Under the guidance of John White, a seasoned fisherman, the crew of the ‘Crazy Cat’ use a variety of techniques to ensure their catch of shellfish is the best possible quality and is collected in an environmentally conscious manner. This in turn helps to ensure the long term viability of their livelihoods and the protection of the ecosystem on which they depend. John has made sure that by mentoring Chris and Nathan from a young age to follow his methods he is not only investing in their futures but in that of the fishery itself, something that is fundamental for both the local shellfishery and the marine environment that supports it.
John and his crew voluntarily land edible crab at a minimum size of 140mm, 10mm above the legal limit, allowing extra time for the individuals to reproduce and grow. This not only gives those crabs chance to repopulate the fishery but also ensures a much bulkier crab with firmer white meat. The crew take the time to individually check the body of every animal when emptying each pot to ensure that no soft-shelled animals are landed. Scrutiny of animals at this stage allows for soft animals to be thrown back to harden into a better quality product which commands a higher price when landed in a few months’ time.
Another conservation measure John’s crew are actively undertaking is a process called V-notching, a scientifically recognised method of protecting lobsters. This painless procedure involves clipping a small ‘V’ shaped notch into the side of the lobster’s tail fin. Once an animal is V-notched and returned to the water, it cannot then be legally landed by any other vessel whilst that V-notch remains. It can take around 2 years for the notch to grow out which gives those lobsters a chance to reproduce and grow ensuring a better quality product for market better price for the fishermen and time to breed and produce further young lobsters.
One of John’s biggest frustrations is the lack of identity bestowed upon his catch. On landing, their lobsters are put in a crate and exported to Europe. Here the catch becomes nameless, combined with the hundreds of other lobsters which have been landed from up and down the coast with no way of knowing what methods were used to catch them. So without the recognition, where is the incentive to carry on with good environmental practice? The magnanimous answer comes from the genuine belief of John and his small crew that their approach is right for the sake of the fishery and their livelihoods. However, as small-scale fishing becomes more and more difficult due to increases in the price of fuel and bait combined with decreases in the price paid for the product, there may come a time where this is no longer financially viable.
Through financial support from the European Fisheries Fund awarded by the Holderness Fisheries Local Action Group, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are working with local shell fishermen to raise awareness of the links between a productive fishing industry and a healthy marine environment. Together they aim to increase local interest and market for quality shellfish caught off the Yorkshire Coast and work together towards common goals securing a healthy marine environment for the future.