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 or where a shoal is too large across one edge of the shoal. A rope called the purse string is drawn in along the foot rope of the net closing it off, effectively encircling the catch. The size of the net depends on the size of the vessel, but is approximately 300 metres long by 50 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 who set voluntary rules to ensure that the fishery is well managed. Members of this group can market their sardines as Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) accredited Cornish sardines.
Fish are located using sonar fish-finding equipment. Sardines and anchovies are targeted but occasionally the wrong species are caught. It is illegal to target mackerel (a 15% by-catch of mackerel is allowed) and bass using a ring net so if this happens the net must be released and the fish allowed to escape alive. It is also possible to accidentally encircle more sardines than you need. Skippers have to be very skilled at assessing the amount of fish encircled and if needed releasing them before they become damaged. Occasionally some of the fish may be injured or die and are 'slipped' back into the water dead, but this situation is avoided wherever possible. 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 using brailers (large pan nets lifted using mechanised winches, or in some cases pumped out and put straight into refrigerated seawater tanks in the hold ensuring they are in great condition when landed to market.
Want to find out more?
Cornwall Good Seafood Guide's Matt Slater took a trip out on a sardine fishing boat from mevagissey for full article click here.
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