Devon brown crab recommended as a sustainable dish
June 12 2012 Lewis Smith
Brown crabs caught on the Devon coast are to be recommended as a species “to eat” by conservationists after lobbying by the fishing industry.
The crabs from the 500 square kilometre Inshore Potting Agreement (IPA) area off Devon are being reclassified by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) after it was agreed the management regime is tougher than first recognised.
Brown crabs from the Devon coast had been rated by the MCS as a ‘3’, making it a species the organisation believes should only be eaten “occasionally” but the increase to ‘2’ puts it in a category considered to be sustainably fished.
The change was agreed after Trevor Bartlett, of the Blue Sea Food Company in Paignton, Devon, complained that a report on the management of brown crabs in the English Channel was ambiguous. He argued the report failed to recognise that the IPA is subject to rigorous rules that make the area “one of the best managed fisheries in the country”.
Among the factors that he said makes the brown crab fishery sustainable is an agreement among fishermen that keeps parts of the area free of trawlers for some or all of the time. Another is a local bylaw that requires all pots and creels used in the areas to have an escape route for undersized crabs.
Similarly, the fishery operates a minimum landing size of 150mm for female crabs and 160mm for males, which Mr Bartlett described as “the highest minimum in the UK”. It helps guarantee that any crab landed has had the chance to reproduce at least once.
He raised his concerns with the Shellfish Association of Great Britain which contacted the MCS to ask that the rating was reconsidered.
Bernadette Clarke, fisheries officer at the MCS, said the “clarification” of scientific advice on brown crab in the English Channel, and evidence on the strength of its management meant the IPA fishery could be be treated as distinct from the rest of the sea and given a separate rating.
Of the 4,445 tonnes of brown crab taken from the Western Channel each year, 2,000 tonnes come from the IPA. The total brown crab catch landed by UK vessels in the UK is about 26,000 tonnes annually and is worth about £34 million.
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