SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR THE FUTURE MANAGEMENT AND ENHANCEMENT OF A LOBSTER FISHERY
Dr Greta Hughes, Hendy, Llanbedrog, Pwllheli, Gwynedd. LL53 7UA (email@example.com)
The purpose of this paper is to stimulate discussion and perhaps further investigation of some practical suggestions for the future management and enhancement of the lobster fishery in Wales based on many years’ experience of observing the lobster fishery of North and Mid Wales and the Llŷn Peninsula in particular.
The lobster fishery in Wales is long established and remains primarily a small boat (under 12m) fishery. The main method of capture is baited pots although a small bye-catch is taken in demersal trawls, scallop dredges and tangle nets. Some lobsters are also taken by scuba divers and by hand from shoreline crevices at low water spring tides.
Stock management by means of protecting lobsters until they were deemed to have reached maturity was provided by statute from as early as the Fisheries (Oyster, Crab and Lobster) Act, 1877, which protected all lobsters under 8 inches (20cm). By 1926, sea fisheries committees’ byelaws in Wales prevented the removal of lobsters of less than 9 inches (22.5cm) in length.
2. TECHNICAL MEASURES
2.1 Pot limitation
This could be achieved by capping the number of pots in use at the current level although this approach poses a number of problems.
PARLOUR POTS INKWELL POT
(parlour entrance in green mesh)
It would be necessary to establish and specify the permitted type of pot because some pot designs have a greater impact on the fishery than others. Parlour pots retain lobsters and continue to fish for a much longer period than single chambered pots, be they creels or inkwells. A given number of parlour pots have a greater fishing capability than a comparable number of single chambered pots as lobsters taken in the latter are able to escape after a day or two whereas lobsters taken in the former are retained indefinitely and continue to fish and are, therefore, unaffected by periods of bad weather or imposed "days at sea."
Any attempt to cap effort would be preceded by a massive increase in effort with fishermen increasing their total number of pots in an attempt to pre-empt the number of pots to which they or their vessel would be entitled. Capping effort would not allow existing businesses to develop.
Any limit on the number of pots used by professional fishermen is very difficult and expensive to enforce as it would primarily involve seaborne enforcement. A pot limitation requirement for hobby fishermen is easier to enforce as the number of pots allowed are in single numbers compared to the several hundreds of pots fished by professional fishermen.
2.2 Parlour pot ban
Some traditional fishermen have been concerned by the increased use of parlour pots. The introduction of this type of pot has at least doubled effort as twice as many parlour pots can be fished with the total number of pots being lifted over a period of several days. Single chamber pots must be lifted daily when possible to prevent lobsters escaping. A parlour pot ban would effectively halve effort.
Businesses that have been built around the extended soak times afforded by parlour pots would probably not remain viable. Fishermen who participate in other fisheries, such as whelk potting or tangle netting, on alternate days would be forced to concentrate on one fishery and would probably chose the lobster fishery.
Parlour pots are now ubiquitous and any attempt to ban them would prompt an unacceptable number of objections.
Conservationists are concerned by the concept of "ghost fishing," i.e., parlour pots continuing to fish after becoming lost. This can easily be remedied by a biodegradable component requirement.
2.3 Escape gaps
The use of escape gaps, particularly in parlour pots, has many advantages for the fishery. They allow juvenile lobsters to leave the pot at will. Escape gaps are usually rectangular but can be circular. In a parlour pot, the escape gap must be included in the parlour part of the pot.
Lobsters are cannibalistic and in the confines of a pot particularly over a prolonged period, larger lobsters will kill or damage smaller lobsters. Escape gaps allow juvenile lobsters to escape from larger adults particularly large aggressive females.
Juveniles enter pots and are discarded many times by fishermen prior to reaching minimum landing size and entering the fishery and may suffer claw damage and subsequent loss during the process. Lobsters that have lost claws at some stage may be classed as "cripples" by merchants and do not command the same price as "prime" specimens. Escape gaps reduce the number of times a juvenile is handled and, therefore, the potential for damage resulting in more prime lobsters for fishermen. Fishermen benefit from faster pot clearance times due to fewer juveniles present enabling more pots to be worked in a given time. This may not necessarily benefit the fishery as it could lead to increased effort.
It is difficult to establish the most appropriate escape gap dimensions. Male and female lobsters have totally different tail shapes. At maturity, female tails are much wider relative to length and it is, therefore, impossible to determine an optimum escape gap size to select for both sexes at a given minimum landing size.
Given the required minimum landing size of 87mm carapace length (CPL) required by European Council Regulation 850/98 a selection size of 86mm CPL for both sexes would be appropriate but this is impossible as the optimum escape gap dimensions to select for 86mm CPL females would allow 87mm CPL males to escape.
