Ring Netting (image © Seafish).
Ring netting is a method of fishing for mid water shoaling fish species that is used in Cornwall to target shoals of sardines and occasionally anchovies and herring. Ring nets are similar to the much larger purse seine nets (not currently in use in Cornwall). They are encircling nets that are shot around a shoal, and a rope beneath the net pulls the net together effectively encircling the shoal. The size of the net depends on the size of the vessel, but is approximately 250 metres long by 30 metres deep. All vessels are under-16m and normally carry a crew of 3 - 4 including the skipper. The fishery operates entirely within the six-mile limit, and is therefore subject to management by byelaws made by the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (CIFCA).
In Cornwall, sardine net fishermen have an association called the Cornish Sardine Management Association. Members of this group can market their sardines as Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accredited as sustainable Cornish sardines.
Fish are located using sonar fish-finding equipment and skippers report it is usually possible to tell what species of fish is present before you deploy the nets. If you do accidently catch the wrong species, in most cases the net can be released and the shoal allowed to escape alive. Occasionally some of the fish may be injured or die and are 'slipped' back into the water dead, but this situation is avoided as best as possible and boats that are members of the Cornish Sardine Management Association have to record all instances of slippage.
Fish caught using ring nets are scooped out of the large net and put straight into refrigerated seawater tanks in the hold which means that they are in perfect condition when landed to market.
Want to find out more? The following scientific papers give more detail on the impact of ring netting:
Marine Stewardship Council accredited Cornish sardine fishery. www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/fisheries-in-the-program/certified/north-east-atlantic/cornwall-sardine/assessment-downloads/20120514_SR.pdf