Solway Firth cockle fishery reopens – Fishupdate.com

Solway Firth cockle fishery reopens Published:  05 November, 2007

THE Solway Shellfish Management Association (SSMA) Board reopened the Solway Firth cockle fishery to licence holders last Friday.

The results of more rigorous stock assessments and research commissioned by the SSMA and carried out over the last four months has allowed a viable quota of 500 tonnes to be shared among 100 hand gathering licences, six vessel licences and one tractor licence.

Multiple conservation designations reflect the environmental importance of the Solway. The inner Solway is a Special Protection Area (SPA), Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Ramsar site and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Wigtown Bay in the outer Solway comprises the UK’s largest Local Nature Reserve and is a candidate for further designation. This means that certain obligations and commitments must be met to maintain these conservation interests. With improved environmental modelling practices now available in the UK, the SSMA has been able to operate best practice in considering the allocation of quota within a framework that protects the biodiversity of the Solway.

It is the ultimate remit of the SSMA to ensure that the fishery is properly managed and monitored not just within any particular season, but also in future fishing seasons and is truly sustainable – environmentally, economically and socially. The SSMA has sought clarification on a number of scientific reports and this fresh information has allowed the SSMA Board to take the decision to reopen the fishery.

Although the fishery has been reopened, a BBC News report today outlines the fact that unlicensed fishermen have been warned to stay away from the Firth.

Over-fishing in the 1990s practically emptied the Solway of the shellfish, which can be highly lucrative.

Several people fishing illegally on the Solway’s sand banks had to be rescued by the coastguard last year.

Only six boats, one tractor dredger and 100 hand-gatherers will be allowed to fish for cockles during the seven-week season.

However, the authorities said they were aware that other unlicensed cocklers might seek – illegally – to grab a share of the potentially rich pickings.

Last year, ill-equipped cockle pickers, often working at night and apparently oblivious to the area’s treacherous tides and channels, sparked a series of emergencies.

This year, the Solway Shellfish Management Association and the coastguard, working with fisheries protection staff and police, said they would be stepping up attempts to keep the fishery both legal and safe.

Cockling had been completely banned on the Solway, off South-west Scotland, for four years to allow the cockle beds to recover before the licensing system was introduced last year.

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