Fishermen to be freed from quotas

Fishermen in the Lowestoft area have been “thrown a lifeline” and will not have to stick to strict quotas as part of a study into the environmental impact of fishing boats.

Fishermen in the Lowestoft area have been “thrown a lifeline” and will not have to stick to strict quotas as part of a study into the environmental impact of fishing boats.

As part of the project, and as an incentive for taking part, smaller boats will be able to sell all the fish they catch above the minimum landing size, rather than being restricted by quotas.

The Defra-funded study will measure the environmental impact of the boats by gathering data on things like fuel consumption and cost per trip, value of catch per trip and the amount of bycatch - other types of fish caught accidentally - and fish waste.

Fisherman Paul Klyne went to a meeting held by Defra to explain the study and hopes it will be available to all boats in the area because of the positive impact it could have on the local fishing industry. However, it is not yet known how many will be eligible.

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“This initiative is a bit of lifesaver to an industry desperately in need of good news. The prospect of quota free fishing is appetising to say the least. Looking at it objectively, we have been thrown a lifeline,” said Mr Klyne, who is based just down the coast from Lowestoft at Southwold.

“The people that are left are very responsible fishermen and very aware that fishing needs to be sustainable. But there has been a massive improvement of stocks and it's frustrating that we are so limited to what we can catch. It won't just benefit us, but everyone throughout the industry, such as the fish merchants.”

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The project will cost about £280,000 and involve boats of less than 10 metres, although they will be restricted to 15 days of fishing a month.

Planning for the study is still in the early stages, but it is thought the scheme is open to boats that land at the Lowestoft port. Vessels from Hartlepool and the Thames Estuary are also expected to participate.

The study will be reviewed after six months by the Lowestoft-based Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and is expected to last a year. Defra is in the process of inviting applications and selecting boats at the three ports. About 30 boats will be part of the study and fitted with monitoring systems to keep track of all activity.

A spokesman for Defra said: “The environmental footprint of the inshore fishing industry is not well understood. The pilot project is designed to gather data which will feed into Defra's long-term vision for sustainable fisheries.”

Lowestoft fish merchant Sam Cole said that current quotas were putting fisherman's livelihoods at risk and the study might show that they can be relaxed. He also said that more fish coming to port would not drive down prices, but enable merchants to sell to a much wider market.

“At the moment there are huge restrictions on fishing quotas. The quotas have gone down so far that fisherman will stop going out to sea. The new quotas say you can only catch 100 kilos of cod per boat per month and no skate at all,” said Mr Cole.

“This means fisherman will be out to sea for less than a day a month. This study is the way forward.”

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