Fishers leading on improved management

Author: Beshlie Pool

Location: South Devon

The South Devon and Channel Shellfishermen (SD&CS) represents over 100 members of the Devon shellfish sector – from skippers, to merchants and restaurateurs. Established in 1968 by crab fishers in the South Hams, Devon, SD&CS has, over the years, made increasing efforts to lead on good fisheries management through innovation, cooperation and compromise.

As fisheries developed, competition for fishing grounds increased. To avoid conflict, pot fishers from SD&CS engaged in conversations with mobile gear fishers from other ports – these discussions led to the Inshore Potting agreement (IPA), an area of seabed set aside for static gear. Originally managed by one of the most successful voluntary agreements in England, the IPA is now enshrined in law. The voluntary agreement ensured that the seabed of the IPA had minimal interactions with mobile fishing gear. As a result, in 2013, these same reef habitats were designated a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ).

With some members fishing in the mid channel, contact with mobile gear fishers from other countries brought new challenges. Drawing on experiences with the IPA, they meet every year at the ‘Mid Channel Conference’ to discuss fishing activities and access to fishing grounds; with some areas set aside for static gear for parts of the year.

Calling themselves ‘scientists at sea’, they are also currently participating in several research projects, including a citizen science global plankton survey – the Secchi Project – acknowledging that plankton is the cornerstone of life on this planet and of great importance to fisheries.

Pot fishing is recognised globally as a low impact, highly selective gear, with minimal seabed interactions. The Marine Conservation Society has included IPA crab as the most sustainable choice in their ‘Good Fish Guide’.