The Solent is a mixed sea fishery and the fishing effort varies between a number of different commercial species throughout the year. The inshore waters have an important role as a nursery area for bass, with specific areas identified for protection, and for a range of other fin-fish and shellfish.
Shellfishing is one of the main types of fishery in the Solent. The most significant shellfishery is for the native oyster which represents the largest self-sustaining stock in Europe, however this fishery has been in decline for the last ten years. Commercial Clam digging for the Manila Clam also takes place throughout the year.
The Marine Management Organisation produces an Annual UK fishing industry report which includes detailed figures on the UK fishing fleet, the number of fishermen, the quantity and value of landings, international trade and the state of key fishing stocks.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act, reformed inshore fisheries management in England by replacing Sea Fisheries Committees (SFCs) with Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCA) in April 2011. The Solent lies within the Southern IFCA. The aim of these Authorities is to lead, champion and manage a sustainable marine environment and inshore fisheries, by successfully securing the right balance between social, environmental and economic benefits to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry. IFCA district boundaries will extend inland, aligning themselves with local authority boundaries. IFCA committees will be formed of representatives from unitary and upper tier local authorities. The Marine Management Organisation, Environment Agency and Natural England will each have a statutory seat. The other representatives will be appointed by the Marine Management Organisation and include members with the skills and knowledge to representative the fishing industry (recreational and commercial) and environmental interests.
Ideally, fishing activities would take from each stock no more fish than can safely be removed without inhibiting the stock's capacity to spawn and to bring in young fish to the stock. Conservation lies at the core of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and measures aimed at calculating safe levels of capture and ensuring that they are respected are among the main measures under this policy. Setting total allowable catches (TACs) means fixing the maximum quantities of fish that can be landed from a specific stock over a given period of time. TACs are set on the basis of a proposal from the Commission, but final power of decision rests with the Council of Fisheries Ministers. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has responsibility for managing the English commercial fishing fleet. The Agency operates a national restrictive licensing scheme for UK commercial fishing vessels which is designed to control the capacity and fishing activities of the UK fleet. This is intended to bring catching effort into better balance with fishing opportunities.
Defra’s revised approach to managing commercial fisheries activity in European Marine Sites (EMSs) requires IFCAs, MMO and Defra to assess the impacts of fisheries on all designated features and habitats within EMSs in England. This is to ensure that all existing and potential commercial fishing activities are carried out in accordance with Article 6 of the European Union Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC. This approach will also apply to Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).
The new Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (SIFCA) Seagrass Management Strategy is designed for the protection of seagrass beds throughout the SIFCA District (entire Hampshire, Dorset and Isle of Wight coast out to 6nm from baselines). The SIFCA has a conservation responsibility to protect seagrass beds and other designated habitats from the damaging impact of fishing activity throughout the District. Phase 1 (the voluntary approach) of this strategy was implemented by the SIFCA on the 29th June 2012 in the form of a Code of Conduct (CoC). Through this CoC the SIFCA has requested that all fishermen who operate within the District voluntarily avoid the use of bottom-towed fishing gear (ie. shellfish dredges, otter trawls) within ‘Seagrass Protection Areas’ comprised of all of the seagrass beds in the District (using the Environment Agency’s definition of a bed, as being >5% coverage of seagrass) determined from best available data, and a buffer area to account for trawl cable lengths. All commercial fishermen operating with bottom-towed fishing gear have been issued with details of this CoC via a letter sent out by post and accompanying maps which include coordinates, clearly indicating where these Seagrass Protection Areas occur.