BRITAIN’s largest inshore marine protected area, Lyme Bay in south-west England, has been selected for a pioneering new collaborative partnership that aims to balance conservation with the economic needs of local fishermen.
With the Government currently debating the designation of up to 127 similar zones, this project could represent a new milestone in efforts to manage the UK’s inshore waters, representing the first example of self-regulation by local fishermen and promising to create a model with potential to be applied across other threatened coastal areas.
The Lyme Bay Working Group, a collaborative body that includes local fishermen, scientists, regulators and the Blue Marine Foundation – the charity formed in response to the award-winning 2009 documentary, The End of The Line – has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) designed to ensure that Lyme Bay’s local fishing communities benefit from a more sustainable approach to marine conservation, which recognises the need to balance commercial necessity with the pressing need to protect these fragile environments.
This partnership plans to fund a major scientific study by the University of Plymouth, which will seek to quantify the amount of fishing that Lyme Bay’s reefs can sustainably withstand, whilst also validating low-impact methods. Whilst the UK Government’s 2008 decision to close-off 90 square miles of Lyme Bay to scallop dredging and bottom-trawling appears to have stimulated partial recovery of fragile reef ecosystems, this approach has, unexpectedly, caused a doubling of fishing pressure from other techniques in the restricted parts of the bay. A proliferation of static fishing gear in the western areas of Lyme Bay has led to overfishing and declines of up to 50 per cent in catches of some species, threatening livelihoods in nearby ports.
Potters have taken 600 tonnes of whelks – valuable on Far East markets – from the closed area in a single year. Under the terms of the proposed new partnership – part-funded by Marks & Spencer, which also funded the initial six-month project feasibility study – a new voluntary code of conduct has been agreed with fishermen from the four ports nearest to the Lyme Bay marine conservation area.
Under the terms of this code, which comes into force today, the amount of gear used by any one fisherman will be restricted to 250 crab and lobster pots; 500 whelk pots and individual nets of 600 metres maximum. This contrasts with up to 1,000 pots used by a few larger fishing vessels at present. It is hoped that this self-policing approach will deliver long-term value for fishermen working in the project area by ensuring the sustainability of their fishing methods. This partnership also plans to fund environmental assessments of low impact fishing for all the major fish and shellfish species in the area to demonstrate the sustainability of a fishery with low-impact methods.
Regulators, including the Marine Management Organisation and the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, are already actively looking at measures to limit the volume of fishing with static gear in the area, the Lyme Bay Working Group represents the first working example of British fishermen undertaking to regulate themselves and conducting their own science-based management with conservation objectives. Dependent on funding being secured, it is hoped that the project will benefit not only Lyme Bay’s ecosystems and fishing industry, but will also boost tourism and the local economy through the establishment of a lobster hatchery.
“The Lyme Bay project is designed to address two challenges the UK Government has come up against to date in its efforts to create marine protected areas,” comments Charles Clover, chairman of Blue Marine Foundation and author of The End of The Line.
“The proposed scheme sets out not only to protect the ecosystem of Lyme Bay but also, crucially, to create some value for local fishermen through the process of conservation. British farmers are paid to conserve on land – our project will try to find ways in which fishermen can derive similar benefits from conservation at sea,” he explains.
Angus Walker, who represents 16 members of the Axmouth and Seaton Fishermen and Boat Owners’ Association in those ports, says: “Fisherman in the under-10-metre fleet are natural conservationists which is a fact that has been lost over the last 3 to 4 decades and at last within this group we have a chance to put forward ideas that actually have a chance of conserving both fish and fishermen.”
Jim Newton, who represents 12 members of the East Devon Fishermen and Boat Owners’ Association in the port of Beer, invites any fishermen who have not yet signed the memorandum of understanding to sign up. He said: “It makes sense to everybody really, they just need to watch what we’re doing. There is no point in hammering the hell out of something. It’s not going to benefit anyone in the end. If they take notice of what we do and do what we do, it should be ok for everyone.”
Nigel Hill, from Lyme Regis, says: “There is a real risk of it eventually being wiped out with nothing left for anyone. I agree that this is a very good, sustainable way of saving the future for the next generation.”
Jerry Percy, chief executive of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA), says: “We are proud to have assisted this ground-breaking project that not only recognises the importance of maintaining local sustainable fisheries but also seeks to find a sensible balance between fishing effort, environmental and socio-economic interests. “The Blue Marine Foundation and the local inshore fishermen should be congratulated for developing a cooperative rather than confrontational approach in their quest to find a practical solution to the eternal problems between fisheries and environmental interests in sensitive marine areas.”
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South Western Fish Producers Organisation and secretary of South West Inshore Fishermen’s Association, says of the Working Group’s report: "The authors of this latest of reports and proposals for the future of Lyme Bay have reviewed quite well the history of how we arrived at where we now are. For the trawlermen and scallopers who were excluded from 60 square miles of Lyme Bay in 2008, there is not yet a great deal of hope offered by the proposals, but progress is being made for the overall good of the area. Trawlermen do wish for a sustainable, workable multi-use strategy for this iconic area and through their association, SWIFA, they will continue to engage with the working group.”
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