Poorly marked fishing gear and small craft safety

Poorly marked fishing gear has been a concern to boaters for many years and it has been on the RYA’s agenda for just as long.

Fishing gear, which poses a hazard to navigation because it cannot be readily seen, has been a concern to boaters for many years and it has been on the RYA’s agenda for just as long. There is no simple solution to the problem, but the RYA is keen to ensure that as much as possible is done to ensure the safety of small craft navigating in the vicinity of static fishing gear.

The RYA wants to achieve

Better marking of static fishing gear, making it visible by day and at night

Current situation

There are a number of EU fisheries management requirements passed for the marking of gear. In England, responsibility for implementing EU fisheries legislation, and ensuring compliance with fisheries law, is divided between the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), with a national role, and Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) which have regional responsibilities within 6nm.  In the devolved administrations, this activity is the responsibility of Marine Scotland, the Welsh Government, and the Northern Irish Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Legislation focuses on the marking of fishing gear for identification purposes and not for collision avoidance – which is of course the RYA’s main concern. There is a general marking requirement in UK legislation that  in effect states that within UK Territorial Waters “Marker buoys and similar objects floating on the surface and intended to indicate the location of fishing gear shall be clearly marked at all times with the letter(s) and number(s) of the vessel to which they belong”. Even if this legislation was adequately enforced, the problem would remain that gear needs to be marked so that it can be seen.

RYA position

While fishing equipment cannot be charted, the RYA believes that it should be properly marked and lit so that it is visible by both day and night.  This will avoid damage to small craft and the loss of fishing gear from the fisherman.

RYA involvement

For many years the RYA has been concerned by reports of boaters who have experienced fouled propellers and entanglement with sea-fishing gear such as nets, pots and associated markers, flags and lines. There is an existing law requiring fishing gear to be marked with the owner’s details, but this law is often ignored. Self-evidently, it is almost impossible to take enforcement action against an absent owner who doesn’t identify himself.

In a bid to evaluate the extent of the situation, with a view to addressing the issue the RYA encouraged and collated reports of incidents from boat owners. The hazard also came to the attention of CHIRP (the Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme) who again encouraged skippers to file reports.

Discussions with the MCA led to them re-issuing their guidance leaflet on the marking of fishing gear and some port authorities issued notice to mariners reminding fishermen of any relevant byelaws in place, but none of these authorities regulate fishing.

Latest update

The Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 gives Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) the express power to introduce byelaws “requiring specified items, or items of a specified description, that are used in the exploitation of sea fisheries resources to be marked in such manner as may be specified”. The RYA considers that such a specification must ensure that not only can the owner of the gear be identified but also that it can be seen; we are working to achieve this.

Data on entanglements is poor and lacks detail.  The assumption that RNLI callouts to fouled propellers are all because of poorly marked gear is simply not supported by the records. To rectify this the RYA relaunched its fishing gear entanglement reporting service with a simple to complete electronic form in an attempt to collate quantitative data to support boaters concern. Data is essential to support negotiations surrounding the visibility of static fishing gear for collision avoidance and the RYA is relying on boaters to report incidents.

The RYA has a well-developed relationship with Government and its agencies. Through this we continue to seek better regulation for marking, improved enforcement action for those who ignore the law and robust data to support our work.