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EU ban on drift-net fishing would ‘kill’ Norfolk herring industry

PUBLISHED: 09:58 19 July 2014 | UPDATED: 09:58 19 July 2014

Herring caught off Caister by fishermen who have seen the Norfolk whale! Dick Thurlow, Caister fisherman.

Herring caught off Caister by fishermen who have seen the Norfolk whale! Dick Thurlow, Caister fisherman.

Archant

A blanket ban on drift-net fishing would kill off Norfolk’s herring industry - and have a much wider impact on the region, according to a Caister fisherman who has described the EU proposal as ridiculous.

Herring caught off Caister by fishermen who have seen the Norfolk whale! Dick Thurlow, Caister fisherman. Herring caught off Caister by fishermen who have seen the Norfolk whale! Dick Thurlow, Caister fisherman.

The European Commission believes a universal ban will protect marine mammals, such as sea turtles and dolphins, which can get caught up in nets. The ban, due to come into force in January 2015, is aimed at larger vessels in the Mediterranean, and those flouting the existing ban on drag-netting migratory fisheries.

But Caister fisherman Dick Thurlow said the ruling, if it goes through, will kill Norfolk’s herring heritage.

“The herring industry is never going to be what is was but this will be the end of it,” said Mr Thurlow, who fishes in a small boat off the east Norfolk coast.

“It will mean no more fresh herring caught off Norfolk.

History of herring fishing

Herring fishing in the North Sea off Norfolk has been an industry since Saxon times. The Domesday Book refers to annual herring rents paid by local manors to their lord and in the Middle Ages, Great Yarmouth tried to control access to the herring - much to the upset of fishing fleets in neighbouring Lowestoft.

By the mid-seventeenth century hundreds of boats fished from Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The arrival of the railways in the 1800s boosted the local fleets who sold their catch at markets the UK. The heyday of the herring fishing industry was from 1870 to the start of the First World War. It is said that, at the time, that Yarmouth’s South Quay was so busy it was possible to walk from one side of the harbour to the other across the boats.

By the end of this period Yarmouth had a fleet of over 1,00 herring boats, with hundreds making the trip from Scotland every autumn.

Catches declined during the 20s and 30s, essentially ending the industry’s prosperity but the legacy lives on and can be found throughout town, from exhibitions at Yarmouth’s Time and Tide Museum to the stories still told by locals whose families were once integral to the industry.

“We’re not talking short term, it will kill it completely.”

Mr Thurlow fears an all-out ban would have a knock-on effect too, hitting those who produce kippers and use herring as bait in long line fishing as well as robbing the local fisherman of their livelihoods.

UK group Seafish has called for a re-think on the ban, branding it “unnecessary, heavy handed, disproportionate and inappropriate for UK waters”.

Mr Thurlow agreed, adding: “They are targeting the French and Spanish boats that have three to five miles of gear, with nets that can be in the water for 12 to 24 hours. The problem is in the Mediterranean waters, not here.

“We’re out for a short time and we’ve got maybe 400/500 metres of gear. We patrol up and down the gear all the time.

“We know straight away if anything is caught and, I can honestly say, in my entire life I have caught no more than 10 porpoise and we’ve always let them go, not one has been killed.”

While the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has written to the Commission counselling against a full ban, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) would be tasked with enforcing the EU fisheries regulation if it comes into force.

The ban will start on 1 January 2015 if agreed by EU member states and the European Parliament.

What do you think? Write to EDP letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPletters@archant.co.uk giving your full name address and contact details.

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