PBO reader Graham Gibbs is frustrated about improperly marked lobster pots. South Devon & Channel Shellfishermen executive officer Beshlie Pool explains the situation…


Graham Gibbs writes: “When will something be done about pot markers? On a cruise west from Gosport this May, I estimated that around 1% of pot markers met legal requirements.

“Sailing round Portland Bill, with the usual confused wind and narrow inshore passage, I was obliged to use my motor and I found dodging the huge number of pot markers – none of which were large, colourful, labelled or flagged – a frightening experience.

“At Start Point, I was finally caught out by two small pot markers covered in weed with a line between them on the surface, neither of which I saw until the boat was lifted the next day to free the prop.

“As the ebb tide ran ever stronger against the building wind while I was securely anchored by the pot line I was rescued by the Salcombe lifeboat (with exemplary speed and efficiency – thank you!). They told me it happens all the time.

“The Salcombe Harbour master, who could not have been more helpful, told me it happens all the time. The yard that lifted and mended my boat told me it happens all the time.

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“Sending a £2m lifeboat with eight crew out to save a fisherman the bother of spending a fiver to mark his pot does not seem an optimum strategy. Fishermen have failed to police themselves. The legislation clearly needs to be enforced.

“As can be seen in the photo above, the buoys that wrapped round my propshaft, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage and depriving me of the use of my yacht for five weeks, were small and covered in weed.

“And there were plenty more of them like that from Start Point to Salcombe, as the lifeboatmen who rescued me kept pointing out. All of them had no flags, and were also unmarked.


Clearly marked buoys – what sailors should expect to see

“How about DEFRA announces that starting one month ahead all improperly marked pots will be picked up and taken away, with a rolling schedule round the coast starting in the West Country (much the worst offenders).

“Cars are towed away when illegally parked – there is a legal precedent. They will be stored ashore where fishermen can reclaim their pots, but not their markers – but of course they will be prosecuted as they do so. A month later unclaimed pots would be destroyed.

“Those who set their pots properly have nothing to fear from a crackdown. I don’t want to stop shellfish fishermen, I just want not to have to be rescued because of someone else’s negligence.

“Without effective implementation of the existing legislation, I will, very reluctantly, abandon sailing in the West Country. The behaviour of some lobster fishermen has made it too stressful.”

South Devon & Channel Shellfishermen executive officer Beshlie Pool responds: “Firstly, we’d like to agree – improperly marked static fishing gear of all kinds can and does pose problems for navigation for all seagoing craft, not only yachts.

“We’d encourage anyone to report any improperly marked gear they come across to the correct authorities; in areas inside six miles from the coast, it should be reported to the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), outside six miles it would be the Marine Management Organisation. DEFRA, meanwhile, are policy makers not regulators.

“The method of setting fishing gear is often an individual and area-specific decision, however, we feel it important to highlight that any fishing gear seen may be either recreational or commercial and that there are often differences in how each of those is maintained.

“The most important thing to note is that static fishing gear should, by law, be clearly marked and identifiable. The South West has some of the most productive fishing grounds around the UK and naturally, that will mean there is a higher concentration of fishing gear in south-western waters, particularly in waters closer to shore.

“It’s also worth pointing out that the sea area of the South Hams (i.e. Salcombe and Dartmouth) is statutorily defined as an ‘inshore potting area’, which means there will be a significant amount of potting gear in the area and anyone travelling through it will likely require a much more comprehensive watch than in other areas.

“If the fishermen in this area were to mark their gear with flags on both ends as suggested, then travelling through these waters would be fraught with difficulty for everyone.


Pot marker gear configuration for marking the end of a fleet/string of pots in variable water depths. Photo: South Devon & Channel Shellfishermen

“Incidents of small buoys only being present may mean that the larger ones have been cut off by the propellers of through traffic – something which our members sadly experience often in the summer months – and far from being ‘a fiver’ to replace, the costs are not insignificant when fishing gear is damaged multiple times each year.

“The enforcement policy in the area mentioned is actually very similar to that which has been suggested – Devon and Severn IFCA (who regulate the inshore waters of Devon, where the reader had his incident) regularly lift and remove improperly marked fishing gear, impounding it until it can be determined to whom it belongs, and whether an offence has been committed.

“We strongly encourage reporting of such gear so the authorities can fulfil their statutory role by taking action. Fishing vessels can also be entangled which results in the same safety risks and repair costs as pleasure craft, but also results in loss of sea time and the associated loss of earnings.”

Fishing zones of the South West showing where pot markers are most likely to proliferate are available on the South Devon & Channel Shellfishermen website

PBO has received a number of letters in relation to pot markers and it is a subject we will be returning to soon.

Got a question? Email pbo@futurenet.com and we’ll put it to our panel of experts

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This feature appeared in the September 2023 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.

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