Fishermen go ‘potty’

George Metcalf with one of his lobster pots.  The Seaham fisherman says proposed new escape hatches will damage his business.
George Metcalf with one of his lobster pots. The Seaham fisherman says proposed new escape hatches will damage his business.
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ANGRY fishermen have hooked in their MP in a bid to crack through problems caused by new lobster pots.

The new pots, which are intended as a conservation measure, must be big enough to allow immature lobsters to escape capture.

The initiative is being brought in by the North Eastern Sea Fisheries Committee (NESFC), which covers 200 miles of coast.

The use of the new pots could be enforced through a bylaw before April and will apply to waters within three miles of the coast.

George Metcalf, 66, of Frederick Street, Seaham, has been a fisherman most of his life. Now retired, he still helps out his son George junior, 37, who has taken over the business.

Mr Metcalf is worried for fishermen’s livelihoods, believing the new pots are unnecessary to preserve young lobsters, while also allowing the older ones – which can be legally caught – to escape.

He said: “They’ve brought it in between the South Pier of the Tyne and Crimdon Dene, not the whole area.

“It’s been brought in to stop the discarding of younger lobsters, but we have always treated them with respect and put them back because they’ll be another catch in months to come. We’ve been doing it for years and it’s never harmed them in the least.

“They won’t take any notice of what we were saying. All they will say is that it’s about compliance.”

Easington MP Grahame Morris is backing Mr Metcalf and says that the pots are not guaranteed to either allow small lobsters to escape, nor retain larger ones.

He said: “The conservation of the future stocks of lobsters is of paramount importance to the lobster fishermen.

“However, a balance must be found that protects both the future lobster population and the livelihood of the few remaining Seaham lobster fishermen.

“The escape gap trials by Bangor University concluded that many undersized female lobsters, particularly those that are egg bearing, remain in the pots and must be returned while legal-sized lobsters can escape.”

NESFC has defended the new pots and says that they are based on scientific tests.

Chief Fishery officer David McCandless said: “With the demise of cod and haddock, the fishery is looking to the survival of the lobsters and their return to sea. We believe that during the catching process, lobsters are damaged quite significantly.

“The juvenile lobsters are massively important and it is essential that they survive. The best way is to put an escape hatch on the pots so they aren’t constantly being captured and recaptured. Studies have backed this up.

“There are real conservation benefits to be had.”