July 1, 2008

Fishermen in Move to Fight Bay Ban in Court

By Louise Vennells

Fishermen are investigating whether they can take the Government to court over the proposed closure of a lucrative fishing ground.

The South West Inshore Fishing Association (SWIFA) has recruited a marine lawyer to examine the ban on bottom trawlers in Lyme Bay.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has ordered the closure of a 60 square mile area to protect rare species of coral and other wildlife. But SWIFA maintains that a voluntary agreement to avoid a smaller area was being honoured, and had proved effective.

Yesterday, Jim Portus, SWIFA member and chief executive of the South West Fish Producers' Organisation, called on all fishermen across the county to support the fight.

He warned that many of them could find their livelihoods in jeopardy if Natural England and the Wildlife Trusts fulfil their agenda of establishing marine protected areas all around the coastline.

He said: "The industry is angry about the minister's decision to close Lyme Bay.

"It flies in the face of our understanding of the area and its precious habitats, which we believe were being protected through the voluntary agreement that was in place.

"We feel that the industry is being sacrificed unnecessarily, and that the region will lose considerable amounts from the economy as a result."

SWIFA has appointed Andrew Oliver, of Andrew M Jackson solicitors, to examine the 60-page report which the Government has used as a basis for the closure, which will come into force in the middle of next month.

Mr Portus said he was "confident" that the industry would be able to raise the necessary funds for legal fees and a potential battle in the courts.

He said: "We are appealing for fishermen around the coast to join forces with us in whatever way they can.

"If there are circumstances embroiled in the background to this legislation which lead us to believe that our rights have been infringed upon, then of course it may lead to a judicial review by various higher courts.

"I don't want to pre-empt the solicitor's advice, but we could be looking at both human rights legislation and discrimination laws."

News of the closure was announced by Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw in Lyme Regis earlier this month.

He revealed that there would be no compensation for fishermen, but said there would be a fund to help them find other means of income.

In making the announcement, which was backed by Devon Wildlife Trust, he accepted that it would be a "difficult" time for fishermen.

But he said of Lyme Bay: "It's a very rich marine environment, which we have to preserve for future generations. We have a lot of rules and regulations about how we manage our land - we need to afford a similar protection to our important sea beds."

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.