Cocklers barred from Ribble estuary after coastguard checks

GLA officers at Ribble estuary
Image caption Officials of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority took part in the checks

Unlicensed cocklers have been stopped from fishing Lancashire's Ribble estuary, where there have been 26 coastguard rescues in two months.

A team of coastguards, police and officers from Fylde Council and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority carried out checks on cocklers at 04:30 GMT.

The coastguard stopped 15 boats out of 30 from going to sea on safety grounds.

Fifty out of 150 cocklers were stopped from fishing because they did not have permits, Fylde Council said.

'Gale force winds'

The action came after complaints from Lytham residents and the town's MP Mark Menzies saying the numbers of inexperienced and unlicensed cocklers could result in fatalities.

The council said it was meeting UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon on Thursday to demand changes in legislation which would allow the council more involvement in granting permits, which are currently issued by the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA).

A council spokesman said: "Local people's patience is wearing thin and we have had a constant stream of complaints over the number of rescues that have had to be carried out - and the council's patience is wearing thin too.

"Every citizen under Magna Carta has the right to gather eight pounds of cockles from the foreshore, but any more than that and it becomes commercial fishing which requires a permit.

"Fifty of those setting out to cockle this morning did not have permits and 15 of the boats were found to be unsafe, carrying, for example, out-of-date flares.

"This is the first of many enforcement raids that we have planned for the weeks and months to come to stop irresponsible cocklers who have become such a huge strain on rescue agencies."

A spokesman for the Lytham coastguard said: "We sent a team out this morning to check boats and warn people about the dangers of the southeasterly gale force wind that is coming through later and could cause problems.

Low tide

"We are being proactive because the conditions are so high risk."

Up to 400 cocklers a day have been gathering at Foulnaze bank between Lytham and Southport since the cockle beds were opened by the IFCA on 1 September.

The beds are due to be closed again in April and some inexperienced cocklers are ignoring weather and tidal conditions to gather as many cockles as possible within the period, the RNLI has said.

It is estimated that the bed situated two miles offshore and which becomes exposed at low tide, contains about £8m worth of shellfish.

Cockles, which are mainly exported to Europe, fetch about £1,200 a tonne.

Twenty-three Chinese cocklers drowned in February 2004, further up the Lancashire Coast at Morecambe Bay.

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