Lyme Bay, a world heritage site and habitat for globally significant flora and fauna, is home to an active fishing community and supports a significant tourism trade. The Natura 2000 site: Lyme Bay & Torbay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) became the UK’s largest marine protected area in 2008, when scallop dredging was banned. However, this had the unintended consequence of encouraging fishermen to increase the number of static pots and nets being used. The bay and its fragile reef ecosystem and with it the future of the region’s fishing community and local economy were again threatened by overfishing in the 90 square miles where scallop dredging was banned.
In 2011, to solve this problem and save the fishery, the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), a registered charity for protecting oceans through providing innovative solutions to overfishing and enabling the creation of marine reserves, forged a unique, voluntary partnership between fishermen, marine managers (IFCAs, MMO and Natural England) and conservationists. The Foundation facilitated the creation of the Lyme Bay Fisheries & Conservation Reserve and its multi-stakeholder management committee. BLUE works with local fishermen, enabling them to create a sustainable and profitable future for their businesses while helping to conserve the local reef. A Memorandum of Understanding on regulation of the fishery, a reporting system for all catches and a research programme has been signed. Actions to support the fishery include refrigeration on ships, branding of products and awareness-raising. This revolutionary model of best-practice management financially benefits fishing communities and motivates them to fish more sustainably.
The project has improved biodiversity as well as socio-economic conditions. Fishermen and angler records show that the catch and size of fish are increasing. The conservation status of the reef is also showing improvements. This initiative has provided a blueprint for how fishing can be allowed to continue in other marine SACs and the 127 marine protected zones proposed along the UK coast. The project model is already being replicated in other areas in the UK and has been hailed as a ‘world-first’ given its radical collaborative approach.