Angling Trust and Fish Legal threaten government with legal action for failing to apply Precautionary Principle to protect wrasse

Angling Trust and Fish Legal threaten government with legal action for failing to apply Precautionary Principle to protect wrasse

Fish Legal, an angling conservation association, has threatened Defra and Natural England with legal action for failing to take a precautionary approach to the regulation of the lucrative wrasse fishery which has sprung up in the inshore waters of England to supply the Scottish salmon farming industry. The wrasse are caught in pots and transported live to Scotland where they are used to try and reduce the plague of sea lice which has infested fish in open-water cages, a parasite which has developed resistance to the cocktail of chemicals fish farming companies have been using in increasing quantities in recent years. Sea lice damage the farmed fish and also spread to wild salmon and sea trout causing huge damage to fish stocks and the once-vibrant angling industry on the West coast of Scotland.

However, wrasse are a highly valuable and important family of fish for members of the public fishing recreationally from the inshore waters of the South coast of England from where the wrasse are being removed. These fish have provided a reliable, valuable and sustainable recreational fishery, particularly for young anglers.

Traditionally not considered to be good eating they have not been decimated by commercial fishing operations until now. The Angling Trust has received several reports of wrasse catches declining sharply since this new fishery started operating on the South and West coasts. Wrasse are thought to play an important function in marine ecosystems as they clean parasites from other species of fish.

Fishing for wrasse in English inshore waters is regulated by the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs), but where it takes place on marine features designated as Special Areas of Conservation under the Habitats Directive, there is a legal requirement on regulators to ensure that there will be no adverse impact on protected sites.

Fish Legal’s challenge relates to the draft Appropriate Assessment which has been submitted to Natural England by the Southern IFCA which says that they do not have sufficient scientific evidence to show that the fishery will have an adverse effect on reefs protected by the Habitats Directive. However, that is not the test required in law; they need to demonstrate certainty that it will not have an adverse effect on the site. Without knowing enough about the interaction of the fish with the protected reef, there should be strict mandatory measures or even a halt to the fishing until there is a better understanding.

Southern IFCA has proposed limiting the number of pots per vessel to 80 pots per boat on a voluntary basis, but applies no limit to the number of boats. Fish Legal argues that this is utterly inadequate and the pot limits have no scientific basis.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal said: “The government has assured us that the Precautionary Principle will continue to apply after Brexit, but they are already failing to apply it to the regulation of this gold rush to catch wrasse which is clearly unsustainable. We will not hesitate to take legal action to challenge this failure to comply with the law and to protect this important fishery for our members. The fish farming industry needs to admit that farming salmon in open cages cannot be done without unacceptable damage to the environment and move its operations into sealed containers as a matter of urgency.”

Media contact:

David Mitchell, Angling Trust Head of Marine 07946 263131

Useful links:

Help Save Our Wrasse campaign

Government warned over sensitive marine sites

Call to suspend ‘cleaner fish’ transportation