Lobster potters looking for escape hatch

Robert Goodwill MP and skipper Gordon Quinn
Robert Goodwill MP and skipper Gordon Quinn
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A new escape panel which lobster potters may be forced to use could see shellfishermen facing a 40 per cent reduction in catches.

Despite getting to grips with his new role as a minister within the Department for Transport, Robert Goodwill MP took the time to meet skipper Gordon Quinn at Whitby Fish Market on Saturday.

Mr Quinn is concerned that new escape panels designed to prevent lobster fishermen from catching undersized specimens are flawed.

The panels have arisen after lobster potters further north were prosecuted for catching “black” lobster - undersized specimens which were then sold on the black market.

Although most of the lobsters caught in Whitby go through the shellfish holding facility, the panels may still be implemented in Whitby pots.

The panels are 80mm by 45mm, so with the legal limit of lobster catches being 87mm this should allow small animals to escape, but larger ones remain trapped.

However, Mr Goodwill explained that larger lobster are still finding a way to escape.

He said: “Gordon demonstrated to me a lobster of over 90mm that easily slipped through. In fact they are finding that about 40 per cent of the lobsters that they should be able to land are escaping.”

Mr Goodwill has taken the fishermen’s concerns to George Eustace, the new fisheries minister who replaced Richard Benyon in the recent Cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Goodwill gave Mr Eustace one of the panels and showed him a video featuring a 93mm lobster escaping through the 80mm panel.

“The message I have given is we need to review the size of the panels,” he said, adding: “This could have very serious effects on Whitby fishermen and some of them will have difficulty being there next year if they have a 40 per cent cut in income. It’s vital for their future that they can land legally-sized lobsters.”

Whitby’s Member of Parliament also went out on a fishing trip with Mr Quinn, and said that of the 1,000 lobster they caught, only 120 were large enough to be landed.

Despite predation, which may see around 15 per cent of these lobsters lost, there is a large number of the shellfish in the seas around Whitby.

Therefore, instead of landing small-sized specimens, the concern is rather that a lack of restrictions on the number of pots used by skippers could lead to over-fishing.

“We need to look at a number of issues,” said Mr Goodwill.