Alliance formed to manage British marine reserve

Blue Marine Foundation has announced a collaborative alliance created to balance the needs of commercial necessity with conservation in one of Britain’s largest marine protected areas.

Known as the Lyme Bay Working Group, the partnership has already facilitated the signing of a memorandum of understanding between local fishers, scientists, regulators and the Blue Marine Foundation, to ensure Lyme Bay’s local fishing communities benefit from a more sustainable approach to marine conservation.

Aiming to balance conservation with the economic needs of local fishing communities, the partnership hopes to establish a blueprint that will be applicable to other threatened coastal areas. With the government currently debating the designation of up to 127 similar zones, this project looks likely to be the first example of self-regulation by local fishermen.

The Lyme Bay Working Group plans to fund a major scientific study by the University of Plymouth, seeking to quantify the amount of fishing Lyme Bay’s reefs can sustainably withstand, whilst validating low-impact methods. The 2008 decision by the UK government 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, and 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% in catches of some species, threatening livelihoods in nearby ports. Potters have taken 600 tons 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 – a new voluntary code of conduct has been agreed with fishers from the four ports nearest to the Lyme Bay marine conservation area. Under the terms of this code, 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.

It is hoped 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,” said 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 explained.

Fauna & Flora International is a collaborative partner of the Blue Marine Foundation.

With thanks to Keith Hiscock, via the Blue Marine Foundation, for the use of his photograph (above)