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Friday, 31 October 2014

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Making a living cockling in Morecambe Bay ‘impossible’ - fisherman

FOLLOWING the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers the fishing industry in Morecambe Bay has faced a clampdown with increased regulation frustrating families and “destroying” an historic industry. WILL METCALFE reports

FISHERMEN have been fishing shellfish in Morecambe Bay for centuries and in Flookburgh many of the families that still fish can trace family fishing back to the 1750s.

Among them is Steve Manning who, along with his nephew and son, still fishes off Morecambe Bay.

But following the cockling disaster in 2004 when 23 illegal immigrants died in freezing waters after being trapped in the evening tide, Mr Manning said the industry has been crushed by legislation with an increasing number of organisations regulating shell fishing.

He said: “There are dozens of organisations that all now think it is their job to save us from the sands.

“All the local fishermen in the North West from Barrow down to Southport are treated like beginners and we’re restricted in everything we do from where and when we go, where we can sell to.”

Mr Manning, 59, has been fishing on and off in Morecambe Bay since he was a boy and said the sands are a safe place to work if you note tide times and ensure steps are in place if disaster strikes.

He added: “Morecambe Bay has now got a bad name but it is a very safe place to work if you follow the rules, it’s like saying it’s dangerous to stand on a railway line if there’s a train coming.

“It’s hard to insure your tractors and your quad now, it’s like trying to insure Titanic.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a dangerous place to people who don’t know what they’re doing.”

Mr Manning said he felt exasperated by the legacy of the disaster and its impact on the fishing industry in South Cumbria.

He added: “We just want it to come to an end. We tried to warn the workers and gangmasters of the dangers but we got nowhere.

“The government is talking about tightening legislation but what’s required is to hand the fishing back to the local fishermen and you will get sustainable, safe fishing and a lot of the other problems will disappear.”

A fishing family who did not wish to be named said the closure of cockle beds had destroyed a way of life which had existed around the bay for centuries.

They said: “When they closed the cockle beds we lost our heritage, we lost an historic right.

“There are too many fingers in the pie at the moment – the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, too many people have been put in jobs who don’t understand. We need more help for local fishermen.”

Rob Benson runs Kingfisher Seafoods in Barrow and is from a long line of fishermen.

He said the increased legislation has made it “impossible” to make a living from cockling as the beds were closed in 2007. But, he said, mussel fishing has become increasingly difficult due to legislation and some of the government bodies.

He said: “The amount of legislation with regards to agencies have increased. There is the Gangmasters LicensingAuthority which was put in place to stop illegal gangs but now all buyers of hand fished shellfish have to be licensed to buy and it’s made a massive difference.”

Mr Benson said the increased legislation, coupled with poor weather, has made it difficult to operate a business.

He added: “With what’s happened with the weather one man would have been able to collect a tonne of mussels on a tide, now it is taking five. It’s very difficult.

“In February there are four weeks but maybe five days where we could work.

“With the legislation and the weather it is making it hard to make a living.”

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