'The MoU and Voluntary Code of Conduct'
In order to formalize our discussions and make sure that they were representative of the fishing communities involved, the Working Group decided to sign a Memorandum of Understanding and circulate it widely among interested parties. The MoU, which can be found in full in the Download Center, includes the original principles, slightly improved:
- The socio-economic and cultural importance of the fisheries within the area should be acknowledged and be central to fishery and conservation management which will aim to maximise the socio-economic benefit to local communities and secure their long term sustainability.
- Protected habitats and species will be afforded appropriate protection from disturbance and damage. We recognise that a diverse and healthy marine environment is of paramount importance and that the habitats and communities within the Lyme Bay Fisheries & Conservation Reserve, including the SAC, should be managed to secure their long-term protection.
- Best possible fishery management practices will be developed, promoted and adopted to secure the long-term viability of target species populations
The MOU has now been signed by fishermen using a wide range of different gears, including scallop divers and charter boat skippers as well as SIFCA and D&SIFCA and the MMO, as well as Blue, and is in the process of being approved by Natural England. In the end it could be signed by an even wider group of signatories. The signatories aim to develop a culture of trust and mutual respect, to participate in data and information sharing and the timing of communications, and to engage other local relevant stakeholders in delivering the project's aims.
There are, at present, some fishermen who have not signed the MOU. These tend to be those fishermen who were disadvantaged before, when their scalloping or trawling operations were stopped, or those outside the area who operate larger boats dropping off significantly more than 250 lobster pots or 500 whelk pots. The working group's approach to them is to keep talking to them and their associations over the next three years of the project, to offer to create a code of conduct for larger vessels and to find projects which might be mutually advantageous.
The Code of Conduct
The working group had a number of fruitful discussions on what measures might improve the management of the closed area. But from an early point in the discussions with the IFCAs, the difficulty of doing anything to improve the management of the closed area quickly under the statutory route was impressed on the working group. An emergency bylaw was possible, but one of the conditions was that the events that provoked its use (the overfishing of whelks and possibly cuttlefish) were not foreseeable, which, ironically, they were. A bylaw would, it was said, take up to two years, including public consultation. A variation to fishing licenses by the MMO, if appropriate, would take around eight weeks. A ministerial order or statutory instrument would take a matter of weeks but this would take a great deal of "pitch rolling" to have a good chance of success. In all of the above circumstances, we were advised, it would be better and quicker to start with voluntary measures. So the working group got to work on devising some, expressed in the Lyme Bay Commercial Fishermen's Voluntary Code of Conduct.
The code, which will be reviewed annually, commits fishermen to engaging with managers and scientists to improve the knowledge and understanding of Lyme Bay fisheries and wildlife and to respect experimental and monitoring areas. Measures to be adopted by any registered fishing vessel in the Lyme Bay cSAC will include the fitting of iVMS systems, a cap of no more than 250 crab/lobster pots per vessel with no more than 10 pots in each string. Whelk pots will be limited to no more than 500 whelk pots per vessel with no more than 30 in each string. Vessels will not fish a total length of more than 4000 yards of net with individual nets not exceeding 600 yards. The code will be reviewed annually in line with the best evidence available. The Code of Conduct can be found in full in the Download Center.