A sea change for marine protection

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PRESERVING the undersea world off Bridlington’s coast will be top of the agenda for a new protection authority.

It could mean more protection zones, tighter controls on trawling and dredging, and possibly more consultation over the effects of off-shore developments including wind farms.

It is the end of an era for the North Eastern Sea Fisheries Committee which for 121 years has been responsible for managing and policing more than 20 fisheries by-laws covering fish and shellfish from the River Tyne down to Donna Nook on the Lincolnshire coast and six nautical miles out from the shore.

From April, along with others around the coast, it will be replaced by the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, NEIFCA,

With an increase of government funding across the country of £12 million over a four-year period, it will have much wider responsibilities, in particular for environmental issues.

David McCandless, 41, for 10 years the Bridlington bases Chief Fisheries Officer, said: “Basically, it means we are responsible for everything living or growing in the sea.”

The new 30-strong NEIFCA committee is made up of representatives from 11 councils who help fund it, led by East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

The rest are Marine Management Organisation (formerly the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) appointments and for the first time including bodies like the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Natural England.

Up to six will be representatives of commercial fishing interests. The new committee reflects the changing fishing industry and attitudes to marine conservation.

It was the protection of traditional fishing methods and damage to fishing grounds from round the clock steam trawling which led to the original committees being formed in 1890. At the time the area had 1840 vessels providing employment for more than 10,000 men.

Today there are around 50 commercial trawlers, some 250 shellfish vessels but about 1,500 leisure or hobby craft. As recently as 15 years ago Bridlington still had 10 to 15 trawlers before it diversified into shellfishing.

The East Coast committee will receive around £220,000 a year under the four-year government package to run its 14 staff and North Eastern Guardian III protection vessel.

Staff includes just one environmental officer, appointed in 2001.

“That is one area where we will be looking to invest,” said Mr McCandless. “The biggest challenge will be identifying what is under the sea off our coast which will need a lot of survey work.” At the same time they will still be enforcing fisheries by-laws and keeping an eye on offshore developments, including windfarms which Bridlington fishermen believe could mean the loss of valuable potting grounds.

“We need to have a balanced view. There is going to be disruption during construction, but windfarm sites will provide some protection to the local fishermen.

“It will not be possible, for example, for French trawlers to invade and damage their gear in those areas, or as happened last year, Scottish Scallopers. It could take time, but it is possible those sites can still be prime potting grounds and can be fished. Putting any structure into the sea helps create a habitat,” said Mr McCandless.