Utilising and improving regulating legislation

Bait digging is completely unregulated by legislation targeted specifically at this activity. It is sometimes argued that the ancient public right to collect bait, as exists in England under the Magna Carta, is an anachronism today, and new legislation should be drafted to extinguish this right, improving potential control under existing byelaws. If such new legislation was to be aimed specifically at the regulation of bait collection activity, it might enable the competent authority to set minimum sizes, prescribe collection techniques, and establish closed seasons or closed areas.

A range of other legislative controls for bait collection are available, summarised in linked tables A and B. These all have limitations, some would benefit from government guidance regarding their application for this purpose, and none can extinguish the public right to collect bait for personal use.

Fisheries legislation and byelaws are a well-established means of controlling fisheries activities, with Fisheries Officers responsible for policing and enforcement on site. The shore or green crab Carcinus maenus, which is most commonly collected for bait, and other species of sea fish not regularly taken in commercial fisheries are not named in any present fisheries regulations or byelaws. New byelaws would therefore be required to enable Sea Fisheries Committees in England and Wales to introduce permits for the collection of these species, control methods of capture, or require catches to be reported. Fisheries legislation would have to be amended to allow bait worms and other ‘non sea fish’ to be covered by fisheries byelaws. Given that resources for commercial fisheries management are already severely limited, and the regulation of bait collection is such a difficult area, it is most unlikely that fisheries authorities would be enthusiastic about adding to their existing responsibilities and duties in this way.

Where shoreline species collection activity releases pollutants, or deposits materials on the shore, it may be controlled under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA). Bait dredgers wishing to work in estuaries in south-east England would have been charged such a high sum for a licence under FEPA to permit them to discharge sediments (including potentially high quantities of contaminants) back into the sea, that the operation would have been uneconomic. Deposition of crab shelters would be covered under FEPA if those responsible were actually caught undertaking this activity – proof of deposition is otherwise very hard to prove.

Several other authorities have the ability to control bait collection to minimise conflicts with the various interests that they are empowered to protect under statute. Examples are described elsewhere in this report. However, there seems to be a degree of inconsistency in determining whether such byelaws may be introduced. Government guidance for the consistent regulation of this activity under Harbours and Transport Acts, Public Health Acts and other local authority Acts, would be very valuable, but recommendations for such guidance are outside the scope of this report.

Sustainable regulation of shoreline species collection would be improved if the legislation allowed managers to discriminate between individuals when regulating fisheries, including by issuing restricted numbers of conditional licences, for example to local communities or recognised user groups only. Imposing charges would enable managing bodies to raise funds for enforcement (and protection of licensee’s rights). Resistance to such innovation would be considerable.

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