Through The Gaps
Ban ring netting! - so came the call from a Cornishman reader last week.
Why? Not since the 1950s have sardines (née pilchards) been caught in the quantity that they are today. This is thanks to a small but efficient fleet of boats fishing with ring nets. Four of the local fleet (of five) have been built specifically for the fishery and represent huge investment from their owners. They catch fish that is MSC accredited – in other words, the stock has scientifically been deemed large enough to withstand the catching capabilities of the boats involved.
In addition, after five years of behind the scenes research and lobbying, the fish caught off the coast of Cornwall have been awarded PGI (Protected Geographical Indications) status. Both accolades mean that supermarkets and other retail outlets are better placed to market Cornish sardines and as a result they enjoy a more prominent place in the market – especially in the summer. The boats also have to help fund the certification schemes to the tune of thousands of pounds per year.
But why call for a ban on the ring netters? These small inshore vessels are nothing like the super-efficient purse seiners that fished for mackerel off Cornwall back in the 1970s, the biggest of which held 1,000 tonnes. The local boats work nets that are around 250m long – not the 'miles' of net as stated in the letter – when ringed, the net forms a circle of 70m. The biggest when full can hold 25 tonnes. Restricted by size, weather, the fickleness of fish with tails and a host of other reasons mean that the boats are unable to fish every night throughout the season. In total, the fleet of boats landed around 1,500 tonnes last year – significantly less than 1 per cent of the assumed stock. They have helped build yet another local product readily identified with Cornwall which can only be a good thing. Inevitable there will be those who find issues with the boats and the way they fish.
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Unlike farming, fishing is a hugely complex working environment. Think of it this way. Fishermen share access to the same resources – it would be difficult to imagine how well farming would fare if farmers were all given access to the land and had to decide what they would plant, where and when within the same area of land. Inevitably, there will be issues arising between fishermen and the fish they hunt, as ever was the case.
Last month's fishy word was caboolen – as hinted its purpose appears to be making a splash in other ways at the moment – this was a large pebble with a hole bored through the middle through which a rope was fastened; the stone was then 'plopped' in the water to frighten pilchards or mackerel from the opening of the seine and into the net. This month's word is zoggol.