Northumberland fishing authority's concerns over energy giant EDF funding lobster project

The authority responsible for Northumberland’s marine environment has concerns about accepting funding from an energy giant for a lobster project.

Wednesday, 24th July 2019, 4:45 pm
Stock picture of a female lobster carrying eggs under her body at Northumberland Seafood Centre and Hatchery in Amble, Morpeth. Picture by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

At Monday’s (July 22) quarterly meeting of Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA), a number of members aired their worries about being a publicly-funded body and taking money from EDF.

As discussed at the previous meeting in April, it was confirmed that the utility company had offered the authority £30,000 to carry out a v-notching programme, using male lobsters bought from wholesalers.

V-notching is a way of marking lobsters which cannot be landed, with the aim of ensuring the breeding population is protected.

It is more commonly done to female lobsters and NIFCA had its own v-notching programme until recently when the English ban on landing berried (egg-bearing) lobsters meant it was no longer required in the district, which runs from the Tyne to the Scottish Border and six nautical miles out to sea.

Since the last meeting, discussions had taken place with EDF representatives to find out more about the proposed donation, but concerns remained for the authority’s members.

Chairman Les Weller said: “It’s really just that question; do they expect anything from us? There’s no doubt that to be involved would be a positive to the fishery, but I don’t think that’s the question.”

David Herriott pointed out that some of the other IFCAs, who had been asked about the proposal, had responded positively, adding that he said last time that the authority should go ahead with it.

But Mr Weller responded: “No one has taken commercial money from a commercial company, we would be the first. It’s a moral issue really.”

Chief executive Mike Hardy said that he got the impression that EDF would not put pressure on the authority and would allow it to carry out the project in the way it thought best for the fishery, but he also highlighted the company’s recent negative publicity over refuted claims that its New Hinkley Point nuclear power station ‘will kill 250,000 fish a day’.

However, he said that this should not affect NIFCA’s decision and suggested that engaging with the fishing community should be the next step.

Sandy Ritchie agreed, saying: “I definitely think consulting with fishermen is the way forward.”

Having looked at some additional information provided by EDF, Steve Lowe said: “I thought they approached us to offer money, now it seems that they have a community pot and if we take that money, there’s less in the pot for the local community.

“In principle I have no problem with this, it’s just the publicity side that worries me,” he added, referring to past experience at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, which was heavily criticised after Banks claimed it was working with the charity on its controversial Highthorn mine proposals.

“There’s a little bit of a red flag flying for me, because I’m not sure it’s as independent as it should be.”

Coun Eileen Cartie also thought it was ‘down to publicity’, while another member believed it was ‘a tick-box exercise for EDF’.

Professor Nick Polunin, from Newcastle University, added: “The tragic thing is that this is something that we should be doing.”

It was explained that the proposal for funding a v-notching programme originated some years ago under NAREC in Blyth, which was a different scenario in that this was not a commercial company – it was created in 2002 by One NorthEast, the North East regional development agency.

It was agreed to seek more information from EDF on these matters as well as making preparations for consultation with the fishing industry.

In 2018, the district’s commercial lobster fishery had a first point of sale value exceeding £3.25million.