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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
Fisherman paid to return lobsters
Female lobster
Up to 24,000 females with eggs will be returned to the sea
Lobster fishermen on the south and west Wales coasts are to be paid to put female lobsters back in the sea.

The aim is to save up to 24,000 female lobsters over the next three years to help boost the species' population.

Instead of ending up in the pot, the creatures will be clipped and released back into the water. It will then be illegal for them to be landed.

The South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee is funding the project between Swansea and Cardigan Bay.

Neil Viles, from Neyland, in Pembrokeshire, is one fisherman benefiting from the scheme.

He has 700 pots but he believes the number of lobsters he has caught over the years has fallen steadily.

He said: "Just about 15 years ago, a good day would be 200 lobsters. Now a good day is about 30. We have some days with as little as a dozen."

Lobster fisherman Neil Viles
Neil Viles has seen his catch plummet over 15 years

Many of the lobster he catches have to be thrown back because they're too young and are undersized.

But as well as catching lobsters too young, the other danger in terms of over fishing is catching a female whose eggs are about to hatch.

To protect his future, Mr Viles, like other responsible lobster fisherman, cuts a V-shaped notch into either side of a female lobster's tail and puts it back in the water.

It is the illegal for another fisherman to land the lobster.

But Mr Viles said he cannot afford to V-notch and return every egg-bearing female he finds. Almost a third of his wage comes from catching them.

So to try and help him and other fishermen, the South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee - the agency responsible for monitoring the region's sea fishing industry - will buy female lobsters from the fishermen and re-release them into the sea.

Fisheries inspector Mark Hamblin said: "If we keep on going the way we are, by not doing anything then there will be no lobsters left in a few years' time.

"By doing this it enhances the stock and we've got a bylaw which stops people from taking the V-notches from the sea."

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