Commercially available 80 x 45mm escape gaps are too large to retain 87mm CPL male lobsters. 51 x 48mm gaps are probably the optimum although 61 x 45mm gaps have been trialled and have found favour with fishermen in Llŷn. More work is required to determine the shape and size of an optimum escape gap.
Some commercial fishermen retain a velvet crab bye-catch and this would not be possible if escape gaps became a statutory requirement as any gap would allow the velvet crabs to escape.
2.4 Biodegradable component
A requirement for a biodegradable component in pots to reduce the possibility of long term ghost fishing is essential in parlour pots.
The biodegradable component could be in the form of a securing clip for the parlour end of the pot. Development of a satisfactory biodegradable securing clip has, however, been slow.
A requirement to use cotton, sisal or any other vegetable fibre twine to attach components such as the securing clip or escape gap panel would serve the same purpose.
2.5 Pot entrance dimensions
The introduction of a maximum diameter for pot entrances would restrict the entry of larger lobsters.
3. CLOSED PERIODS
The introduction of a closed period would protect lobsters over a specified period. The closed period could include a total ban on removing all lobsters, female lobsters or certain females. The ban would have to be on the removal of lobsters from the fishery as a ban on the landing of lobsters would encourage the storage of lobsters at sea in keep pots. Lobsters stored in this way deteriorate when kept for extended periods and it would be counter productive to flood the market with a poor quality product as soon as the ban came to an end.
3.1 All lobsters
A total ban on removing lobsters from the fishery could be introduced for a period when lobsters were of poor quality, e.g., during and after ecdysis (when they are moulting and recovering from their moult). Males tend to moult later than females so the period would have to be extended to take this into account if it was felt that protecting males benefited the fishery.
A ban could be introduced for economic reasons. Such a ban could include some of July and August during the main lobster run when prices are at their annual low and lobsters are in poor condition as they recover from ecdysis. During the post ecdysis recovery period they remain slightly soft and vulnerable and also weigh less. Loss of earnings would be partly offset by the availability of heavier and larger lobsters following the ban.
Any ban should be for the shortest period necessary to achieve its objective as an extended ban could lead to the loss of markets as other regions step in to satisfy the demand or American/Canadian (Homarus americanus) lobsters are imported to make up the shortfall.
During the summer of 2009, fishermen in south east Scotland and north west England voluntarily agreed on a total weekend ban on landing lobsters ("Fishing News," 7/8/09). It is difficult to see what such a weekend ban would achieve in Wales. A ban on landing lobsters does not prevent fishermen from taking and storing lobsters at sea. A weekend ban on fishing for lobsters serves no purpose in a fishery where parlour pots are widely used as the pots will continue to fish when not hauled and will retain any lobsters that have entered during the weekend period. In fact, there are some grounds for believing that parlour pots fish more efficiently after being left for a couple of days.
3.2 All females
Introducing a closed period during July and much of August for all females, both ovigerous and non-ovigerous, would ensure a successful larval realease and the recovery of many post-moult females in poor condition, i.e., soft shelled, watery flesh and light in weight, before they were marketed. Short-term loss for the fishermen would be offset by a superior product with regard to meat quality and weight. Survival rates in holding tanks would be improved as damage and stress is less in good quality lobsters. This may also help with any attempt to obtain product accreditation.
Prices are at their lowest during this period due to lobster abundance, therefore, reducing the number of lobsters on the market would help maintain prices.
3.3 Ovigerous (egg bearing) females only
From the late 19th century onwards, attempts were made to protect ovigerous females culminating in the Sea Fish Industry (Crabs and Lobsters) Order, 1951. The ease with which eggs could be removed and the inability to prove conclusively that the offence had occurred made the effective enforcement of such legislation impossible and the Order was repealed in 1966.
Responses to a DEFRA consultation carried out in 2005 on whether the landing of ovigerous lobsters should be prohibited suggested that there would be difficulties with compliance to and enforcement of a total ban.
Perhaps a short, 4 week closed season could be introduced for egg bearing females when larval release is imminent to allow the larvae to be release prior to capture. The closed period must at least include the periods when eyed eggs are abundant and of peak larval release.
The optimum period would probably be two or three weeks prior to and one or two week after the June 21st summer solstice. Optimum periods may vary a little from year to year or between fisheries and should perhaps be flexible and at the discretion of fishery managers.
While a short ban would not protect as many ovigerous females as that afforded by a permanent ban, the former may prove more acceptable to fishermen resulting in improved compliance thereby reducing the burden of enforcement for managers. Intensive and expensive enforcement would only be required for a short period.
Loss of earnings brought about by discarding ovigerous females would be offset by the retention of good quality heavy males as they moult later than females and the larger catches seen during July. The males and non-ovigerous females taken should attract better prices than at present due to reduced numbers on the market.
