The South West Handline Fishermen’s Association Est 1987

At the time, most species of fish were subject to quotas. The South West Handline fleet did not have its own mackerel quota and fell into what is termed the non-sector.

The handline fishermen were concerned that, if other vessels such as gill netters and trawlers started to catch the limited amount of quota held within the non-sector, they would be in a position where they would have no quota for the fish they catch.

Back then, Robbie Curtis was chairman of the Association, Graham Mills was vice-chairman and David Muirhead was Secretary. Meetings were held in Brussels and Truro and, eventually, the Association was granted a quota of 1250 tonnes. It soon became clear that this amount would not be adequate for the fleet. Fortunately, Andrew George was MP for St Ives. He had spent time in various boats and was very involved with the fishing industry.

The First SWHFA meeting in 1987. From left to right: Gary Eglinton, Robin Hadlow, David Muirhead, Daphne Lawrey and Robbie Curtis. Photo: Phil Lockley

Further meetings were held at the House of Commons and in Truro. This led to obtaining a quota of 1750 tonnes, which is still held by the South West Handline Fishermen’s Association today.

The handline fleet also fishes for other species, in particular pollack, bass and squid. In the mid 1970’s, some of the fishermen targeted bass at certain times of the year. Two of the main fishing grounds were the Manacles and Runnelstone. During that period, fishermen were starting to use monofilaments nets. These nets were a highly efficient way of catching most species of fish.

The fishermen working on the Manacles and Runnelstone were concerned that large quantities of bass could be caught on these marks. David Chappell and David Muirhead, both keen bass fishermen, were members of the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee at the time and proposed a byelaw prohibiting the use of nets having a mesh size of less than 250mm. This was passed by the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee in 1977 and has been very successful for the long term sustainability of handline fishing.