The marine environment is a valuable resource which is estimated to bring in around £47 billion to the economy of the UK. Such a valuable resource requires a strong element of local management and, in 2011, 10 Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) were established under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 with a duty to balance healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry.
Funded by the County Councils of Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, Eastern IFCA, the largest of the 10 IFCAs, is responsible for delivering these objectives from Haile Sand Fort in Lincolnshire, along the entire coastline of Norfolk and down to the Stour in Suffolk out to six nautical miles. It contains 15 Marine Protected Areas. 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.
The Authority is responsible for the enforcement of legislation relating the protection of sea fisheries resources throughout its district. To do this, it works with its stakeholders which include bodies such as Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Marine Management Organisation.
The Authority’s officers – many of whom are former fishermen themselves - enforce legislation ashore and at sea from its new patrol vessel – FPV John Allen. This new patrol vessel heralds in a new era of fast, responsive, intelligence-led enforcement.
Many of the Authority’s fisheries management decisions are informed by research conducted by the Authority’s team of marine scientists working on board its dedicated research vessel – Three Counties. 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 the research team’s main activities each year is conducting the stock assessment for cockles and mussels in The wash. Both species are managed by Eastern IFCA through the provisions of The Wash Fishery Order (1992). Under the terms of this Order, the 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 itself has led to the cockle fishery being solely hand-worked since 2008.
A further area of Eastern IFCA’s work, dealt with by the environment team, concerns developing management measures for fishing activities in line with conservation objectives set by The Habitat Regulations (2010).
For example, Eastern IFCA has recently proposed a new, flexible Marine Protected Area Byelaw which seeks to achieve its vision and reflect Defra’s revised approach to managing fishing activity in European Marine Sites. This new mechanism will allow Eastern IFCA to regulate fishing activity in areas of conservation importance whilst maintaining a degree of flexibility that allows them to keep up with the changeable marine environment. In Norfolk this includes the protection of European Marine Site species including Sabellaria spinulosa
(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.
“Eastern Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority will lead, champion and manage a sustainable marine environment and inshore fisheries by securing the right balance between social, environmental and economic benefits to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry.”