Fishing News Article: The highs and lows of unexpected items in the bagging area

It’s an occupational hazard with many forms of fishing that at some point you are likely to catch something in the net other than the fish you expected.  This can be a cause for concern or can work out well for the crew, if the item is of value.  In this article, we will review what to do in either situation.

Probably the worst-case scenario to imagine will involve picking up explosives.   In January 2022, the MAIB reported on a subsea explosion which resulted in crew injuries and vessel damage to the crab potting vessel “GALWAD-Y-MOR” (BRD 116).  An air-dropped bomb that had remained intact on the seabed since The Second World War was disturbed by the vessel’s potting gear and detonated on the seabed, with the shock wave and gas bubble from the explosion hitting the vessel.  Whilst no recommendations were made by the MAIB, the report was produced to highlight the dangers that still exist with unexploded ordnance in the seas around the UK, and the relevant actions for crew to take in such circumstances.

The report confirms that in the 5 year period prior to the accident, the Receiver of Wreck listed 49 instances of ordnance found at sea, of which 31 related to unexploded ordnance found in fishing nets. The rest were found during dredging, diving, subsea surveying and mine hunting.

MGN 323 (M+F) ‘Explosives Picked Up At Sea’ provides advice to fishers to avoid landing the explosive on deck if possible.  If ordnance is accidentally taken on board, then under no circumstances should attempts be made to clean, open or tamper with the weapon in any way.  It should however be secured and kept wet.  The Coastguard should be notified immediately, who will co-ordinate a Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit to attend the vessel.  Rewards formerly paid to mariners for recovering ordnance have been discontinued.

If a human body or body parts are found in the net, they should be preserved as best as possible and the Coastguard notified.  They are likely to make a report to the Coroner.  The body should be brought back to port straight away and handed over to the authorities.

The common sturgeon is protected under various Regulations and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They are also classed as a ‘Royal Fish’ and any sturgeon caught belong to the Crown.  It is an offence to land sturgeon without specific permission to do so from the MMO.  If the fish is dead, it can be used for scientific research, with the express permission of the MMO.  If permission cannot be obtained, it must be returned to the sea.  Live sturgeon must immediately be returned and the MMO, CEFAS and the Receiver of Wreck notified.  Information provided should include the date of catch, location of catch (GPS or ICES rectangle), size and weight of the fish and tag number.

If anything is found in the nets which could be described as wreck or salvage, it is a legal requirement that within 28 days you report the recovery to the Receiver of Wreck, by completing a Report of Wreck and Salvage Form (MSF 6200), which should be emailed to:   This applies whether the item is found inside UK waters, or outside but brought within the 12nm limit.  Wreck includes jetsam (goods cast overboard), flotsam (goods lost from a ship which has sunk), lagan (buoyed goods which are left to be recovered) and derelict (abandoned without any hope of recovery) found in or on the shores of the sea or any tidal water.  The Receiver is required to notify Lloyds of recovered property considered to be worth more than £5,000.

The Receiver is a government MCA official appointed to ensure that the interests of both salvor and owner are taken into consideration, as well as other interested parties such as archaeologists and museums.  The Receiver’s team will investigate ownership of the recovered item.  The owner has one year to come forward to claim the item, which is usually held by the finder during this period.   If the item is claimed by the owner, the Receiver will ensure a fair salvage award payment is made and recover their own expenses.  If no one comes forward, the item becomes the property of the Crown.    In many cases, finders will be allowed to keep what they have recovered.

We have dealt with cases in the past where items have unexpectedly been found in the nets, happily this has been ‘treasure’ rather than explosives.