represents anglers in England and Wales, in a statement on its website.
‘Wrasse are highly important recreational angling species and play an important role in the resident and tourist angling activity which supports thousands of jobs throughout the south west of England and which was valued at £165 million to the regional economy back in 2005.
‘Landings data from the MMO shows that the value of live, wild caught wrasse at prices as high as £150 per kilo makes what used to be a ‘trash fish’, or one only used as pot bait, the single most valuable wild capture fishery in the UK compared to wild sea bass and lobster that can fetch as much as £15 -17 per kilo,’ said the Trust.
‘With no controls on how much can be caught, and very little known about the impact on wrasse stocks and the ecosystem, sea anglers are hugely concerned that wrasse stocks in English waters could be decimated by the rush to profit from this hugely valuable, yet totally unmanaged, fishery.
‘Little is known about the sustainability of wrasse populations and what impact commercial scale harvesting will have on marine ecosystems where wrasse play an important role.’
Attempts are being made to supply the aquaculture market with captive bred wrasse but unlike lumpfish, another effective cleaner fish, the complicated lifecycle of wrasse means farmed supplies are still restricted, though increasing.
The industry in Scotland continues to make a huge investment in wrasse hatcheries, in Scotland and also in Wales.
The Angling Trust claims that the focus on the south west fishery is the result of depleted stocks in Scotland but admits this information is based only on ‘anecdotal evidence’.
Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, said: ‘We are not sure there is a sustainability issue for wild wrasse; however, it is our intention to commission a data analysis of the status of wild wrasse stocks to support the sustainable future use of wild wrasse.
‘We believe that the vast majority of those engaged in fishing for wild wrasse in Scottish waters are going to considerable effort to ensure they are collecting sustainable components of the wrasse stock, ie young and old fish are not being taken.
‘We are also working on optimum use of wrasse on farms to hopefully reduce the volume and usage of stocks going forward.’
The Angling Trust is now writing to the MMO, the Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) and the Welsh Assembly government to request immediate measures to stop the live capture of wild wrasse for the aquaculture market until ‘there is sufficient evidence to establish whether it is sustainable, what impact the removal of wrasse has on the ecosystem, and whether the removal of an important recreational asset for anglers in the south west of England to supply the Scottish aquaculture market is in line with the IFCAs’ obligation to manage sea fishery resources sustainably’.
In addition, the Angling Trust is calling on the use of wild caught cleaner fish to be included in the environmental impact assessments of any aquaculture operations.