Look At It This Way - November 4, 2011

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TOMORROW: Will Watt’s Weird World

Local fishermen have a right to fish in local waters. They waited long enough for cockle beds to reopen at Lytham. They also had an inherent responsibility to help police those waters, report those endangering lives, and livelihood, rather than expect the RNLI to pick up the slack.

With figures of £12,000 a ton bandied about by those who didn’t know better, it was hardly surprising the reopening of Lytham’s cockle beds led to a cockling klondyke. In fact cocklers pick up about £600 a ton, buyers get £2,000 or more on the lie market, if the cockles are up to muster. It’s still big money but weigh that kitting against cocklers out with boats, with big enough engines to cope with the load, and currents, transportation costs, life jackets, flares, radios, the works.

The lads I met came from across the North West. No, most weren’t local, but surely the licensing process has a role to play in that?

Most made a living from fishing and you have only got to look at Fleetwood, or indeed Lytham’s old shrimping industry, to see how much has been lost locally, bar the recreational anglers.

Most of the men plying this dangerous trade were equipped to cope with changing conditions or wise enough to steer clear when it cut up rough out there.

Others, opportunists attracted by the rich pickings turned up with boats barely more than glorified inflatables, with engines which would have struggled to chug them round Stanley Park lake, a mobile phone with iffy reception in place of a proper radio, and a spirit of cock-eyed optimism which saw them spend more time in the water, or stranded on sand banks, or wondering why the heck their boat couldn’t cope with several tons of cockles, or the strength of the currents. All this while waiting for their new best mates, the RNLI lifeboat crews, all volunteers, to leg it home from work, or get out of bed in the early hours, because some gangmaster with more greed than sense had unleashed lemmings upon our sands.

Rather than end it all, why weren’t permits (or lack of permits) issued or policed with hefty penalties for those who show wilful disregard for their own and other people’s safety?

Why did Fylde Council wake up to the money to be made – £15 parking a day – in the equivalent of sticking a plaster on a gunshot wound?

I thought it was a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut to send in dredgers which would not just clear the beds of cockles, but micro organisms, worms, the delicate sub strata which support thousands of migrating birds on a site of special scientific interest? Would legitimate fishermen have been recompensed for being forced out long before the season should have ended?