At its latest quarterly meeting, Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA) voted to reject an offer from EDF for a lobster project.
The decision followed a lengthy debate, despite the issue being discussed at the authority’s previous two quarterly meetings, with a variety of concerns being raised.
At the July meeting, a number of members aired their worries about being a publicly-funded body and taking money from a private company, not least due to the potential for conflicts of interest.
As first discussed at the April meeting, the utility company had offered the authority £30,000 to carry out a v-notching programme, using around 3,000 male lobsters bought from wholesalers.
V-notching is a way of marking lobsters which cannot be landed by fishermen, 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 hens (egg-bearing females) 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.
In July, it was agreed that more information would be sought from EDF and a company representative attended the latest meeting to answer questions, but a majority of members remained dissatisfied.
Among other responses, he explained that the money for the v-notching project had been set aside before EDF even took on the Blyth offshore demonstrator windfarm project – the origins of the proposed contribution.
Another suggestion in July was that engaging with the fishing community should be the next step and consultation has taken place, but a representative of the industry was clear in his opposition to the project at this week’s meeting.
Amble lobster fisherman Michael Bould said: “This money was originally for v-notching females, then an ill-thought-out berried hens ban came in, so to now use it for males to try to balance out an artificially-produced imbalance is abhorrent to me.
“I’m worried about the precedent. It’s a vibrant industry which has just had a 20% hit in its income (through no longer being able to land berried hens).
“There’s no scientific rationale, the money was originally for what is a widely-acknowledged success story and while the numbers are small, I worry that a precedent is set.
“I don’t want to get into the situation where I’m tempted to break the law to maintain my income.”
NIFCA chairman Les Weller said: “For the record, this authority was against the berried hens ban, but that’s what the national Government decided to do.”
In 2018, the district’s commercial lobster fishery had a first point of sale value exceeding £3.25million.