No end in sight to cockle bed closure

A policeman looks on as cocklers return to the shore at Lytham.
A policeman looks on as cocklers return to the shore at Lytham.
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FISHERMEN have been left heartbroken after learning Fylde’s cockle beds will remain off-limits.

But Fylde Council has pledged to launch an appeal to ensure they get priority when the ban is finally lifted.

The North West Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NW IFCA) has announced there will be no cockling in the Ribble Estuary until at least February, following its decision to close the beds on safety grounds after 25 emergency call-outs in just two months after they were opened.

The organisation said it remains concerned the short winter days could see more safety issues if the beds re-opened now and there are also fears more than half the cockles in the patch are not yet fully grown.

Local fishermen and the council said they were “disappointed” by the decision, and are now set to hold talks which could see Fylde fishermen allowed access to the beds before anyone else once they re-open.

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Coun Tommy Threlfall, the council’s environment chief, said: “We recognise this is causing great pain to local fishermen but there is little we can do at this stage.

“IFCA is the regulatory authority.

“However, I will be seeking a meeting with the local fishermen with a view to finding out what they would think about introducing a scheme in the Ribble Estuary to give priority to local fishermen when the beds do reopen.”

The council said there is precedent for this, and hope it would guarantee the local fishermen a certain amount of cockles over the untrained amateurs who caused many of the problems in the first place.

Lytham fisherman Paul Sumner had hoped cockling would help see him through the winter months.

He said: “We are disappointed. I would like to get out there as soon as possible, but my gut feeling is it could be September before we get back. That would give them enough time to implement the rules and bye-laws they are looking at.”

NW IFCA said scientists will examine the size of cockles in February, and are working towards re-opening the beds around February 13 if they are big enough.

All cockle beds are then closed between April and September.

Before the beds are re-opened an emergency by-law will be drafted to help make the beds safer, which will include a requirement for all cocklers to hold fishermen’s safety qualifications and all boats to carry an approved list of safety equipment.