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Moon jellyfish "ruled out as causation factor" as EIFCA poise for possible U-Turn on West Norfolk cockle fishing at The Wash

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Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (EIFCA) say they can’t find “any correlation” between the increase in moon jellyfish and the lack of cockles in The Wash, which has led to a closure of the fisheries this year.

Julian Gregory, CEO of EIFCA has said: “So far we haven’t found evidence to suggest that the jellyfish are responsible for the low numbers of cockles in The Wash, and blooms of jellies are often seen in the summer.

“We can also find no evidence that they predate on cockles- however we must stress this is not academic research at this point.”

Julian Gregory, CEO of Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (EIFCA) has expressed huge sympathy to the fishermen but plans a second survey of cockles in The Wash. (57312510)
Julian Gregory, CEO of Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (EIFCA) has expressed huge sympathy to the fishermen but plans a second survey of cockles in The Wash. (57312510)

An expert on sea-life provided information regarding moon jellyfish, which are mainly harmless to humans and their feeding habits.

They said: "They can grow very large and even prey on fish, one of their main sources of nutrition comes from baby brine shrimp, but the larger they grow they can certainly feed on other types of sea dwelling organisms. They come to British waters in the summer."

According to information from the Audubon Nature institute: "Moon Jellies are carnivorous. They eat tiny zooplankton, mollusk larvae, crustaceans, and small fishes. When a moon jelly has eaten, food items can be seen in the jelly's stomach, which is the flower shaped organ in the bell. Found worldwide in temperate and tropical oceans as well as in shallow bays and harbors.

"Moon jellies thrive in healthy oceans and coastal areas and are not a conservation concern."

Moon jellyfish at Hunstanton Credit Steven Hewitt (57482945)
Moon jellyfish at Hunstanton Credit Steven Hewitt (57482945)

Oceana organsation says: "It is most commonly found near the coast and in upwelling areas, where its prey occurs in higher concentrations.

"Ocean warming, and pollution are all factors that reduce moon jellies’ predators and competitors and increase their prey."

A meeting was held on Wednesday after West Norfolk’s fishing industry was up in arms following EIFCA’s decision to stop cockle fishing in The Wash this year.

Tom FitzPatrick chaired the meeting where protestors gathered and 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."

The decision was made after surveys from Natural England discovered a surplus of over-wintering birds and a decline in adult cockles.

Mr Gregory said: “There is no need for a re-count on the birds, however there was an error with the survey identified which has changed the numbers.

“This means we can outline a plan for the fisheries, despite thinking there is still significant risks involved. We need to consult with everyone in the industry but for now the bird food situation is resolved.”

Members of the fishing industry from all over Norfolk and Boston held a protest at the Lynn Town Hall today following restrictions made by EIFCA (57204803)
Members of the fishing industry from all over Norfolk and Boston held a protest at the Lynn Town Hall today following restrictions made by EIFCA (57204803)

Kem Badgley, a fisherman at the protest outside the town hall earlier this month claimed that fisherman says "If you've got feathers they will look after you." as the cost of living crisis was brought the the fore and local well-known companies such as Lynn Shellfish and John Lake Shellfish were facing the loss of a “small fortune”.

EIFCA released a statement on their website yesterday regarding the issues.

The statement said: "A Working Group of Wash fishermen and Eastern IFCA members and officers met to discuss prospects for a cockle fishery in The Wash this summer.

Officers reported on updated conservation advice they have received, relating to the amount of shellfish stocks needed to support protected birds in The Wash, and presented the findings from additional stock surveys conducted between June 15 -17 2022.

"The revised advice and additional stocks identified meant that previous concerns about bird food requirements had been resolved.

"However, concerns remain over the sustainability of the fishery, because of low levels of adult stocks in low densities and risks to future fisheries if small cockles are targeted in 2022.

"It was agreed that Eastern IFCA officers would assess the option of opening a limited cockle fishery with measures in place to protect juvenile cockles.

The group proposed areas of The Wash to remain closed to fishing, to reserve stocks for next year.

"They discussed the importance of minimising landings of small cockles, and the shared responsibility between Eastern IFCA, fishermen and processors in protecting small cockles to preserve prospects for future fisheries.

"Before a final decision is made over a 2022 cockle fishery, Eastern IFCA will risk assess the proposal, consult with the wider fishing industry, and the proposal will be assessed against the full suite of conservation targets for The Wash, via a habitats regulations assessment. This work is underway.

"It was recognised that this working group provides an important face-to-face forum for fishing stakeholders, Eastern IFCA members and officers to discuss fishery management considerations.

"It was therefore agreed to hold future meetings of this working group as necessary to discuss Wash cockle and mussel fishery related matters. The group would not replace the wider, written consultations already undertaken by Eastern IFCA, but would, if acceptable to wider industry, complement them by allowing for more detailed discussions."

One part of this advice relates to the number of over-wintering birds in The Wash that feed on cockles and mussels. Each year, Natural England advises how many birds need to be supported, based on the peak numbers of birds recorded in The Wash averaged over the previous five years.

Eastern IFCA ensures sufficient stocks are “reserved” for this target number of dependent birds by limiting the fishing quota.

However, the decision comes at a time where industries are facing significant loss and many in the UK are plunged into poverty during the cost of living crisis.

If the fishery does not go ahead workers, families and industry bosses face significant financial strain that could spiral into next year.

Fishermen say they are "not to blame" as they have been under "tight control" for years.

Neil Lake, who owns John Lake Shellfish, in Lynn, said : "There will be no cockle season this year, and we don't know how we are going to survive this.

"We are going to lose a small fortune, with ten vessels and all of the fishermen out of work. EIFCA did the survey too early, and based their decision on those numbers.

"The cockles haven't finished producing until the end of April, and they did the survey in March."

Lynn Shellfish chairman Steven John Williamson, who runs the Alexandra Dock-based company, said: "These are very sad, difficult and worrying times for the commercial fishing industry. We've been under tight control for many years with regards to what we fish and are not to blame for depletion in stocks. The industry works hand in hand with nature we have been fishing in the wash for generations. It must not be allowed that the country can lose fisheries over the precautionary principles EIFCA are setting down."

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