THE GOVERNMENT is being urged to justify an “irrational” decision to end the region’s traditional salmon drift net fishery by 2022.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith is seeking an urgent meeting with Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, following last week’s announcement by the Environment Agency of a new order confirming the phasing out of the fishery over the next decade.
In 1992 the Government began the process of closing the salmon and sea trout drift net fishery along the Northumberland coastline. The new North East Net Limitation Order will see the closure happen by 2022, and also involves phasing out the traditional T and J fixed net beach fishery.
Yesterday Sir Alan challenged Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, to provide more information in support of the decisions, and is seeking a meeting with Mr Benyon to voice his concerns.
He said: “I am asking the minister to tell us what assessment he made on the situation before this decision was reached. I am also speaking to local fishermen who will be affected by the changes.
“There is no rational basis for the decision to close this very small, and tightly-regulated, historic fishery, including the Boulmer T nets as well as the few cobles operating from Northumberland fishing villages.
“The minister’s reference to weak stocks is completely wrong. The Coquet and other local rivers have stable and improving salmon stocks. I have asked for an urgent meeting with the minister, and I shall be asking whether he has overturned advice on this issue from the Environment Agency. Before Owen Paterson took over as Secretary of State, fishermen believed that the future of the fishery was not under threat.”
In a written reply to Sir Alan, Mr Benyon said he has recently reviewed the future of the Northumberland salmon fisheries as part of the new legislation limiting net fishing for salmon and sea trout.
Mr Benyon said: “The North East coast fishery exploits salmon and sea trout from several rivers, thus making it difficult to protect the weakest river stocks. We have been progressively phasing out fisheries such as these, and such a phase-out already applies to the drift nets operating on the North East coast. A phase-out will now also apply to the T and J net fishery.
“I have instructed the Environment Agency to close the drift net fishery in September 2022. I have also instructed it to review the Net Limitation Order in five years and evaluate the potential for maintaining net fishing for salmon and sea trout in the region, other than with drift nets, if stock levels allow and if it can be demonstrated to be consistent with national policy and international guidance.”
There are only 14 drift net licences and 70 T and J beach net licences left on the coastline from Northumberland down to Yorkshire.
Meanwhile, the Government’s decision has been welcomed by the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST) and the Salmon and Trout Association.
The AST’s Ivor Llewelyn said: “We are delighted the Government has finally decided to close the drift net fishery. While we would have preferred an immediate closure, with proper compensation for the netsmen, we realise that this was not likely in the current economic climate.
“We are also very pleased that the policy of phasing out mixed stock fisheries is being extended to T and J nets, and that the Agency has been asked to look into quotas on overall catches.”