South-west scallopers to go it alone despite rejection Published: 26 June, 2006
SOUTH-WEST scallopers say they are determined to fight on despite a thumbs down for their plan for voluntary closures of key reef areas
ThE Committee of the Southwest Inshore Scallopers Association (SWISA) met on Friday to hear from their Chairman, Nick Prust, the “very disappointing” news that earlier in the day English Nature and the Devon Wildlife Trust had rejected local fishermens management proposals that would close voluntarily to scalloping three important areas of reef in Lyme Bay.
The three areas, Lanes Ground, Sawtooth Ledges and Beer Home Ground, contain rich and varied communities of marine life that are vulnerable to damage from mobile fishing gear and the fishermen say they are keen to offer protection to these sensitive habitats.
SWISA members are, however, determined not to concede defeat. They have decided unilaterally to “seize the initiative” and to implement their proposals that will also involve a thorough study of the Lyme Bay scallop fishery and the other seabed life that co-exists with the fishing activity. SWISA Secretary, Jim Portus said, We cannot understand why the environmentalists have rejected our offer of closed areas that would be protected by a code of conduct of fishing operations to be signed by all SWISA members. These three reefs are hugely important to all marine life in Lyme Bay and would become lifeboats to provide recruitment stores for future generations of fish and shellfish as well as other non-commercial benthic organisms like Pink Sea Fans, Ross and Sunset Corals. English Nature recently called on the Minister to close to scalloping and beam trawling the entirety of Lyme Bay and we simply cannot accept the economic consequences that would flow from such an Order.
Fisheries Minister and MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, had encouraged the scallopers to come up with a local solution in the face of demands from English Nature to close to fishing with towed gear the entire 60 square miles of Lyme Bay between Beer Head and West Bay and from which these fishermen derive much of their incomes. In excess of £3.5 millions of scallops from the Bay contribute each year to the fish economy of the region. The Minister acknowledged the social and economic consequences of losing this level of income, especially as there are no close adjacent scallop beds that offer anywhere near the same productivity.
The fishermen wrote to the Minister earlier this month urging him to accept as an alternative to complete closure their suggestion that a locally agreed management plan could sustain fishing incomes while conserving important habitats and biodiversity. Just five years ago the Devon Wildlife Trust were also seeking for Lyme Bay a solution based on partnership with fishermen that would achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability. Now, Mr Portus said, the environmental pressure group has changed its tune despite the fact that fishermen agreed this approach and voluntarily gave up in 2001 the reef areas known as Lanes Ground and the Sawtooth Ledges. At the time the DWT stated these were the areas of greatest nature conservation importance and the only areas on which DWT would like scallop dredging prohibited.
Fishermen today offered not only to reinforce through the Associations Code of Conduct of Fishing Operations in Lyme Bay the earlier voluntary agreement that covered these two vital reefs, but they also offered to close to scalloping the reef area known as the Beer Home Grounds. This area is the largest and hitherto the most intensively fished of the Lyme Bay Reefs and there had been understandable reluctance to abandon to the environment the lucrative seasonal scallop catches. The fishermen now concede that the protective arrangements embodied in their code will not only benefit the environment but will also provide a lifeboat of recruitment to future fish stocks and will enhance the region for other users, such as crab-potters and divers.
It was with great sadness that we heard representatives of English Nature and the Wildlife Trusts tell us that they want nothing short of a complete closure of Lyme Bay. Jim Portus said. We told them we are willing to have these three reefs closed under statutory instrument, if necessary. All SWISA members will sign to indicate acceptance of the code and penalties will be imposed for non-compliance. SWISA also invited the environmentalists to join with them in making a comprehensive study of Lyme Bay that will follow a scoping report to be done immediately by University of Plymouth. “Sadly by rejecting a partnership approach based on sensible dialogue and consensus the environmentalists have invited confrontation that will bring to an end more than 15 years of collaboration.” Mr Portus said.
“Local fishermen have worked with DWT on ecological and fisheries assessments since 1991, but they now feel utterly betrayed. I imagine it will be years before any member of SWISA invites back on board a Marine Officer from the Trust.
All SWISA members will receive two copies of the Code, one to sign and return, the other to keep on board. They will each receive two encapsulated copies of the chartlet showing the three closed reef areas and the co-ordinates to put into their electronic plotters. It will be made absolutely clear to them that the use of scallop dredges on these Reefs is strictly forbidden.
SWISA will work with CEFAS, SFIA, Plymouth University and DEFRA/ MFA to initiate and, once funding has been secured, conduct a geo-economic study of the commercial scallop fisheries in Lyme Bay. It is hoped that the initial scoping study by Plymouth University will be funded with a grant from Rural Enterprise Gateway.
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