Wrasse campaign: DWT believes new measures do not go far enough

Friday 14th July 2017

Male corkwing wrasse with nest off South Devon by Paul NaylorMale corkwing wrasse with nest off South Devon by Paul Naylor

Following our wrasse campaign, new measures have been announced by authorities this week. But DWT believes they do not go far enough to ensure prevention of damage to our Marine Protected Areas.

In June, DWT raised the alarm when we heard that a wrasse fishery had begun in Devon’s inshore waters. Our concerns stemmed from the experience of a previous wrasse fishery in Dorset which removed 57,000 fish during just 18 weeks of operation in 2015. The numbers removed from Devon will now be documented (we haven’t been made aware of the catch size to date) but it is expected to run into the tens of thousands.

Our concerns prompted us to launch the ‘Save our Wrasse’ campaign on the 26 June. Since then the petition has been signed by more than 2,600 people. Many of these petitioners have also contacted their local Devon MPs - and we have had responses from a number of MPs.

Since the wrasse campaign launch, the Devon & Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) has implemented additional management measures, including voluntary unfished refuge areas for wrasse.

These are a welcome step forward and we are encouraged by the swift action by the IFCA.

But Devon Wildlife Trust doesn’t believe that they go far enough to ensure prevention of long term damage to Devon’s delicate marine environment from the commercial fishing for live wrasse for transportation to Scottish salmon farms.

Our specific concerns are:

1) We still don’t know what the impacts of the wrasse fishery are. How much catch can the sensitive reef habitats sustain?
2) We have seen nothing to reassure us that the fishery will stop by 2019. The salmon farming representative’s statement to the IFCA that they aim to source wrasse from aquaculture and therefore stop catch from the wild is vague and aspirational. 

In light of the above our campaign aims remain the same. We call for:

• An immediate and total halt on the live capture of all wrasse species within Marine Protected Areas off the South West coast of England
• A proper study to be undertaken into the range and scale of impacts of wrasse fishing, and how to mitigate for them

There is a worrying lack of good evidence as to the impacts of the wrasse fishery. It is recognised that there will be significant local depletions of fish and we expect that recovery will be very slow.

Without detailed information on the impacts of live wrasse fishing on reefBallan wrasse and rock cooks by Paul Naylor habitats it is not possible to determine the sustainability of the fishing activities.

In the overwhelming majority of our seas and coasts economic interests are put before those of wildlife. Our Marine Protected Areas - such as Plymouth Sound and Estuaries SAC - are the final refuges where the protection of designated features legally takes precedence over other interests.

Wrasse are a key part of the reef ecosystems around our coasts and help to maintain the rich balance of wildlife there. We simply do not know what the impacts of removing large numbers of wrasse will be. That’s why we are insisting on a precautionary approach to this fishery within Marine Protected Areas.

Support the Save our Wrasse campaign at http://wtru.st/DWTwrasse