North Devon's fishermen understand the need for marine conservation - John Butterwith, Chief Executive of the NDFA explains....

The Marine Act was passed on November and within a few weeks John Butterwith, Chief Executive of the North Devon Fishermen’s Association, talked to Coastwise on 26 November about the fishermen’s perspective on the Act and its impact on the industry.  John is a member of the Steering Committee of Finding Sanctuary, the organisation tasked with identifying potential marine conservation zones in the South West. 

He used a plan of the Bristol Channel to explain why local fishermen were concerned about the possible restrictions on their activities that were likely to result. The proposed site of the world’s largest wind farm straddled prime local fishing grounds, aggregate extraction laid claim to another slice and nearby Lundy, due to be the site of the first MCZ, could well include an expanded no-take zone. 

Fishermen were being hit from all directions, he said.  John, a North Devonian, is proud of the strong local fishing heritage - Appledore is the oldest fishing port in the country.  He told of the co-operation amongst local fishermen to make a success of their industry which had included several voluntary stock conservation initiatives.  Respect for the NDFA had followed and a £3.7 million pound investment in a processing plant at Appledore opened this year. 

However local fishermen were experiencing difficulties.  Though still one of the largest ray fisheries in the country, white fish stocks were low, and several boats were up for sale.  Large European trawlers hovering on the edge of the 6 mile limit were contributing to smaller catches, their grandfather rights just one of many unfortunate consequences of the EU’s fisheries policy, alongside quota restrictions, discards, bycatch and new requirements such as the electronic log book, amounting to a great burdon for a local inshore fishery with a modest £2.5million turnover.

Focussing on the need for sustainability in the industry John said “There’s got to be fish tomorrow”, and MCZs were necessary, so the industry and conservationists needed to work together.  Ecological considerations had not previously been a factor for fishermen driven by the exigencies of the bank, the weather and the crew, but increasingly they were now.  He explained that rays and bass, the main catch of the local fleet besides shellfish, are the subject of current applications to the Marine Stewardship Council for sustainable fishery status, an expensive process supported by sponsorship from Fal Fish, the Co-op and Natural England. 

“We’ve got to have a balance”.  There are great challenges ahead, but he was optimistic that North Devon’s fishing industry would continue to put fish on our plates, and that we for our part should give our support by shopping for local sustainable fish. 

The warm response to John’s talk suggests that we will do our best, as he is clearly doing his for an industry and a marine management process that is lucky to have him.

Paula Ferris

Note : John allowed this talk to be recorded and a  digital recording is available on application to

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