The marine environment is a valuable resource which is estimated to bring in around £47 billion to the economy of the UK. The East coast contributes £16.4billion to this total and is recognised as an area with the most diverse activity and the greatest potential for future development.
Such a valuable resource requires a strong element of local management and, in 2011, ten Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities were established with a duty to balance the exploitation of the marine environment with its protection. In short; healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and viable industry.
Eastern IFCA is responsible for delivering these objectives from Haile Sand Fort in Lincolnshire, along the entire coastline of Norfolk and down to Suffolk.
This district is extremely ecologically diverse and is heavily protected under UK and European law. It currently hosts 18 Marine Protected Areas with plans in place to introduce more. It also contains equally diverse fisheries presenting a range of challenges to Eastern IFCA which seeks to ensure that these valuable coastal assets are safe, productive, healthy and biologically diverse.
For example, fishermen within The Wash devote most of their time to fishing for cockles and shrimps and at times, mussels. Demand for all three species, mainly from continental markets, has increased rapidly in recent years leading to heavy investment in vessels and sophisticated equipment both afloat and ashore. In turn this has resulted in significant pressure on stocks particularly the sedentary cockles and mussels.
The fishing industry of Norfolk is part of the tradition and tapestry of the area and is very significant in terms of both employment opportunities and financial contribution to the local economy. To ensure that the harvest of sea fisheries resources remains in step with what nature can provide, Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority which is based in Lynn, employs 24 staff. The core work of the Authority is to protect the marine environment and enable productive economic activity within it.
The viability of local fishing businesses is a key concern when balancing the competing requirements of protection and exploitation.
Eastern IFCA is responsible for the enforcement of legislation relating the protection of sea fisheries resources throughout its district. To do this, it works with bodies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency .
The Authority’s officers – many of whom are former fishermen themselves - enforce legislation ashore and at sea from its new patrol vessel.
Many of the fisheries management decisions are informed by research conducted by the Authority’s team of marine scientists working on board its dedicated research vessel. Their work is varied encompassing stock surveys, habitat mapping and environmental health monitoring.
They have also recently taken on a number of new projects including a juvenile fish survey, a crustacean study and a quantification of monofilament netting in the district.
One of this team’s main activities is conducting stock assessment for cockles and mussels in The Wash. Authority, working in close co-operation with the industry itself, can close shellfish beds, allocate areas of intertidal flats to individual fishermen for the cultivation of shellfish, impose quotas and limit the number of vessels licensed to work the beds. Careful stock management and close working relationships with the fishing industry has led to the cockle fishery being solely hand-worked since 2008.
Eastern IFCA has recently introduced a new, flexible Marine Protected Area Byelaw which seeks to achieve its vision and reflect Defra’s revised approach to managing fishing activity in the European Marine Sites. This will allow Eastern IFCA to regulate fishing activity in areas of conservation importance (such as The Wash) whilst maintaining a degree of flexibility that allows the agility to keep up with the changeable marine environment. In Norfolk this includes the protection of European Marine Site species including Ross worm, reef and boulder and cobble communities in The Wash and eelgrass beds on the North Norfolk coast - habitats thought to be highly sensitive to certain types of fishing gears.