3.4 Days at sea
On the one hand, this is not an effective way of limiting effort within a pot based fishery as pots, particularly parlour pots, continue to fish in the absence of the boat/fisherman provided that they contain bait. On the other hand, pots that are not baited regularly will not fish effectively so fishermen working in small boats along hostile coasts such as the Welsh coast must take full advantage of favourable weather to maintain a viable business.
4. ALTERNATIVE LANDING SIZES
4.1 Minimum Landing Size (MLS) Increase
Responses to a questionnaire circulated to the lobster fishermen within the District of the North Western & North Wales Sea Fisheries Committee during a review of the management of the lobster fishery conducted in 2005 indicated that offshore fishermen were more in favour of an increase in the minimum landing size from the current carapace length of 87mm to 90mm than were their inshore colleagues. DEFRA received similar responses to its 2006 consultation on the same increase in the minimum landing size. This is not surprising as smaller lobsters are more abundant inshore.
South Wales Sea Fisheries already have a lobster MLS of 90mm and a uniform size for Wales may be a sensible option. A MLS increase would ensure that females would be protected for at least one extra larval release prior to entering the fishery. The same objective could be achieved by raising the MLS for females only, thereby partially reducing the adverse impact on inshore fishermen. Perhaps this would be a more sensible approach than incrementally raising the MLS to 90mm as suggested by one of the options in the DEFRA 2006 consultation.
4.2 Maximum Landing Size (Max LS)
The value of imposing a Max LS has been questioned. Offshore fishermen will be more affected than inshore fishermen as larger lobsters are more prominent in offshore catches. Large old lobsters are not as valuable to merchants and fishermen sometimes receive less per kg for them. Lobsters taken as a bye-catch in other fisheries utilising gear other than pots tend to be large, often too large to enter conventional pots. Such lobsters are not currently protected and perhaps should be.
The introduction of a maximum landing size for lobsters could boost larval production. Larger females produce correspondingly larger numbers of eggs. Larger females, however, moult and, therefore, bear eggs more infrequently than their smaller counterparts. An alternate-year spawning cycle has been suggested for >120mm CL H. americanus (Waddy and Aiken, 1986). Spawning also occurs independently of insemination, therefore, ovigerous females may not necessarily be carrying fertilized eggs. Prior to the introduction of a Max LS, further work may be required to establish the incidence of unfertilized eggs in large females and to actually assess the contribution made by these larger females to larval production.
The maximum size could apply only to female lobsters in order to reduce the impact on fishermen. Fishing pressure on large males will not increase from the current level were large female lobsters protected.
4.3 Enforcement considerations
Lobster landing sizes are a very effective stock management tool as the discard survival rate is or close to 100%. Uniform landing sizes are comparatively straightforward to enforce.
Experience has, however, shown that alternative landing sizes are difficult to enforce within the 6 mile limit because of the discrepancy with EU Regulations. Fishermen working both inshore and offshore grounds are able to say that any lobster contravening the inshore landing size was taken beyond the 6 mile limit as are fishermen in Wales with operations spanning the boundary of the two SFC Districts in the vicinity of Cemaes Head, Cardigan. Any change must be introduced by means of a Statutory Instrument to encompass the whole Welsh Fisheries Zone and included as a carriage as well as a "removal from the fishery" offence.
5. NO TAKE ZONES
Areas of seabed could be designated where lobsters are protected. Lobsters in protected areas would contribute to general larval production while surplus lobsters may move out to adjoining fished areas, thereby augmenting the fishery.
It is doubtful whether the contribution of lobsters from within a No Take Zone would have sufficient impact on the surrounding "open" fishery to compensate for the loss to the fishery of valuable lobster ground.
The designation of protected areas would increase fishing pressure on "open" areas as excluded fishermen seek alternative grounds.
6. FISHERY ORDERS
Prior to 1997, Fishery Orders applied only to molluscan shellfish but, after 1997, crustaceans were also included.
The introduction of fishery orders in certain areas could help with effective fishery management. There are currently three types of fishery orders, Regulating, Several and Hybrid and in Wales, they are granted by the Welsh Assembly Government to responsible bodies.
6.1 Several Order
A Several Order may be granted by the Welsh Assembly Government to a responsible body. The public right of fishing is removed within Several Order areas to ensure the protection of property rights for prescribed species for shellfish cultivators. There is no interference with the public right of fishery for other species within the Order areas.
Fishermen would have to improve the lobster fishery within the Order area, e.g., by improving the ground to encourage settlement and bringing in juveniles for ongrowing. Exclusive rights would be granted only over species designated by the Order, i.e., lobsters.
It could be an effective method of restricting future outside effort in discreet fisheries with a few fishermen as may be found around offshore islands, such as Bardsey where there are a very small number of committed fishermen. Several fisheries could benefit the adjacent public fishery as lobsters move out of the several area; conversely, there could be an inward migration of lobsters into the several area.
