French ‘armada’ runs riot in Whitby waters

The AIS identification system allows vessels to be accurately tracked
The AIS identification system allows vessels to be accurately tracked

WHITBY skippers are being forced to sit and watch while French fishermen “hoover” up fish stocks off our coastline.

In recent months a number of Whitby fishermen have reported seeing fleets of French trawlers fishing the North Sea, and there have even been suggestions that the foreign skippers are switching off tracking equipment to fish unpoliced within Whitby waters.

The French vessel Capitan, which has been fishing off Whitby

The French vessel Capitan, which has been fishing off Whitby

Richard Brewer, whose vessel Copious WY 170 is skippered by his son Richard Edward Brewer, said that it is time someone stood up for the industry and did something about the plight of the east coast fleet.

He said: “The few remaining fishermen from Whitby are totally disgusted at the way the French can take what they want but we can’t even go fishing.

“They’re cutting our quotas back but they are just running riot.

“We are short of days, short of quota, and here we find that all the good work we have been doing for recovering stocks has been undone because of other nations coming and stealing our fish.”

Skippers of large vessels are given 100 days at sea, but Whitby-based boats are currently required to steam to waters further north as the allocation does not allow them to catch a reasonable amount of cod, which is readily available off Whitby.

This reduced cod quota was intended to allow the species to recover, which the skippers believe has now happened.

However, quotas for local fishermen have not been adjusted to accommodate this resurgence and so foreign vessels are visiting the area to take advantage of the abundant catch.

Whitby boats are therefore relying on the income offered on guard duty, protecting oil and gas pipelines.

While undertaking this freelance work the trawlermen say they have witnessed “armadas” of foreign fleets indiscriminately catching huge quantities of cod, haddock, whiting and lemon sole.

Mr Brewer added: “My son went alongside when someone was hauling and he took a tremendous hall, something like 140 boxes.

“But here we are on the doorstep of Whitby and we can’t even get to the fish.

“The English fleet has been thrown to the dogs and we are having to fight over the scraps.”

James Cole, skipper of Good Intent III, told MEP Timothy Kirkhope a similar story when he visited Whitby recently.

He said: “I was sat on a guard job watching fleets of French trawlers bringing huge boxes on board with millions and millions of fish.

“They hunt in a pack, they’re like a little armada. We’ve all got hung out to dry.”

Vessels are required to carry an AIS identification system which allows the Marine Management Organisation and Royal Navy vessels policing the area to track their progress, but there has been suggestions that foreign vessels are failing to switch theirs on so that they can land large amounts of catch unharrassed.

Mr Cole said: “The French have spent years and never even switched them on.

“The Navy will drive straight past them because they don’t know they are there.”

He added that when a vessel is boarded by one of the individual patrol boats, his fellow skippers are able to make their escape.

A spokesperson for the MMO said that they are aware of French fleets operating off the Yorkshire coast, but said that so far they are operating within the law.

She added: “Quotas are set annually by ministers across Europe to help achieve the conservation and sustainable management of fish stocks.

“For example, the agreed North Sea whiting quota for the UK this year is more than 10,700 tonnes, while France received just over 3,000 tonnes for the area.

“The MMO staff monitoring the VMS activity in the area are satisfied that vessel equipment is functioning correctly and providing regular updates of vessel positions.

“French vessels are currently working outside the 12 mile limit off the Yorkshire coast.”