Mark Green, who owns the Jersey-registered boat Bulotier, has responded to complaints about storing crabs in large underwater nets at St Catherine’s Breakwater before they are sold or used as bait for other shellfish.
A local diver has raised concerns about the practice, which is legal, and Don Thompson, the head of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, has said it went against local guidelines on storing live shellfish.
‘There is already a law in place to protect brown crab to help stocks recover. So you are not allowed to keep brown crab aboard for bait,’ he said.
‘It is not illegal to keep spider crab for bait and we recycle it for bait, otherwise it would get dumped in the skip.
‘So if you want to keep frozen crab for bait, that’s one thing, and there’s a whole industry in processing bait.’
But Mr Green said that keeping crabs alive in nets was a practice that fishermen had followed for years and those who were complaining were ill informed.
‘Everybody stores shellfish. As soon as shellfish are caught they are all stored alive somehow, whether it’s in nets, bags or viviers,’ he said.
‘Every fishing boat uses bait such a gurnard or crab. There’s nothing new here.’
The issue has been raised by a local conservation diver who spotted net bags at St Catherine to store spider crabs in large numbers.
Kevin McIlwee, chairman of Jersey Marine Conservation, said he first spotted one attached to the slipway in August.
‘I thought it was being stored there for a short time to keep them fresh, but because it’s a good area for all sorts of species, I use it to train people up for the Seasearch Project. I’ve noticed the number of bags has increased and last Sunday I counted five bags.’
He said it was understandable that certain commercial practices were followed but questioned why they were being stored in high numbers.
‘We wouldn’t want to witness them experiencing pain or threat, but people diving with me have been horrified. So I am questioning whether in the pursuit of catching fish we should be inhumane, and I don’t think we should.’
Mr Thompson said it was an isolated practice carried out by one boat and it did not do the industry any good in the eyes of the public.
‘Our fishermen of today have a different mindset to those of 30 to 40 years ago. They want to have a future and they want to carry out environmentally responsible practices.’
Mr Green has denied there were dead crabs in the nets and said he stored them for a maximum of two weeks before the larger ones were sold, mainly in France, where there was a high demand.
‘It is the best way to keep them. We could use a tank, a box or a net, but if they are in a nice big net, they are in their natural environment,’ he explained.
‘If people don’t want fresh lobsters, fresh crab and shellfish, then fair enough, we’ll stop catching them.
‘We’re just trying to make a living, and everybody is complaining,’ he added.