A conversation with a gillnet fisher – and our first newsletter!

With a new consortium team in place and plans to expand Clean Catch’s scope over the next three years, we’re delighted to introduce our first newsletter: your catch-all place for Clean Catch programme updates, as well as research, news, and events from across the wider realm of bycatch monitoring and mitigation in the UK and beyond. This includes interviews with people involved closely in work on bycatch – and for the first edition of the newsletter, we caught up with Mevagissey gillnet fisher Will.


What persuaded you to become involved in Clean Catch?

I’d had a couple of bycatch incidents, and when the Cornwall Wildlife Trust asked for volunteers for the trial, I just thought it would be a really good thing to do. I’m taking part in the trial for myself, but I’m also doing it for every other small boat, for two reasons: to help prove we aren’t wholly responsible for dolphin bycatch in the area, and if possible to help with pingers becoming legal for all small boats to use [as these currently need a licence from the MMO]. I’ve had a good experience working with Cefas, and I quite enjoy the whole thing to be honest.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far from taking part in Clean Catch?

There are two things. First, in my personal experience, pingers are the best mitigation device available for my type of fishing – although this doesn’t seem to be the case for every kind of fishing.

Second, shorter soak times for nets can cut bycatch. Often, we’d shoot nets at night, then go to bed, and the gear would be there all night. These days we either go out in the evening or the early hours of the morning and leave the gear for three hours or less. Once I was able to release an entangled dolphin unharmed. If the nets aren’t left in for ages, you’ve got a much better chance of being able to release an animal in time.

How did you get into fishing, and have you had any really memorable experiences with marine wildlife while out on the water?

I was out fishing with my Dad in Mevagissey Bay, catching monkfish and stuff like that, from the age of five. I was allowed out on the boat on my own to catch fish by the time I was 10 years old. I was the richest kid at school! Fishing’s a way of life, it’s not a job. I don’t ever want to do anything else.

Here in the Bay, I see all kinds of wildlife – basking sharks, dolphins, porpoises, seals. But when it comes to really memorable experiences, I used to be part of the tuna fishing fleet back in the 1990s, and we’d fish up to 800 miles off the coast in the north Atlantic. We’d see some sights out there. I’ve been in the middle of a whale highway, with hundreds of whales all heading in one direction – we sat there and watched them go past for hours. When I was in my bed on the boat, I used to lie there and wonder what was underneath me.

Click here for the full February 2024 newsletter

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