Ten years of marine conservation experts at work between the Tyne and Tweed
Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA) has celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Based in Blyth, the organisation was established in 2011 and is one of ten IFCAs around the coast of England dedicated to looking after the marine environment and promoting sustainable fishing practices.
The NIFCA district covers the area from the mid-point of the River Tyne to the Scottish border and extends six nautical miles out to sea along the Northumberland and North Tyneside coastline.
Its work is crucial in creating a balance between the needs of the fishing industry and the area’s marine resources. The organisation works to put commercial and recreational fishers and people with an interest in the marine environment at the forefront, helping them to take an active role in the protection and enhancement of their inshore marine environment.
NIFCA’s activities range from introducing and enforcing fishing byelaws and issuing permits, to conducting scientific research and environmental studies to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable industry for the benefit of all marine users and sea life.
Chief executive Mike Hardy explains: “Our 10 year anniversary reminds us of how far we’ve come. In the last decade we have produced a suite of byelaws and management measures which enable local fishers to work sustainably in the waters off Northumberland and North Tyneside to ensure a prosperous local fishing industry for present and future generations.
“We have established a great team of officers who work together on the operations and enforcement side of our remit to ensure compliance with fisheries legislation. We also have a group of highly qualified marine scientist officers who advise on how to achieve the best possible marine environment and fisheries in the district.
“Significant achievements in the last decade include working to conserve environmentally important marine life and ecosystems, including monitoring both lobster and brown crab stocks to ensure sustainable numbers continue into the future.
"We have also engaged with local schools, universities and community groups including the Sea Cadets, Sea Scouts and the WI, to build understanding of the work we do to educate all ages that it takes ongoing commitment to protect fragile marine ecosystems and understand how the land, sea and people connect.”
In 10 years NIFCA has conducted dozens of studies and surveys to understand the health of different habitats, including subtidal ones. Its research looks at seabed species communities to assess the effects from different types of fishing on the fish, lobster and mussel stocks in its district. It has also taken part in sea angling surveys with the aim of increasing awareness of the benefits of sea angling locally.
Also since its inception, NIFCA has issued hundreds of permits under its byelaws for commercial trawling, scallop dredging and shellfish fisheries, as well as the recreational shellfishery. The organisation is responsible for the management of data from commercial permit holders regarding their catch, to ensure that NIFCA understands the level of fishing and stock removal activity in its area.
NIFCA was also the first IFCA in England to introduce its suite of updated byelaws, comprising nine in total for the district. During the last decade they have led to 26 successful prosecutions and more than 45 financial administrative penalties, all of which contribute to the prevention of illegal exploitation of sea fisheries resources and protect sensitive features in the marine protected areas along the coastline.
Other highlights include the commissioning of two new vessels essential to its work. In 2015 ‘St Aidan’ for marine patrol and survey, based at Royal Quays Marina came into service, followed by the ‘Robert Arckless MBE’, rigid inflatable boat (RIB) in 2019, based at Amble Marina and named after the retired Northumberland County Councillor and former NIFCA Chair. It has the capacity to enable officers to board vessels from the smallest commercial operators to the largest for routine inspections of fishing vessel catches taking place.
In the last 10 years, NIFCA has also partnered with Tynemouth RNLI to enhance emergency response support for people in trouble off the coast. A joint response exercise gave the RNLI crew an opportunity to practice different types of towing and berthing of a stricken vessel and to gain experience towing and manoeuvring a heavier and larger class of vessel.
NIFCA chairman Les Weller said: “During the last ten years the authority has successfully established itself as custodians of the inshore fishery and marine environment across the district by working closely with partner agencies and communities to develop a professional relationship with the local fishing industry.
“Our remit is a vital one for the benefit of all marine users, both commercial and recreational to deliver sustainable inshore fisheries in our precious marine environment for today and future generations.
“I am grateful to our officers both past and present for all of their hard work and to everyone who has been a member and given their free time to support us in delivering our policy initiatives.
"Our aim for the next decade is to carry on working closely with the local fishing industry, recreational fishers, our partners and the wider community to create a healthy and sustainable marine environment for many generations to come.”
Natural England representative and NIFCA member, Dr Catherine Scott, added: “I have worked with NIFCA since they were invested. They have embraced new work areas to deliver important conservation and management on the ground.
“A significant part of this work is robust evidence gathering. Through NIFCA collaborating with Natural England in Northumberland and Newcastle University, we have successfully undertaken many projects aimed at understanding how to better protect our inshore waters. A recent example includes our research into the impact of dredging on scallop habitats.”
The work of NIFCA is funded by Northumberland County Council, North Tyneside Council and The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). NIFCA also works closely with The Marine Management Organisation (MMO), Natural England, the Environment Agency and Newcastle University.