A group of cockle fishermen have lost their bid to overturn a court ruling that they trespassed into a private fishery off the West Norfolk coast.
Following a seven-year legal battle, three judges yesterday upheld a previous ruling that the group had gone into the fishery without permission. They now face massive damages and legal costs.
As Lords of the Manors of Snettisham and Heacham, members of the Le Strange family have enjoyed exclusive fishing rights over parts of The Wash that have lapped on to the shore of their estate since the 18th century. John Loose and his family have operated the fishery as tenants of the estate for generations.
But the existence of the private fishery has long been a bone of contention among local fishing boat owners who are forbidden to cast their nets without permission.
Last year, judge Sir William Blackburn ruled that 13 unauthorised fishing boats had trespassed on to the fishery between July 26 and September 10, 2007, saying they were “not simply there for the fun of it but were there to fish for cockles and were successful in their search for them”.
John and Stephen Williamson, father and son directors of Lynn Shellfish Limited, their company and three other fishermen, Martin Garnett, Jason Leman and Eric Oughton, had either denied they were fishing when observed or insisted they were ‘simply passing by’ the area.
But the Court of Appeal dismissed the fishermen’s challenge to that ruling at a hearing in London on Thursday, rejecting their arguments that the positions where their vessels were spotted were not part of the private fishery.
Lord Justice Moore-Bick, sitting with Lords Justice Pitchford and Kitchin, ruled that the fishery extended seawards as far as the low water mark achieved at the Lowest Astronomical Tide – an event which occurs only once every 18-and-a-half years.
Mr Loose’s payout has yet to be calculated, though he is claiming six-figure damages to reflect what he claims is the value of the ‘illicit’ cockles they landed while trespassing in the private fishery.
Though the monarchy has been barred from granting exclusive fishing rights since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, private fisheries established before the death of Henry II in 1189 remain in existence today.