Yorkshire's fishing industry today
Today, the waters off the Yorkshire coast are marine-rich habitats supporting a wide range of fish and wildlife, including whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals. Fishing is undergoing a renaissance, and shellfish an important part of the catch.
The North Sea is a relatively shallow sea and now, as a result of conservation measures, offers good fishing with a diverse range of species. Much of the fishing is dictated by the weather, tides and the time. Fish move according to the tide and the time of day will dictate how far out they are.
The most common sight across our region is now watching local fishing boats hauling and shooting fleets of pots.
Commercial boats set pots in fleets containing anywhere between 10 – 50 pots dependent on the size of boat. Pots are baited and left on the seabed, sometimes overnight, more commonly for a couple of days, then hauled onto a sorting table and cleared.
There is a certain magic and anticipation to hauling pots, as you never quite know what you’ll get, from tens of lobsters, large brown crabs or even an octopus.
Our inshore fleet has made a number of changes to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery, fitting ‘escape gaps’ to release undersize animals on the seabed, increasing the minimum size animals can be taken and returning female lobsters carrying eggs.
Anchored at either end, gill nets are set on the seabed with a floating rope at the top and a lead-lined heavy rope on the bottom to keep the net open. There are a number of different types of gill net which are all designed to target different species, where the mesh size dictates whether fish pass through, bounce off or are caught and retained. In Yorkshire we have fisheries that target cod, sole, bass and sea trout at different times of year.
The Yorkshire trawling fleet has decreased markedly over the past couple of decades with less than 10 vessels now regularly fishing from local ports. The most common trawl is now a demersal trawl, which is a net pulled behind a boat on the seafloor. These nets are designed to disturb fish on the seabed, scaring them up into the end of the net called the codend. To improve selectivity many of these nets now include specialist panels to release certain species and more selective sizes of fish. Locally we’ve also got restrictions on the size and power of vessel that can trawl inshore.
A controversial fishing technique, dredging uses heavy metal dredges which are towed alongside a vessel, with teeth which dig into the seabed to disturb scallops and collect them in mesh bag. Locally we’ve had a resurgence in dredging in the past few years, with increasing fleet and vessel number at Scarborough and Whitby. Fortunately Yorkshire has a very robust management system in place for its inshore waters, from limiting the number of vessels, only allowing them to two areas, restricting the number of dredges and other measures such as limits on vessel power and size.
The Yorkshire coast is fortunate to also host some unique fisheries with a very small and special fishery in place in the Holderness (East Riding). From October to June only five fishermen are licensed to work intertidally, placing nets from the high water to low tide mark. With nets immersed twice a day, these fishermen don’t use a vessel but wade out at low tide and remove fish from their nets. This highly selective and low impact fishery use large size meshes, a limited net length and is restricted to the depth a person can wade. With seasonal catches this mixed fishery varies from cod, sole, bass, whiting, mackerel, mullet to squid and herring.
Content provided by Dr. James Wood, Fisheries for the Future Officer at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.