Whitby's fishing industry at risk as visiting trawlers damage lobster pots

Fishermen Neil Hall, Craig Locker and Richard Brewer. PIC: Richard Ponter
Fishermen Neil Hall, Craig Locker and Richard Brewer. PIC: Richard Ponter

Whitby’s fishermen say they have lost tens of thousands of pounds this year due to large visiting scallop boats towing away lobster pots.

The large scallopers, primarily from Scotland and the South of England, use dredges to trawl the seabed along the coast but some are towing away the local fishing boats’ lobster pots at the same time.

Skipper Craig Locker with lobster pots. PIC: Richard Ponter

Skipper Craig Locker with lobster pots. PIC: Richard Ponter

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Craig Locker, 37, the skipper of Emulate 3, who has been fishing out of Whitby for over 20 years, says he has lost £35,000 to £40,000 worth of lobster pots since February this year.

He said although the larger trawlers have been coming for the past five years, damage to equipment has increased dramatically this year.

He said: “You’re always going to suffer gear loss when scallopers and potting boats are fishing alongside each other,but over the last few months it has got worse.

Lobster pots on the quayside in Whitby. PIC: Richard Ponter

Lobster pots on the quayside in Whitby. PIC: Richard Ponter

“Our profit for the year is gone and we’re only halfway through.”

To alleviate the issue he and other local boats are fishing in “pot boxes” – areas approximately 10 miles by four miles – the locations of which they give to larger boats in the hope they will avoid them.

“We’ve restricted ourselves,” Craig said, “and 99 per cent of the scallopers avoid the pot box.

“But it only takes one big boat to wipe out our business, I’m laid in bed at night wondering if I’m going to have pots left in the morning.”

Whitby's last small scalloper, front, with potting boat Emulate 3 behind. PIC: Richard Ponter

Whitby's last small scalloper, front, with potting boat Emulate 3 behind. PIC: Richard Ponter

The fishermen are calling for new bylaws to protect their pots and the environment.

Currently the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NEIFCA) has jurisdiction up to six miles offshore and prohibits trawling within that area by vessels more than 18.3 metres.

However there are no bylaws against trawler size between six and 12 miles, which the Marine Management Organisation, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs is responsible for.

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James Cole, 50, skipper of another potting boat, Good Intent, said: “Because there’s no legislation and no bylaws, we get lots of sympathy from the MMO but no action.”

Richard Brewer, skipper of whitefish trawler Copious, who has been fishing from Whitby since 1971, said: “There should be dialogue between the two and a code of conduct. It was working like that for a time but after a while it stopped and tempers are getting short.

“They have scant disregard for the welfare of businesses in Whitby.”

Fellow fisherman Mike Russell added: “They should make a bylaw on the number of dredges allowed and they should let the NEIFCA take jurisdiction out to 12 miles and have static gear only or small scallop boats.”

Aside from the financial impact on the fishermen, lost pots also have a negative effect on the environment as marine life continues to enter them but is unable to get out - known as “ghost fishing”.

Pots can stay ghost fishing on the seabed for ten years or more.

Craig continued: “When we haul the pots up we throw back whatever is too small, but if we can’t get to them whatever is inside will just die.”

The men resent their fishing grounds are being spoilt by large boats that don’t contribute to the town’s economy.

Whereas locals pay four per cent of their catch to the council for the upkeep of harbour facilities, Richard explained the large scallopers rarely land their catches in Whitby.

He said: “They bring very little benefit to the town, they’re taking and not giving anything back.”

Mike added: “They’re nomadic. Once they’ve ruined it here they’ll move on.”

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James, a third generation fisherman, would like to build a lobster hatchery on Whitby harbour so they’re able to put back as many lobsters as they fish, but said the effort would be futile if such large scallop boats continued to dredge the seabed.

He said: “We’ve got to see to the future, you can’t just carry on polluting and doing what you like.

“We’ve asked for extra bins for plastic pollution we bring in, we’re trying to be proactive.

“They’re just running free.”

Many of the fishermen are worried if nothing is done, this problem will put them out of business.

Richard explained: “Whole family businesses from Whitby are considering whether to reinvest after this season.”

“We can’t afford to be losing £50,000 a year,” Craig continued, “If it keeps going at this rate I’ll be out of business by the end of the year.”

James added: “We’re not even breaking even at this point in the season, whatever profit we’re making goes into making new gear.

“If they take potting from us that’s fishing done for this town.”