To buy a small boat like mine with bass entitlement costs a fortune. Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of a charity, the Blue Marine Foundation Blue. Set up in by some of the team behind the award-winning documentary The End of the Line including environmentalist Charles Clover, Blue creates large marine reserves worldwide to encourage sustainable fishing models and improve biodiversity.
The km sq Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation Reserve was established in after years of campaigning to stop trawling and dredging across certain types of ground. Persuading fishermen, conservationists, scientists and regulators to work collaboratively, Blue has proved there is a sweet spot between fishing and conservation where you can fish less but catch more with guaranteed quality. Morven Robertson of Blue explains how it all began.
Since the formation of the reserve, the population of pink sea fans has increased eight-fold. It created a honey pot — the area was saturated. We now have 32 boats and 59 fisherman signed up to our code of conduct, following sustainable fishing methods which conserve habitats and boost fish stocks. Other fishermen do work the bay, but if someone tries to put down too many pots they will tell them not to. Before you get out to the six-mile limit, the seabed is full of life, undulating, natural.
But as soon as you hit the six mile mark, you can see where the dredgers have left it totally flat. To obtain a rating that accurately reflects local stocks and low impact of the inshore fleet Blue is gathering data on these species with the fishermen to provide credible evidence on which to base a local rating.
Just a few weeks ago the MSC, the global fisheries certification scheme announced that mackerel in the northeast Atlantic had been stripped of its blue tick. Is that sustainable? Forming the reserve has been hugely beneficial for the fishermen, in an industry where solidarity is vital, says Morven. That would never have happened before. Blue is giving us a mouthpiece. Even before Blue came along, the fishermen have always seen themselves as guardians of the deep.
Matt and I look at the sea as the bank. For Jim Newton, fishing out of Beer, sustainability is a given. If cuttlefish eggs are found on our pots we have to leave them in the water — often for weeks — until they hatch, which of course affects our catch of lobster and crab. Yet all that gets focused on is a tiny pile of fishing line. Morven explains that Blue has also helped define sustainability. They were fishing with many more pots and wondering why the lobster stocks were crashing. Fish in the reserve are caught by hand diving, static nets, pots or rod and line — mainly, lobster, crab, pollock and flat fish such as sole and plaice.
I get my fish for the restaurant from all over the country These days, with fish farming, you can get on the phone and specify exactly what size you want. So I came down here fishing last summer with my nine-year-old son Alfie and got chatting to the fishermen. Yet fish is a natural product, migratory and seasonal, so of course every fish is a different size. He has seen, first hand, how unreliable quotas can be. To showcase how wonderful this fish and seafood is, we gathered at the lovely Kingfisher pub in Colyton, run by fisherman Mark Dack and his wife, where Paul cooked up some fantastic seared scallops with black pudding, crab and apple, and pollock with beurre blanc: simple, quick, delicious food.
Blue also gives practical help. The hope is that consumers will look out for the fish and create demand, as well as choosing to eat in restaurants that showcase this sustainable approach. Technology has its place too. We can map this data on top of the habitats, to see which parts of the reserve are important for certain fisheries The rays seem to congregate on sandbanks; one year we saw that all the pollock were being caught on one particular reef. And if they fall overboard, their phones send an SOS signal.
A guy had to crawl along the deck and manually pump the water out. My father and grandfather were fishermen, two of my uncles still fish. Brett, my cousin, fishes from Lyme. My son runs the shop. But I can see this finishing when I finish. We all have to have jobs on the side, such as building work and day tripping.
And here in Beer we have to drag the boats up onto the beach using a tractor and wooden planks under the boats, greased with fat from the fish and chip shop. Despite the red tape, quotas, storms at sea and sheer unpredictability of what he does, seawater clearly runs through his veins. You need to know where the fish are, how to predict the weather and stay safe. Their comments were illuminating. What I love most is being close to nature: nothing can beat seeing the sun rise over the sea. I go out sometimes in my little 5-metre boat — usually 18 miles or so, but it can be up to 28 miles — and come back with nothing.
But when you go out mid-morning, the sun over the sea is beautiful. We see lots of gannet, dolphins, even a killer whale outside Lyme Regis Bay once. Visit bluemarinefoundation.
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