King's Lynn authority expresses 'huge sympathy for fishermen during these difficult economic times'
Following a protest last week by fishermen outside Lynn's Town Hall before a statutory meeting being held on Wednesday, June 9, by the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (EIFCA), to discuss the viability of cockle fishing this year, the chair of EIFCA has stated there is "huge sympathy for fishermen during these economic times".
A subsequent meeting followed yesterday between representatives of the fishing industry and members of EIFCA in order to discuss the annual cockle surveys in The Wash and to consider where some limited additional survey work should be undertaken, to potentially open the fisheries, although the EIFCA have said there is still no guarantee.
The EIFCA had placed restrictions on opening this season's cockle fishing but are open to reassessing the number of cockles in areas at the request by members of the fishing industry.
Julian Gregory, chief executive officer at EIFCA said: "The Wash is a heavily designated Marine Protected Area and we (EIFCA) have got legal duties to manage sustainable activities.
"We expend a significant amount of resource to determine the cockle population, the annual survey is a notable undertaking.
"In simple terms the density of the stocks show it would be difficult (to open for fishing) but The Wash is a big place and we will re-look at the stocks, where we can.
Tom FitzPatrick, county councillor for Fakenham and chair of EIFCA said: "It is incorrect to say we have rubber stamped the decision."
EIFCA work with Natural England when considering fisheries and conservation management measures and have legal obligations arising from government policy in respect to conservation.
There are 10 Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities in England which are committees or joint committees of local government.
The principal role is to manage sustainable fisheries and the impact of fishing activity on the environment in Marine Protected Areas.
Eastern IFCA is one of 10 Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs), which protect the marine inshore environment around the coasts of England and is funded by Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, it is not led by Norfolk County Council, and functions with clear guidance.
Tom FitzPatrick chaired last week's meeting where protestors gathered and he said: "At the meeting last Wednesday we gave protestors an opportunity to speak and we spoke to people and we took the petition and looked at it.
"We fully understand the concerns, it's people's livelihoods and kid's futures and we have met with MP James Wild and Stuart Dark, leader of the borough council, to see if there is any possible help for the industry.
"We are on the same side, and it's okay to disagree, but we work with science.
"Our sympathy is very much with all the fishermen it really is.
"We can't open the cockle fishery when there are insufficient stocks."
There are complexities to opening the cockle fisheries which has to take different factors into account.
The survey establishes the quantity of cockles and we use a model that allocates a third of the adult stock to the cockles themselves for reproduction, a third for birds, such as oyster catchers, to fish and a third for fishermen to farm.
Mr Gregory said: "We use a bird food model and must meet a certain threshold before we can consider a fishery but it's a complex issue.
"We work to enable fisheries and the lengths we go to for consultation are significant.
"We take account of the fishing industry's perspective but we follow science and the law."
My FitzPatrick said: "The work is done on the sea, it is not an academic exercise, we work with the fishermen.
"One person's ideal is someone else's problem, we work in an area that is heavily controlled with by-laws but we always lean towards supporting the fishermen wherever possible.
"We have sympathy for the fishermen but we always meet our duty to the law, otherwise we would just end up in court."
One such by-law, which will replace the Wash Fishery Order 1992 next year, is opposed by the fishing industry who are against it.
However there seems to be a life-line being thrown for now from the EIFCA to relook at the stocks of cockles with another sample survey in other areas of The Wash, as suggested by fishermen from yesterday's meeting.
Mr Fitzpatrick said: "We don't want a them and us, we understand it is emotive when you don't get an income.
"With the cost of living, this is the last thing fishermen need, with everything coming at once as they are battered from all sides, but we can't open a fishery when there are insufficient stocks."
Mr Gregory said: "Our duties are guided by government policy, and sometimes conservation overrides fishing interests.
"We will talk to Natural England about the private fishery Le Strange and we may be able to take account of their stocks, but it is not a certainty.
"It is a complicated balance, and we are aware of how everything hangs together.
"Fishermen are concerned that stuff might have been missed as the survey stations are far apart.
"We will be doing a second check and working with the industry."