The NDFA are committed to working with scientists and the North Devon UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve to independently verify the sustainability of our fishery and its management. We are very proud of our unique and sustained fishery, and have taken major steps to safeguard fishing into the future.
The North Devon fishing fleet ensures that fishing methods are up to date, introducing new and innovative methods of sustainably catching fish. We have introduced a variety of innovative adaptations: escape hatches in pots, bigger foot ropes and changes in mesh sizes and design for trawling nets, e.g. introducing square mesh panels to help juvenile fish escape.
In 2005, a very large sea area, in excess of 300 square kilometres north of Lundy Island was adopted by the North Devon, Welsh and Belgian fishing fleet, to prohibit mobile fishing (trawling) for six months of the year. This area, known locally as the Ray Box, was developed to in order to protect juvenile ray and other breeding stocks. Although ray have a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) there is no minimum landing size so the NDFA introduced a voluntary minimum landing size, which was initially set at 38cm across the wingtips and then increased to 45cm in order to assist growth and spawning. The NDFA are the first fishermen’s organisation to adopt voluntary restrictive measures for Ray in the name of conservation.
In 2015 as part of the Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority’s (D&S IFCA) North Devon Ray Pilot Project members of the NDFA attended a workshop to discuss their concerns about the lack of quota, despite seemingly abundant local stocks. It was agreed that more data was needed to support the fishery and to inform future local management, which may be possible under the reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy. In response to this, local trawlerman and NDFA member, Steve Taylor, has been helping D&S IFCA officers to tag Blonde and Thornback Rays to collect information on where the rays go at different times of year to feed and mate.
North Devon fishermen and the D&S IFCA have also been taking part in the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquatic Science (Cefas)
Shark By-Watch UK 2 project which will continue baseline data collection for rays. This will be used to gather information on the ecology and habitat use of ray species in the waters of North Devon. This project continues a long relationship that NDFA member, S&P trawlers, has had with Cefas working with them on projects since 2003.
Shell fishermen from the NDFA have participated in the Devon & Severn IFCA led North Devon Lobster survey and currently include tagging and tail notching as part of their day to day working operations, to assess the health of berried lobster stock (egg carrying females) on the ground.
The members of the NDFA collaborated in the identification of current and future Marine Conservation Zones, with the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and Finding Sanctuary and instigated and pioneered the UK’s first Marine Conservation Zone and No Take Zone around Lundy Island.
The NDFA were early adopters of the Fishing for Litter scheme, where marine litter is landed by the boats and removed to bins identified for this purpose. With help from the North Devon Coast AONB, Clean Marine project, there are currently 2 ports, Ilfracombe and Clovelly who are part of this scheme in North Devon.
The NDFA and North Devon Biosphere Reserve are investigating methods to see how they can assess the condition and status of Spurdog off the North Devon coast.
Plans for a Bristol Channel Ray Management Forum will be developed further in 2016 with input from the fishing industry, English and Welsh fisheries regulators, scientists and conservation groups. The long term goal is to create a ‘Fisheries Improvement Plan’ that will ensure the sustainability of Bristol Channel rays, with the ultimate goal to have regional management for the ray fishery.
The NDFA are currently investigating how regional management can be achieved, using NDFA funds to support members who wish to capture data from fishing vessels and working closely with scientists and fisheries management organisations to ensure that the data is robust and can be used by ICES scientists.
Tony Rutherford, of T&T shellfish at Appledore, has been working closely with the Marine Conservation Society and will continue to do so to ensure that the MCS are aware of the conservation activities of the North Devon fishing fleet.
Our goal is to be the first association to have all our boats accredited by the Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme.