North east drift nets – update

The negotiations to buy out the remaining 70 netsmen have reached something of a stalemate position.

The negotiations to buy out the remaining 70 netsmen have reached something of a stalemate position. The netsmen have indicated that a majority of them are willing to be bought out, and we now have a much clearer idea of the total sum required to purchase enough nets to make the initiative worthwhile. However, there just are not sufficient funds available at the moment to complete the deal, and this has caused the present impasse.

We have, however, revisited the political issues surrounding the drift net fishery. The Government have consistently stated that there is no conservation issue connected to the fishery, and that they are only interested in an accelerated phase-out on management grounds. The fact that three of the five Yorkshire salmon rivers fail to meet the Environment Agency’s own conservation targets seems to be lost in the argument, or that the Scottish east coast rivers affected by the fishery are all candidate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the European Habitats Directive. The endangered species which makes each one an SAC is, of course, salmon, and the Government has a responsibility to ensure that no operation under its governance can affect an endangered species, even if that operation is outside the SAC boundaries.

The SAC argument has a potential drawback for anglers, in that the Government could say salmon are endangered and so should not be fished for by any means. However, we believe that anglers now hold the moral high ground in the way that catch and release is widely practised, while a drift-netted salmon is always killed. Also, the socio-economic argument for angling is indisputable, and should give us the negotiating edge in any such negotiation.

We are still working with our colleagues to complete a buy-out of NE coast drift nets, but it is also fair to say that this issue has entered a new political phase as well. One way or another, there is a determination to win through, and put pressure on the Irish Government to accelerate the closure of their nets, thereby setting free perhaps three hundred thousand salmon a year to benefit the Welsh and southern and western English rivers, together with those from continental European countries.