There is a danger that, over time, the fishery would become concentrated in the hands of a few people or companies. As early as the 1880s, Canadian cannaries tried unsuccessfully to obtain leases on H. americanus grounds (Miller, 1995). The creation of Several Orders may provide little opportunity for new entrants into the fishery and there is a danger of creating lobster fishing "dynasties."
The requirement to improve the ground may be considered by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) to be too invasive were the Several Order areas to be partly or wholly within the area of a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Conservation bodies could also object to the introduction of juveniles. Jorstad and Farestveit (1999) advised a cautious approach to potential stock enhancement and sea ranching operations following a study of the population structure of lobsters off Norway.
A Several Order is probably not an appropriate tool with which to manage the fishery of a species, such as lobster, which is capable of moving considerable distances although does not appear to do so as revealed by tagging experiments in areas such as Tremadog Bay (Simpson, 1961) and Aberystwyth (Sankey, 1991).
In most areas, any attempt to introduce a Several Order would probably prompt insurmountable objections from those excluded from the Order area, i.e., excluded professional fishermen and hobby fishermen.
6.2 Regulating Order
A Regulating Order may be granted by the Welsh Assembly Government to a responsible body to enable it to regulate the fishery of a specified shellfish stock. The stock may then be fished under licence in accordance with the terms of the order, subject to compliance with any byelaws or regulations made by the regulatory body, and on payment of any licence levy charged by it. Fishing effort is controlled by licence and regulations control any technical measures such as gear specifications and minimum landing size. Regulations may be changed during the life of the Order in response to any changing requirements either outside the fishery, e.g., marketing considerations, or within the fishery, e.g., modifying management regimes.
Regulating Orders are probably a more suitable tool for managing lobster fisheries. This type of Order would be more acceptable as it would regulate a fishery rather than sever it. A group of fishermen could agree to a more appropriate management regime than that afforded by national legislation. Conditions to accommodate existing fishermen could be set. A framework for accepting new entrants could be developed and hobby fishermen accommodated.
6.3 Hybrid Order
A responsible body may manage a Regulating Order or part of that Order with a Hybrid Order that allows for the allocation of Several fishery rights to shellfish cultivators. A Hybrid Order would confer exclusive rights on some fishermen within a designated area or areas in exchange for some form of fishery improvement such as stock enhancement. A Several component has the potential to benefit adjacent public fisheries as they benefit from additional larval contribution and possible outward migration from the Several area.
7. STOCK ENHANCEMENT
7.1 Lobster Hatcheries
Stock enhancement by hatchery rearing juveniles through highly vulnerable larval stages prior to release into the sea has undergone a revival.
Great care must be taken to safeguard the genetic integrity of the stocks by releasing only juveniles local to their respective subpopulations. It is, therefore, important to locate a genetic marker that will enable the boundaries on any subpopulations to be established so that the appropriate broodstock may be acquired.
The release of hatchery reared juveniles has the potential for introducing pathogenic viruses or bacteria into wild stocks.
7.2 V-notching Programme
Lobsters would be bought directly from fishermen at the current market price and V-notched prior to being returned, by the fishermen, to the area of capture thereby ensuring the genetic integrity of the stock. V-notched lobsters are already protected by legislation.
An annual V-notching programme of limited duration of 4 to 6 weeks would be comparatively cheap and simple to administer. Post ecdysis females would be chosen. During this stage, they weigh less relative to length and would be purchased at the bottom of the market enabling the maximum possible number of females to be returned to the sea for a given sum of money.
In the absence of any means of identifying V-notched individuals and their progeny, the success of a V-notching programme must be determined solely on anecdotal evidence. Common sense, however, dictates that returning protected females to their point of origin has to be effective and is the least invasive form of stock enhancement.
Some of the measures suggested above, or combinations there of, will be appropriate for certain fisheries, others will not. Regional fisheries are diverse and require different management tools within the broad framework of the EU and national management structure. To make full use of and to safeguard the resource there must also be a mechanism for flexibility in fisheries management at a very local level.
Jorstad, K.E. and Farestveit, E. (1999). Population genetic structure of lobster (Homarus gammarus) in Norway, and implications for enhancement and sea-ranching operations. Aquaculture, 173, 447-457.
Miller, R.J. (1995). Fishery regulations and methods. In Factor J.R. (ed.) pp 89-109. Biology of the lobster Homarus americanus. Academic Press: New York.
Sankey, S.A. (1991). Studies on the lobster fishery in Cardigan Bay. M.Phil. University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
Simpson, A.C. (1961). A contribution to the binomics of the lobster (Homarus vulgaris) on the coast of North Wales. Fisheries Investigations (London) Series 2, 23, 1-28.
Waddy, S.L. and Aiken,D.E. (1986). Multiple fertilization and consecutive spawning in large American lobsters, Homarus americanus. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 43, 2291-2294.
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