Shellfishing inquiry begins
PUBLISHED: 17:54 27 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 22 October 2010
A public inquiry which could shape the future of Norfolk's shellfishing industry got under way on Tuesday. The inquiry was ordered by the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett after fishermen who harvest mussel beds on the Wash appealed a decision by English Nature, which refused to allow them to use electronic bird scaring devices.
A public inquiry which could shape the future of Norfolk's shellfishing industry got under way on Tuesday.
The inquiry was ordered by the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett after fishermen who harvest mussel beds on the Wash appealed a decision by English Nature, which refused to allow them to use electronic bird scaring devices.
The fishermen claim eider ducks are feeding off the commercial mussel lays where they cultivate the shellfish.
They want to use bird scarers to stop the diving ducks eating all their stock.
But English Nature argued The Wash was one of the best sites in Europe for water birds, and said the scarers would affect other species and not just the eiders.
English Nature and the RSPB also claim there is a risk from “industrial-scale” shellfish production on the Wash, which is designated as a site of special scientific interest and a special protection area.
Fourteen fishermen from Norfolk and Lincolnshire appealed the decision by English Nature and they are being represented by the Greater Wash Fishing Industry Group.
Solicitor Peter Scott, who represented the fishermen, said in his opening statement: “We suggest that if consent is refused in relation to all of these sites as English Nature and RSPB are, then there is no satisfactory alternative within the Wash area where such mussel culture can be carried on with.
“Such protection as is appropriate to enable its continuation.”
Mr Scott also said if the lay holders were not granted permission to scare the eider away then they could stop producing commercial beds, which would have an adverse affect.
English Nature who refused the application for 28 bird scarers - or wailers - argue that these devices would disturb other species which rely on the Wash.
Matthew Boyer, solicitor for English Nature, told the hearing bird scaring had been tested during trials and had not been found to be effective.
“The Wash is an exceptionally important place for conservation,” he added.
“This case is not just about the eider ducks in some cases it is not about them hardly at all. It's about the other wading ducks who could all be scared or harmed.”
Mr Boyer said the Wash was the single most important water bird site in England and English Nature had no alternative but to refuse the fishermen's application.
And he added that the inquiry was not being used to ask the Secretary of State for views on the shell fish industry and that it could only deal with the appeal of the 14 appellants to use bird scarers on their lays.
Giving evidence Conor Donnelly, marine officer for English Nature, said: “We can have no certainty that attempts to scare eiders in mussel lays will not have an adverse affect on the integrity of the ecology of the Wash and we request the dismissal of these appeals.
“It is possible that the decrease in cockle stocks may have driven the eider to feed on mussels. It is possible that the eider have just discovered the lays in recent days, especially now that the lays are being cultivated so intensively.”
The hearing is expected to last four days and is being held in Boston and led by Inspector Graham Cundale of the Planning Inspectorate and a decision is expected in the autumn.
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