I received this report from the local Seasearch co-ordinator. I think that it is interesting enough to publish here word-for-word as emailed to me. Read on……

Inshore Trawling

The late Mick Moore started diving after leaving the Air Force in 1956 he was one of the early pioneers of diving and spearfishing in the Sussex area. Apart from his many stories of large plaice and soul caught off the ends of the breakwaters along the waterfront at Brighton the information he told us on well known local marks stands out the most. College Rocks off Shoreham in the early sixties was a group of pinnacles standing some 15ft off the bottom in 35ft of water honeycombed with holes and ledges harbouring everything from large Bass to lobsters and congers. On his last dive on them in 1989 they had been reduce to a pile of rubble eight foot high with no holes big enough to hold a fish this he put down to constant trawler action over the intervening years.  His last words to me a few days before he passed away two years ago, had been about the pair trawlers that he watched for most of the summer zigzagging along the front at Brighton from a mile out to the end of the groynes. He knew, as an old timer that most fish bred in this small zone and he could not understand why the fishermen were smashing up the habitat for future generations.

I know that kelp can be affected in its growth by rising temperatures but in the first twenty years of my diving career huge beds covered the bottom up to one and a half miles out off Worthing in West Sussex. These beds had been a source of fertiliser for local farmers who used to come down and fill their carts after a big gale from the vast rafts of weed left on the beaches by the dropping tides. These beds were also a huge nursery for all the fish that breed inshore and I had many a lobster as they worked their way through the kelp stalks. Coincident or not the great gale of 1987 washed more on to the beaches than normal a lot with the ancore rocks still attached, this just happened to be the time that the trawlers started pairing up in our area and towing endlessly up and down off Worthing just as the kelp needed time to recover leaving it a barren dessert as it is to this day.

To show what the trawlers can really do! We had been diving an old wreak off Shoreham called the Billy Boy this has been marked up under several different names Billy, Billy Boy, Billy Bee and the Bee wreck and can be traced right back to 1856 in the local museum. It consisted of two rows of one ton blocks eight on the bottom and five resting on the top; this left a stack 12ft high on a flat bottom a long way from any other obstruction the perfect spot. Bass and Cod could be found shoaling around this high spot on most slack water lows with lots of very large congers lying in the holes between the blocks. Returning to it early one spring we were shocked to find a trawl not only stuck on it but it had pulled the whole top layer off and dumped it on the sea bed, it never fished the same again another mark lost to indiscriminate inshore trawling.

April 17th 2005 Bognor a dive to stick in the memory, we had suffered quite a few dives that year in the cold water of early spring with few fish and bad viz, this was the first day that the water felt warmer and with the viz at twenty foot it held a lot of promise. We found the Bream quite quickly spotting their moon beds dug into the chalk from the surface. The sea was alive with fish the smaller bream were doing the digging fanning the bottom to create the hollows and the bigger fish moving in to lay their eggs or fight over the right to. Undulated Rays were laying around the outskirts of the beds feeding on the worms and other small crustaceans disturbed by the bream along with vast shoals of Pollack up to two kilos drifting above the scene. As we lay looking at this panorama with Cuckoo Wrasse nosing around us the Bass came through in shoals some weighing in at eight pounds. We ended the day with a couple of good Bass each and two bream of over two kilos and left feeling good at seeing the sea so alive with fish and with intensions of returning a week later on better tides to take some specimen fish.

April 24th 2005 the sea was calm and we had started at first light under the old adage that the early diver catches the fish. As we pulled the boat up onto the promenade two pair trawlers could be seen towing out to sea at an angle along side the main reef less than a mile out. Slipping into the water 30 mins later a scene of total devastation could be seen below us in the crystal clear water, no fish could be seen in our field of vision the bream beds so prolific the week before were wrecked, the edges of the beautifully dug pits had been dragged down and large boulders had been dumped into the middle of them. Torn weed lay about the bottom and all that remained were a few very small bream trying to rebuild their nests. We followed after the trawlers that were now some two miles ahead finding many small Bass of about 200 grams floating dead on the surface having popped out of the now full nets.

The wreck of the Indiana is a large local wreck in twenty five feet of water it has been a perfect spot for bream fishing over the years with the beds sometimes going down tide for 150 yards either side of the ship with the fish protected by the bulk from the trawlers. This all changed over the last few years with more sophisticated GPS sounders the trawlers now tow right up the side of the wreck sometimes touching the plates needless to say no more bream or the fish that follow the shoals.

Just a last word on this subject that is close to my heart I think that nothing should be towed within six miles of the shore especially in the months of March April and May the trawlers are killing a whole ecosystem with their greed.

                                                                           Eric Smith

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