Use of Illegal “Blinders” in Fishing Industry

Although PAPP is a Plastic Pollution Charity, I heard about “Blinders” from a friend, and it was a bit of a lightbulb moment. Illegal Use of “blinders” in the fishing may contribute to the plastic we find on beaches in the UK.

What is a Blinder?

A blinder is a fine mesh net that a fisherman (or fisherperson) might sew in to their net, so as to illegally catch undersize fish. The reason they sew in a blinder is because it is illegal. Fishermen have to use nets with large mesh size so small fish, or shellfish can escape, and keep populations stable.

A blinder is a piece of smaller meshed netting attached inside the cod-end of the net (which is the back of the net where the fish are caught). This means that undersized fish are trapped and illegally caught.”

Blinders are also sometimes called liners, which is perhaps more descriptive. They line the inside of a net with a small mesh, allowing the fishermen to catch undersize fish.

Why are Blinders Used?

Blinders reduce mesh size of fishing nets. The reason that fishing nets have large mesh size is so smaller undersized fish can escape.

The main technical measures required by the European Union include measures aimed at avoiding or limiting the capture of immature or unwanted fish. These measures include restrictions on mesh size range”

For example, fishermen in the northern North Sea must use a minimum mesh size of 120mm when targeting species such as cod.

How do we Know Blinders are Used?

Fishermen have been caught using blinders: In 2006  the Dutch beam trawler, Cornelia BR14, were fined a total of £15K and costs of £5K by Dover Magistrates Court for fishing illegally in British waters using an illegal net (a ‘blinder’) secured inside their nets.

And anecdotal evidence suggest gaming the system is quite prolific out on the high seas, the below from facebook post relating to prosecution of scallop fishermen that were caught using a blinder:

I was a fisherman for 10years plus a n believe me, we used blinders in the cod end when the government introduced the cod end mesh sizes, then we used to fish inside the 6 mile at the beam trawl, depending on your beam length, we worked a 12 metre beam at the stonemat, and made a lot of money fishing supposedly illegal because the scientists and the fisheries n the government say, now this was the 90,s so it certainly has been going on for years”

How are Blinders Creating Ocean Plastic?

Blinders as we have learnt a fine mesh liners that are securely attached within a larger mesh fishing net. These blinders will perhaps contain tons of fish when hauled up so they need to be secured.

No we are guessing but, I expect this is done by using small gauge nylon or polypropylene cord (similar to red cord in below picture).

When the fishermen have fished using the net, upon return to harbour, or perhaps if they are approached by another boat, they will need to remove the blinder. We suspect than rather then un-sewing the net to retrieve the cordage the blinder is cut out which produces 100’s of short lengths of cord every time it is done.

These short lengths of of cord, are then allowed to wash in to the sea. It is unlikely that they would be tidied up as they might constitute evidence of the practice. If you watch the below video of a beach clean in Scotland you will see us picking up 100’s of pieces of small plastic cordage.

Now  this could I suppose be net fragments, or perhaps offcuts. But there are great deal of them, and I can’t help but think some of them may come from cutting out of blinders.

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