Uncertainty for Northumberland's fishing industry amid new proposals for protection areas
The possibility of even more stringent protections along the Northumberland coast is the latest issue causing uncertainty for the fishing industry.
The new proposals for Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) were discussed at a quarterly meeting of the Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA), which covers an area from the River Tyne to the Scottish Border and six nautical miles out to sea.
This came on the same day as the Government confirmed the seven-strong advisory panel which will examine whether and how these strongest protections for areas of English sea could be introduced.
The review, led by Richard Benyon MP, was announced last month by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and is due to be completed by the end of the year.
There are already a range of protections on the English coast, such as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) – Northumberland has one from Coquet to St Mary’s at Whitley Bay, which aims to protect species and habitat on the seabed, and another new one from Berwick to St Mary’s for the eider or Cuddy duck.
However, while the current approach focuses on maintaining species and habitats at, or recovering them to, a favourable condition, in HPMAs, all human activities with the potential to damage are prohibited.
A recent Fishing News article (https://fishingnews.co.uk/news/no-take-zones-plan/) suggested that this could result in all fishing being banned in these areas, with Dale Rodmell, assistant chief executive of the NFFO (National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations), saying that the proposed areas would effectively be no-take zones.
But on Monday (July 22), Mr Benyon said: “The seas around our coast are a vital asset for nature and all those who rely on them to make a living.
“This panel brings a broad range of expert experience, including those who study, use and benefit from the bounty of our ocean.
“Together we will consider carefully over the course of the next six months whether and where we can go further to safeguard marine life, balancing the interests of fishing, conservation and local communities.”
The NIFCA meeting heard that Mr Gove is keen on HPMAs, but the landscape could change depending on who the Environment Secretary and Ministers are under the new Prime Minister.
It is understood that the review process will seek to identify five potential pilot areas.
Chief executive Mike Hardy said: “There’s a possibility that one of these is in Northumberland.”
Chairman Les Weller added: “I think there’s a very good chance of Northumberland being involved.
“The great thing about IFCAs is that we are independent so we can carry on with our own plans to some extent, until some minister says something like there’s an HPMA from the Coquet to St Mary’s.”
The other major uncertainty for the fishing industry is Brexit, with Mr Hardy saying their main concern is the arrangements for locally-caught fish to be exported smoothly.
“It really is fingers crossed that everything is satisfactory and done without too much delay,” he added.