‘We will act against any illegal activity and protect marine life’

Working on one of the Authority's boats.
Working on one of the Authority's boats.

The second in a series of features about the vital work that NIFCA (Northumberland Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority) does throughout the region.

“We are very approachable, but we are conscious of the need to take any legal enforcement action which is necessary to prevent illegal activity and ensure the protection of our precious marine environment and fisheries.”

This is the message from chief Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Officer Al Browne, as he and his highly-skilled team work to ensure all is in order in the area’s waters.

It is a crucial operation and the officers are not afraid to flex their muscles, using the wide-ranging enforcement powers they have, particularly in respect of the NIFCA by-laws, but also relating to European and National legislation. The punishments can be substantial, with the court having the power to impose an unlimited fine for breaching any NIFCA by-law or for catching, selling or storing under-sized fish.

NIFCA has a number of tools to monitor and, where necessary, tackle illegal fishing, including its patrol vessel St Aidan, and various-sized rigid inflatable boats.

To do this, NIFCA employs eight full-time and two part-time Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Officers (IFCOs).

All officers are warranted and divide their duties between regulation, enforcement, environmental and public relations.

All IFCOs are trained to either skipper, coxswain or crew the authority’s vessels and each individual IFCO has their own relevant safety equipment.

Officers generally work in pairs and their time is spread between sea, shore and office duties.

While at sea, on-board any of the authority’s vessels, officers monitor and record all fishing activities, fishing gear and will board and inspect not only registered fishers but also recreational fishers, including anglers and divers.

When carrying out shore patrols, officers inspect shore gatherers, shore anglers, divers, visit wholesalers, commercial outlets, angling shops, restaurants and public houses – basically anywhere shellfish or fish could be or is being stored or offered for sale.

While out on patrol, officers will be in uniform and will openly engage with commercial fishers and the public – they will educate and inform.

Mr Browne said: “I am very pleased to lead a team of enthusiastic, dedicated and highly-trained IFCOs who carry out their duties for the benefit of local fisheries, the marine environment and our stakeholders. We are always pleased to meet anybody who has an interest in our work.”

NIFCA – operational since April 2011 – is responsible for the sustainable management of sea fisheries resources from the River Tyne to the Scottish border out to six nautical miles and up to the normal tidal limit if estuaries.

The are 14 harbours and four landing sites within the authority’s jurisdiction. Approximately 85 Commercial Shellfish Permit Holders, 30 Trawl Permits, seven Dredge Permits and 115 Recreational Shellfish Permits have been issued by the authority in 2017.

All the IFCOs are cross-warranted with the Marine Management Organisation, Environment Agency, North Eastern IFCA and Tweed Commission.

NIFCA also works closely with other agencies including the Marine Police and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

For more details, visit www.nifca.gov.uk