Dredging ban proposal for Northumberland coast among plans considered by Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority

A complete ban on dredging within six miles of the Northumberland coast is one of the proposals to be consulted on by the fisheries authority.

By Ben O'Connell
Tuesday, 23 July, 2019, 14:36
A fishing boat returns to port in Amble.

Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA) has confirmed that stakeholders are to be asked for their views on several possible new restrictions and byelaws.

They relate to the management of the designated Coquet to St Mary’s marine conservation zone (MCZ), which aims to protect species and habitat on the seabed.

The zone covers 192 km² of intertidal and offshore waters from Whitley Bay up to Alnmouth, including areas around St Mary’s Island and Coquet Island.

A prohibition on all dredging in the MCZ is on the table, but the consultation will also seek opinions on whether the ban should extend the length of the NIFCA district (from the River Tyne up to the Scottish Border) out to three miles or across the entire district, which extends six nautical miles out to sea.

Meanwhile, a permit is currently required to carry out trawling within three miles of the coast and it is suggested that this be extended out to six miles within the MCZ.

Permits would be issued on track record and on a grandfathers’ rights basis (in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations while a new rule will apply to all future cases), for using only light gear.

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At the authority’s meeting in January, when it was agreed that further consideration was needed as to whether NIFCA should bring in any management over and above its existing byelaws, Amble fisherman Michael Bould urged the decision-makers to consider the livelihoods of those in his industry.

“Were trawling to be banned in the MCZ, it would only affect three boats in the northern area, but it makes up 80% of their income,” he said.

At the April meeting, it was set out that a full closure to mobile gear of a section of subtidal mud in the north-east section of the MCZ was likely to be the way forward.

But at a quarterly meeting, a report to members explained that ‘it has now become apparent that currently there is in fact only one fisherman/vessel who is actively undertaking trawling activity in the north-east area of the MCZ (with one other fisher working there apparently very infrequently).

‘This is a reduction in perceived effort on the mud habitat in the site, which was previously understood to support a greater number of vessels and generating up to 80% of their income.’

Given that evidence suggests that the impact on mud habitats is cumulative and therefore less severe when fishing activity is low, officers felt that the proposal for a closed area could be replaced with the permit system.