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Striking the right balance for fishermen and fish in looking after our seas

By West Briton  |  Posted: February 06, 2014

By Matt Slater

  • Cooked spider crab, photo by Abby Crosby

  • Hand line-caught mackerel, photo by Matt Slater.

  • Freshly cooked Cornish prawns, photo by Matt Slater.

  • Above: Oyster dredging in the Fal estuary; and inset, line-caught bass supper. s: Phil Slater and Matt Slater

  • Pot caught brown crabs in Falmouth Bay, photo by Abby Crosby.

  • Trio of bass, the Lizard, photo by Paul Naylor

  • Small fishing boats at dawn, The Island, St Ives, photo by Gary Barlow

  • Matt Slater

  • Pollack, Wembury Bay, photo by Paul Naylor

Comments (0)

I GREW up in Falmouth and was lucky as a kid to have spent much of my time messing about in boats and in rock pools.

On cold winter evenings my dad and I would help out aboard Arthur 'Toby' West's small fishing boat, the Sylvia, night fishing for prawns off Falmouth docks. The huge variety of intriguing colourful creatures and seaweeds coming up from the dark depths onto the floodlit deck would distract me from picking out the prawns.

"Get on with it boy," Toby would shout. I vividly remember that incredible, sweet taste of pink prawns cooked in a giant pot of fiercely salted water minutes after they were landed. There is nothing like it. I developed a fascination with marine life and an affinity with fishermen, which some may find surprising considering I have become a marine biologist and conservationist.

Fishing is vital to Cornwall, economically and culturally. Cornwall's seas are blessed with an unmatched diversity of marine wildlife. The challenge is to get the balance right so wildlife thrives and future generations of fishermen can continue to make a living from this natural resource which, with careful management, has the potential to be even more productive.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust has a long history of working with fishermen. In the same way as we work with farmers, we appreciate that we need to work with fishermen and other marine users to ensure good stewardship of the seas. It is inevitable we will sometimes agree to disagree on some issues but we are essentially striving for the same thing – healthy seas that support healthy fisheries.

Nowadays many of us have lost our connection with our local fisheries as convenience, price and packaging are the main influences on buying choices. Much of the catch of our local fleet ends up being exported, yet many of our local fishermen are making great strides to catch high quality seafood, with the minimum impact on the natural environment.

Issues such as fish discards are being addressed and increasingly fishermen are adopting lower impact methods. For example there have been many improvements in the design of trawl nets to make them more efficient and reduce unwanted catch. Technological advances such as tracking devices and CCTV can help fishermen prove they are operating as carefully as possible. It is important that we shout about this to encourage people to back our local fishermen and buy Cornish.

Cornwall Good Fish Guide is a new project being led by Cornwall Wildlife Trust to provide consumers and restaurateurs with up-to-date information when buying Cornish seafood.

It is going to be a big task. There are 66 species of fish and shellfish landed by local fishermen, collected using 15 different methods.

When information on fish stocks, fish biology and the impacts of fishing on the environment are all considered, you can imagine this is a very complex situation.

Our project will make this more straightforward and highlight good choices we can make when deciding which local seafood to buy.

We would appreciate your feedback on this project. For more details on Cornwall Good Fish Guide visit www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/livingseas/cornwall_good_fish_guide

Or e-mail matt.slater@cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk

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