Response to Outer Thames (OT) Potential Special Protection Area (pSPA) Consultation

From the Fishing Perspective

Whilst we have many items showing the concern and reaction of environmentalists and coastal dwellers impacted by offshore aggregate dredging, apart from that content in our MARINET video, we have seen far less emanating from the fishing community whose livelihood and income is threatened by this and by other issues that could arise in the Marine Bill.

Further, whilst we have published our many responses to numerous consultations on our website, we have little from those engaged in making their living from the sea. To make amends for this omission we give below the response of Fisherman Chris Wightman to the Outer Thames pSPA consultation on behalf of the Anglian Fishermen’s Association.

Aggregate extraction

Aggregate extraction has been and continues to be the single most destructive practice on the east coast.

Fishing evidence suggests that prolonged use of extraction areas leaves it unfit for fishing interests and is severely detrimental to marine biodiversity.

Sand and gravel used and desired by the aggregate industry comprises of the very same habitat needed as breeding areas for many commercial fish stocks such as Dover sole, Thornback ray, spotted ray, blonde ray, lesser spotted dog fish, brown crab, lobster, Dab,Flounder, Plaice and non commercial species such as pipe fish, Ross Worm, rag worm, sea anemone, sea fan, sea slug, dog whelk, sand eel brown and pink shrimps and many more along with a large variety of plant life that require large sediment to anchor roots to hold against the strong tidal currents in this area. Removal of this sediment not only covers the surrounding area for many miles with a suffocating plume of fine mud but also reduces the extraction area itself to a sticky mud that is almost devoid of life.

Previous areas have still not recovered their previously diverse marine life, being unfit for any fishing activity except cod that migrate through the area. All breeding fish found in the list above have not yet returned, even up to 20 years after extraction as in the Aldeburgh Ridge area.

I enclose further evidence to support this.

In my view no action upon trawling and towing methods of fishing can be justified for the sake of conservation until the more destructive practice of Aggregate extraction is removed or severely restricted within MCA and SPA zones, moving extraction areas offshore into deeper water will aid the conservation of breeding species that choose shoal areas close to shore for breeding, this includes herring and sprat that are of concern for the SPA for Red Throated Diver.
Ross worm in particular seems to be very adversely effected by Extraction losing habitat and being covered with the fine plume of sediment non conducive to life. As the EU directive for Natura 2000 sites states that conservation must come before Economic considerations I see no reason why Marine Aggregate Extraction needs to continue within these sensitive areas of concern, taking steps to reduce this activity will be a major step forward to protecting and encouraging biodiversity and Sustainable use of our coastline.

Red Throated Diver are not reported within Extraction zones because in these areas the water is too thick with sediment for Divers to find prey species, this may be considered a large impact if Dredging activity were to increase within the SPA area. Divers are a visual predator by nature and will avoid the suffocating plume being unable to feed within its boundaries, this plume still exists even within grounds that are no longer used for extraction, the fine sediment continues to be stirred up with the change in tide direction every 6 hours bringing sediment up to the surface. This does not happen in areas of heavy sand and shingle that have thus far not been used for extraction.

Generation of Electricity from Renewable sources of energy

Wind farms

Wind farms look set to take up huge amounts of available grounds for both fishing and bird life in the SPA and beyond east of the 12 mile limit.
Other parts of the world with large wind farm projects have seen considerable bird fatalities as the turbine blades can kill many birds. On land this is much easier to quantify as dead birds are visible on the ground, at sea if the initial impact is not seen its very unlikely to spot dead bird life as they move with the tide and quickly disappear from sight, wind farm companies no doubt play down any negative impacts but caution still needs to be taken, once Arrays have been built any consequential damage will be hard to mitigate.

I would recommend that as most Red Throated Diver activity seems to be inshore placement of turbines should be as far offshore as possible.

Also to avoid unnecessary damage to the largely sustainable local fishing fleet placement should be considered east of 02 degrees 35 minsE.

This would not only avoid most of the potential bird fatalities and loss of habitat for breeding herring that the Divers prey upon but safeguard the livelihoods of the fishermen in this area already using low impact methods.

Turbine noise and maintenance vessel activity will undoubtedly displace the shy Red Throated Diver, large congregations of turbines close to and within the SPA may considerably restrict the range of the bird, causing displacement and increased competition for food in the smaller available quiet areas.

Potentially disturbing migration to the area as birds move on to find less disturbed grounds. Wind farm company’s monitoring results already show 80 to 100% displacement, this can only be compounded with future large developments.

Fisheries

Fishing activity.

UK fishing activity in the pSPA area consists of well regulated and rigorously enforced fisheries of local speciality methods.

Most fishing activity in the area is undertaken by Artisan Fishermen using relatively low impact methods.

