North Norfolk fishermen need to be consulted more on Marine Conservation Zones

Fishermen must be better consulted over any future plans to create Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) off the Norfolk coast, county councillors will hear next week.

Defra is consulting on proposals for three MCZs off Northumberland, but two areas off Norfolk – the Cromer Shoal Beds and The Wash Approach – may be taken forward for designation later.

A report to next Wednesday's county council environment, transport and development overview and scrutiny panel supports the thinking behind MCZs, which aim to protect marine wildlife, habitats and geology, and recognises that the two Norfolk sites may warrant future designation.

But the paper is critical of 'inadequate' consultation with the local fishing community carried out so far. It says: 'It is strongly recommended that stakeholder engagement is substantially improved prior to subsequent tranches of MCZs being proposed.'

Council leader Bill Borrett, cabinet member for environment, said it was 'hugely frustrating' that little consideration had been given to the impact of MCZs on fishing communities.

He added: 'Inshore fishing is the most sustainable type of commercial fishing, but could suffer very badly – both from the loss of traditional fishing grounds, and the increased pressure on those that remain.'

John Lee, one of three North Norfolk Fishermen's Society representatives who took part in earlier consultations, said a No Trawl zone had operated for decades between Blakeney Church and Mundesley Church, and three miles out to sea.

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The 'soft fishing', using pots, practised by local fishermen did not damage the marine environment and he would be very concerned if the creation of a future MCZ involved any further restrictions on people trying to earn a living in the way they had done for centuries.

The panel will also consider the council's role as lead local flood authority with a duty to investigate flooding. Among flood reports currently being investigated are incidents in Dereham and Wymondham.

An update on the Better Broadband for Norfolk initiative is also on the panel's agenda.