South-west scallopers form new defensive grouping –

South-west scallopers form new defensive grouping Published:  15 May, 2006

SOUTH-WEST of England fishermen say pressure from environmentalists has forced them to form a new association in an effort to protect their commercial interests.

Owners of 34 fishing boats from Dorset, Devon and Cornwall met for emergency talks on Friday evening to discuss how best to deal with what they say is the threat posed by the proposal of the Devon and Dorset Wildlife Trusts to ban scalloping and trawling throughout a 60 square miles area of the seabed, in the vicinity of Lyme Regis, to protect Pink Sea Fans and Ross Corals.

The fishermen listened to the Chairman of the Devon Sea Fisheries Committee (DSFC), fellow fisherman Chris Venmore, as he and officers of the DSFC explained the proposal, backed by English Nature, for a byelaw that would close to scallop dredging and trawling an area that stretches from Beer Head in Devon to West Bay in Dorset and out into the Channel well beyond the three-mile-limit.

The area involved encloses approximately 60 square miles of some of the more productive scallop beds in the Channel region from which local inshore fishermen derive much of their incomes. These beds are so productive that fishermen come from adjacent ports to share the harvest of the sea.

The scallop beds have supported at least three generations of fishermen according to some of those present at the meeting whose grandfathers worked the grounds with crude scallop dredges after World War 11. They argued that the reefs that support the Pink Sea Fans and the Ross Corals have survived perfectly well and that the scallopers and trawlers do not impact harmfully on them. The habitats involved are not one and the same and a blanket closure order covering such a large area would have very damaging economic consequences that could not be justified, they claimed.

Jim Portus, Chief Executive of the South Western Fish Producer Organisation Ltd has worked over a number of recent years with the Devon and Dorset Wildlife Trusts to establish two areas of reef, the Lane’s Ground and the Sawtooth Ledges that scallopers agreed to avoid voluntarily. He says there is no evidence that this agreement has been broken, yet the DWLT has now come back demanding the closure of fisheries grounds and reefs covering an area more than 20 times bigger than the original.

He said English Nature and the wildlife trusts are flexing their muscles and are threatening to use Ministerial emergency powers to force this issue. Under the circumstances the fishermen have no choice but to engage in a “David and Goliath” struggle to protect their livelihoods and communities.

The fishermen argued at the meeting that they have a number of measures in place already to limit the scallop fishery, such as the three-month summer seasonal closure and technical gear limits and they say the extent of recent expansion claimed by the wildlife trusts has been exaggerated. The boats that have worked the scallop beds in the region, they contend, have all done so on and off for years. They say it would be an infringement of their human rights if they are forced to quit the area and, furthermore, they reason that safety might be compromised if they have to steam greater distances away from home ports in order to stay in business.

And at the end of a heated meeting the fishermen agreed unanimously to form a new representative body to be known as the South West Inshore Scallopers Association. They will meet for their inaugural General Meeting on Friday May 26 2006, at the offices of Greendale, Woodbury Salterton, Nr Exeter. The Chairman is to be Nick Prust, of Valcon Fishing Ltd, 12, Sandown Road, Paignton, TQ4 7RL. He is the owner of two under 10m dayboat scalloper/ trawlers. The secretariat is to be provided by Jim Portus of SWFPO Ltd. Members will subscribe in the first instance at the rate of £50 per boat per year.

John Hermse, the Chief Executive of the Scallop Association, a national body representing deep-sea scallopers, is to be invited to attend the first general meeting. He will provide valuable advice as to how best to present to UK fisheries Minister, Ben Bradshaw, the fishermen’s case against the proposals.

An invitation will be extended also to the Members of Parliament in whose constituencies reside the majority of the local fishermen involved, Oliver Letwin MP for Lyme Regis and Anthony Steen, MP for Brixham.