Commercial Wrasse Fishing Crisis


This is a shocking report on how Scottish salmon farmers are decimating our local wrasse stocks.

Special report by our fisheries officer John May.

Recently I attended a meeting of the DSIFCA Bye Law review committee, of which I am an elected member.

The main purpose of the meeting was to finalise details of the committee’s recommendation to ban all forms of netting within estuaries in our area, excepting sand eel seines with restrictions.

Following this there was a brief presentation from the officers regarding the commercial wrasse fishery, that I as a recreational angler found alarming.

The wrasse has no commercial minimum size and no protection on quota.  I remember in the past seeing piles of good sized wrasse caught by nets, being chopped in half for pot bait at Salcombe. I assume that still happens?


The new threat is from Scottish salmon farms, who are looking for huge amounts of live fish to use in the farms to combat disease, assumedly by eating the parasites?

The initial information feedback is mind boggling, but probably conservative.

There are 4 main salmon farm companies in Scotland and they have been using wrasse over the past 7 years. One has admitted to an initial requirement of 120,000 fish over the next 2 years from our area.

Wrasse ‘imported’ from Norway for the farms in 2010 numbered 12 million! and for 2014….. 14 million!

Main size range for any of the 5 species of wrasse is 12 to 22 cm, and the going rate is £1.20 to £1.50  per fish, although one farm is paying much more, presumably for larger fish. There is an admitted mortality rate of 40% in storage and transit.

Currently in the DSIFCA we are aware of 3 boats from Brixham, and 3 boats from Plymouth, as well as others in Cornwall and Dorset. All of these are supplying wrasse, and the demand is increasing. The fish are caught using baited (with crab) pots that are supplied by the fish farms, the Wrasse are then held in tanks before being transported.


My observations from this are:

  • How can this be sustained?  previous sources are obviously being exhausted.
  • We have no knowledge of stock level or effect on reefs / marine environment, with removal of such large numbers of the wrasse that obviously benefit their current habitat and food chain.
  • Apart from the transit mortality, the fish must not be living long in the new environment because of the continual need for more. This would not be allowed if livestock.
  • What about transfer of disease? a requirement for transfer of  freshwater and migratory fish.
  • What about transfer of alien species? Which is another statutory  requirement.

Although until now the wrasse was of no value commercially, it is of great importance to recreational sea anglers.

My first fish was a wrasse, and I have enjoyed many hours ‘holiday fishing’ with kids, and the not so young, and the thought of this intensity of fishing along our coastline leaves me cold.

We cannot stop it unfortunately, but you can voice your views through the IFCA’s in support of their concern, and get some control of what is currently a virtually un regulated fishery with unknown consequences.

John May.

Many thanks to James Howell for the wrasse images

3 thoughts on “Commercial Wrasse Fishing Crisis”

  1. They fished for them in Loch Leven ( Lochaber) 4 years ago, using pots took large quantities, it did reduce the numbers dramatically for 2 years, but now they are back in the same numbers but with Cuckoo Wrasse in numbers never seen before, possibly escapees from the fish farms in the Loch!


  2. More unregulated nonsense from the aquaculture industry: just doing what they want as usual. You guys should fight this all the way at government level – otherwise, they’ll clear you out.


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