A ban on ray fishing could well spell the death of fishing in North Devon and cost the region £100m a year...

Facing crisis: Fishermen and politicians at Appledore Fish Dock on Monday. Picture: @TidyEyePress.Facing crisis: Fishermen and politicians at Appledore Fish Dock on Monday. Picture: @TidyEyePress.

The North Devon fishing industry is facing ruin and set to collapse following a ban on ray fishing.

Local fishermen are facing selling their boats and Appledore Fish Dock has closed down after the unexpected ban left the industry contemplating the loss of almost three quarters of its revenue.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has levied the ban, which includes the Bristol Channel, after the country as a whole went over its quota for the year.

Tony Rutherford of Bideford Fisheries Limited at Appledore Fish Dock, which processes all fish landed in North Devon, has shut the doors after sadly telling all 10 staff they would be laid off on Friday.

He said the closure of the fishery would affect some 70 fishermen, 650 shore-based jobs and cost the region around £100m a year.

‘Nightmare’

In Ilfracombe, the brand new £300,000 trawler Boys Pride bought by the Wharton family to selectively fish for rays is set to be sold without ever going to sea, after the ban came in just 24 hours before her maiden voyage.

“It is an absolute nightmare, total devastation and I can’t see us coming back from this,” said Mr Rutherford.

“That is 35 years of work in North Devon for me down the drain.”

The ban will last until December 31, but a reduced quota next year combined with the shutdown could well be the death-knell of the local industry, which landed some 500 tonnes of ray each year.

Mr Rutherford said local fishermen had been dedicated to conserving a sustainable fishery, helping to set up the Lundy No Take Zone and introducing closed areas for spawning.

Efforts to do something

Torridge and West Devon MP Geoffrey Cox has called for an ‘urgent ministerial intervention’.

“Unfortunately however, this indiscriminate ban on landing ray is a serious blow to the fishing industry in Torridge which relies heavily on its ray quota for survival,” he said.

Ray Finch MEP, UKIP fisheries spokesman, is seeking an urgent meeting with the EU Fisheries Commissioner, calling the closure ‘an absolute disgrace’.

UKIP chairman and North Devon parliamentary candidate Steve Crowther met with Mr Rutherford and Nr Wharton at Appledore today (Monday).

“The combination of EU fishing quotas and Government incompetence have delivered what might be a terminal blow to North Devon’s fishing industry,” he said.

“While the North Devon fleet is tied up and banned from fishing, Belgian and French boats are continuing to take fish on a huge scale outside our six-mile limit. The oldest fishing port in the UK, Appledore, faces extinction while our supposedly-threatened fish are taken by foreign vessels and landed in Europe.”

‘Final nail in the coffin’

In an open letter to fisheries minister George Eustace MP, John Butterwith, chief executive of North Devon Fisheries Association, said it was the ‘final nail in the coffin’:

“We now have no ray quota, no sole quota, no spurdog, a minimalistic plaice quota and a cod quota which can be caught on one trip. How do you expect the industry to survive on that?”

Moving elsewhere...

Mr Wharton, whose family run S&P Fish in Ilfracombe, said the loss of their new boat would cost three to four jobs, with the company’s other two trawlers already moved to South Devon.

“We will try to carry on for the minute but it definitely won’t be in North Devon any more. It’s not good for tourism, it’s not good for Ilfracombe harbour and it’s sad when there is a healthy fishery there.

“We need the ray quota to be protected for North Devon because it’s the only way we have a chance of surviving.”

Fishmonger Dan ‘the Fishman’ Garnett, who runs his business from Appledore Fish Dock, said they were ‘in absolute despair’.

“The Government has pulled the rug out from under our feet. The investment that has been made, not just here but in the community with the FLAG programme, must just as well be ripped up.

“We will get through this one way or another but until the Government do something, we might as well get on the next boat out of here.”

Balance

A Defra spokesperson said: “It’s important we strike the right balance between supporting our fisheries and protecting the marine environment. Quotas ensure the sustainability of our stocks which supports the long term future of the industry – overfishing also results in penalties from the EU.”

The MMO responds

The MMO said quotas for some stocks in the area had been cut by the European Commission in recent years. It said the UK quota for skates and rays had been ‘significantly reduced’, by half since 2009.

“The early closure of fisheries is regrettable and we recognise that this decision is frustrating to those groups that have not exhausted their quota allocation,” said a spokesman.

“Where possible we seek to involve the fishing industry in and notify them in advance of our decisions, however there are occasions when we may need to take action at short notice.

“We appreciate the co-operation of the fishing industry, particularly those who still have quota remaining for this stock. We hope that their co-operation will help us to re-open the fishery in the future once we review the position with regards to uptake of quota and the scope to use flexibility under the EU quota regulations.

“We are also pursuing international swaps to source extra quota.”