Overview of the legal aspects of bait collection

There is generally a public right to collect seafish (including crabs and molluscs, but not worms) from the shore. This public right may be severed under a Several Order, which confers the right of fishery to one body for the purpose of developing the fishery, or regulated under various fisheries byelaws (all species of sea fish, including molluscs and peeler crabs, are made subject to fisheries legislation). In practice, resources will limit the extent to which the targeted exploitation of additional ‘sea fish’ (e.g. shore crab Carcinus maenus) may be brought under control.

Marine bait worms are not seafish, but certain rules still apply to their collection. Collection for personal use is permitted, but collection for commercial sale is illegal unless approved by the landowner or (extremely rarely) under certain other, exceptional, circumstances where private rights apply. Because it is very difficult to prove conclusively during collection which end use is intended, this distinction is of very limited practical use when seeking to regulate commercial collection activity on the shore.

The most significant legal constraint on the management of bait worm collection is that this activity is not directly regulated by present legislation, although it may be regulated for public safety reasons or to protect wildlife or shellfisheries.

New legislation would be required to bring marine worms into the public sea fishery and to extend the remit of fisheries authorities to cover the management of all worm stocks and fisheries, regardless of end use. Measures used could then include the seasonal closure of worm beds and harvesting activities, imposition of bag limits, and even the complete closure of the worm ‘fishery’ in certain areas. The resources available for the licensing, policing and enforcement of existing fisheries legislation are already limited, making the introduction of additional licensing, policing and enforcement responsibilities for fisheries authorities difficult to achieve under current conditions. Enforcement costs also limit the effectiveness of other existing regulatory mechanisms.

The inability of relevant authorities to pass discriminatory byelaws, e.g. limiting the numbers of bait collection licenses issued, is a major obstacle to effective, sustainable management of bait collection activity. Many anglers and commercial collectors have voiced support for the introduction of a local licensing scheme to regulate the scale of bait worm and peeler crab collection activity whether for commercial or personal collection (the equivalent to licensing numbers of fishers within an area covered by Regulating Order). There is currently no means of achieving this other than on a voluntary basis.

There is generally reluctance for central government departments to approve the introduction of any new byelaws, because these create criminal offences and impose an additional burden on regulators. Voluntary or ‘self-regulating’ solutions for the resolution of management difficulties are always the preferred means of procedure. These voluntary solutions are not, however, always effective in practice.

There could, in future, be circumstances that make it desirable to extinguish completely the unregulated public right to fish, including bait collection, within a specified area. Such a course should only be considered if the conflicting requirements of various user groups and environmental impacts in the area under consideration are unacceptably high, have not been able to be resolved in any other way, and there are no alternative bait beds nearby. However, since new primary legislation would be required to extinguish the public right to fish and collect bait, this is not a practical consideration for coastal site managers.

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