There are no large scale industrial fishing operations in this area, most fishing takes place from under 10m boats with one or two crew.

Many fishermen increase the value of their available quota by selling direct to the public, not only providing high quality day caught fish, but helping local fisheries in the effort to be both sustainable and economically viable.

The impact assessment does not mention this important boost to local economy or the huge number of tourists attracted to the area to see the daily comings and goings of local fishermen, without this much of the local seaside character would be lost and potentially large amounts of tourist generated revenue for seaside towns.

The value of fishermen to local economies far outstretches the initial value of fish landings.

In the southern mostly Thames estuary area ,cockle mussel and oyster dredging are performed in small select areas. This fishery is already regulated to a sustainable level and does not impact Red Throat Diver prey species as fishing takes place outside of the winter months.

Other methods used within the pSPA area include: Drift netting, cross tide netting, Long lining, potting, single and multi-rig otter trawling.

Most of the trawling takes place in the south of the area, however a small number of vessels from Lowestoft also trawl.

Gear used is comparatively light and seabed disturbance is low due to the slow towing speeds and low horsepower engines used by the inshore fleet, mostly under 12m boats.

Local trawling mostly takes place outside of the Red Throated Divers wintering period and fishermen have reported Zero bycatches of divers in their lifetimes experience of fishing.

Local displacement of birds may occur during winter activity however vessel numbers are small so impact maybe considered very slight.

Local beds of Ross worm are avoided due to poor fishing and considerable expensive damage to nets, impact upon Ross worm can also be regarded as slight occurring only when its presence is not known to the boat’s skipper.

Drift netting is used mostly for Dover sole and bass after April. This is a very important method for boats over the entire pSPA area, however due to its restrictive nature cannot be used on rough or hard ground as nets foul and come to a complete stop and so discontinue fishing.

This method is used outside of Red Throated Diver migration period and bird bycatch is reported as zero.

Ross worm beds are impassable to Drift nets and damage is slight to zero.
Apart from the Blackwater herring very little herring drifting occurs except for a few small vessels notably in the Caister area, small fleets of nets are used and only enough herring and sprats are taken to satisfy local trade.

Recent years have seen a major recovery of herring, sprats and mackerel all of which appear in large numbers throughout the SPA area.

The small fishery that exists for them at present is low impact and sustainable. Fishermen have reported zero bycatches of Red Throated Diver as nets are never set or left unattended. Ross worm beds are not impacted as nets are pelagic and never touch the bottom.

Cross tide set nets are used in the area for migrating Dover Sole and Thornback Ray cross tide nets are heavy to withstand the pull of tide and lay close on the seabed. Only small numbers of nets are used covering an area of a few hundred metres. This method of fishing only takes place during spring and early summer, outside of the Red Throated Diver wintering period.

Ross beds are avoided as net damage is very costly.

Long line fishing takes place over the entire SPA area and beyond.

The east coast holds the largest number of vessels in the UK that employ this low impact and sustainable method, it is popular in this area as it allows fishermen to selectively target Cod, Ray, and Sea bass of very high quality, in fact this area is known in the fish trade for the high standard of line caught fish.

Long-lining in this area ranks amongst the most sustainable methods used in the UK as changes in hook size and bait can make this a very selective form of fishing. Short soak times and returning of live fish into the sea equates to an almost Zero discard record, enviable in other fisheries in the EU zone.

In this region lines are anchored and weighted to the bottom avoiding bird bycatch that remains a problem is other parts of the world where drifting lines are used. Red Throated Diver by-catch is reported as zero and Diver prey Species are not targeted. Ross worm beds are unaffected by hook and line as the bottom remains undisturbed.

Small scale potting takes place within the SPA area targeting Brown Crab and Lobster.

This is another low impact fishery as pot numbers remain small and do not damage the seabed. This fishery does not take place over the winter period and has no impact on Red Throated Diver numbers or prey species.

Small scale beam trawling takes place for brown shrimp, fishermen employ the use of valves so that only shrimp are captured avoiding any fish species. This method only takes place on a handful of boats in the SPA area and remains small scale.

Zero Red Throated Diver by-catch has been reported and Ross worm beds are avoided due to expensive net damage.

Many boats change between these methods over the course of the year making them adaptable to the changing seasons, stock availability and natural cycles.
A mixed small scale fishery such as this avoids overfishing problems and numbers of fishing boats are are such a low level that sustainable fishing may take place without environmental concerns.

Growing pride in the east coast fleets sustainable nature is encouraging for the future and if quota concerns can be addressed in the common fisheries policy reform then little change needs to take place and fishing can be considered an important asset to the area working within the needs of conservation and marine zone directives demanded by Natura 2000 and the Marine Bill.

Chris Wightman


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