Project OverviewLyme Bay contains the largest area in British waters protected for nature conservation reasons but as yet it lacks the institutions, the management or the vision statement to be England's first multi-use marine national park - which is what it is in all but name. This project aims to rectify that, in a demonstrably sustainable way and to the benefit of fishermen and local communities.
Some 60 square miles of Lyme Bay were closed to scallop dredging and bottom trawling to protect the rich reef habitats in 2008 - and a slightly larger area that is part of a European candidate Special Area of Conservation has been closed since then. This area is thought to be in the process of recovery from damage allegedly sustained from mobile fishing gear over the past two decades. But government monitoring appears not to have picked up a subsequent problem - a near doubling of static gear, pots and nets, within the closed area. An area that was allegedly being fished destructively, as far as bottom habitats are concerned, is in danger of becoming overfished through lack of an ecosystem approach, lack of data and lack of determined management.
This is a problem which needs urgently to be grasped. The problem is confirmed in landings data, in economic studies and in a new report we have commissioned based on the observations of fishermen with more than 400 years of combined fishing experience.
If the current situation were to continue or worsen, it would be a sorry epilogue to a 20 year campaign to manage Lyme Bay and all its resources for future generations. We, fishermen, regulators and conservationists alike, believe that there is a problem which can be solved and that this is best done by pooling our resources in a new body, the Lyme Bay Working Group. This body has strong leadership from four local ports and local fishing associations.
This body has agreed a Memorandum of Understanding which has three "wins" - for the environment, for fisheries and for coastal communities. If the project proposed does not achieve all of these, it will have failed. We believe, though, that achieving these three "wins" is eminently practicable and will be a first in UK. Thanks to strong leadership from the fishermen on the group, the Working Group has agreed a voluntary Code of Conduct which will apply to all fishermen operating in the cSAC area. We hope this will have widespread support. This Code is the first step in demonstrating that the inshore fisheries of Lyme Bay are fully sustainable. The next step will be a world class scientifically-based management project, designed with the input of fishermen and their skills, which will test the sustainability of potting techniques and fishing methods, provide reassurance to the public, to a level that has never before been attempted, that the most selective and least harmful methods are being used in this important area.
In tandem with that, the project aims to create special value for fishermen who sell catch from this area based on the added confidence the consumer can have in Lyme Bay products. It will promote underutilised delicacies, such as the velvet swimming crab - secure in the knowledge that without our approach to stock evaluation, we would be encouraging over-exploitation and repeating old mistakes of boom and bust. We aim to give fishermen a confidence and pride that what they are doing is consistent with maintaining a valued environment; and, if we achieve all this they will undoubtedly become known as local heroes for engaging in a pioneering project.
The intention at all times has been that the lessons learned in Lyme Bay will help to defuse confrontation that has occasionally existed between the fishing industry and conservationists by concentrating on science and policy of mutual interest. We would like to think the results will be scalable, documented and usable throughout the inshore marine protected areas now being created in Britain.
As well as hoping to contribute to that wider legacy, the intention is to create a management structure, a forum to run it, and funding mechanisms which will live on and be self-sustaining in Lyme Bay after the project ends in three years time.