The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) proposal to make Holy Island a Highly Protected Marine Area (HPMA) threatens the livelihoods of fishermen living there.
Between 10 and 15% of permanent Holy Island residents are small-scale lobster pot fishers, the only type of fishers allowed in the already protected marine area.
The plans have attracted media coverage in the Guardian and on the BBC, according to Berwick upon Tweed Labour Party vice chair Robert Coombes, chair of the island’s parish council and a contributor to this article in the New York Times.
‘Whilst we obviously support the protection of the environment, the proposed ban is disproportionate to its impact on our island community and traditional fishing techniques that have been followed for centuries.’
‘Families of fishers are integral to the island’s way of life. Work in its school, pubs and restaurants, and are fully trained first responders – half of the coastguard team and the island’s 999 response.’
‘We have united as a community to voice our concerns as this ban will change the Holy Island and make living here unsustainable. It is that serious an issue for us. This will have a wider impact in the constituency and the rest of Northumberland and the north east.’
‘What we want is a frank discussion that recognises there are two side to the environmental coin that happily co-exist without sacrificing a way of life for the half dozen fishers living on the island,’ says Robert. ‘Can we risk losing them if they are forced to leave the island to work elsewhere?’
DEFRA is running an online consultation and Robert wants people affected by the proposals to have their say before it closes on Wednesday, 28 September 2022.
‘Please complete the online consultation. Although it is primarily aimed at the fishers, you can comment on the impact it will have on you and your involvement with Holy Island.’
DEFRA admits potential conflict between fishers displaced to other coastal ports because of the lack of space to place additional pots.
Richard Ward, who has fished for lobster and crabs out of the harbour since leaving school, told the Guardian: “Fishing is all I’ve known since leaving school, with my business partner we’ve worked blood, sweat and tears to build up the fleet we’ve got now and to hear we might not be able to fish here anymore is mind-boggling.”
Fellow Holy Island fisherman Jordan Richardson said: “If we moved all our lobster pots, there are five fishing boats here to Seahouses which has seven to 10 boats fishing there, then that’s going to be 4,000 more creels fishing out of one harbour, so how will that be viable? All those creels in one small area?”
An important centre of early Christianity, the Northumberland tidal island in saw the first significant Viking attacks in Europe and is the birthplace of the Lindisfarne gospels, now housed in the British Library. Every year, a million plus visitors flock to its 12th-century priory, castle, pubs and cafes.
Holy Island’s Church of England vicar claims the local fishing ban is a “real error” with “massive socio-economic impact”.
“I don’t think it has been thought through properly,” Rev Canon Dr Sarah Hills, the vicar of St Mary’s parish church, told the Guardian. “And [I don’t think] DEFRA have considered the massive socio-economic impact. They could have make an effort to find out before they launched this proposal. It’s a real error.”
Hills said the islanders practice sustainable fishing and are not opposed to HPMAs per se. This was not an issue of “fishers against conservationists”, she said.
The fishers argue that their methods have allowed a thriving seal population, citing a scientific study published by the University of Plymouth, which concluded “commercial pot fisheries are likely to be compatible with marine conservation when managed correctly at low, sustainable levels”.
She said that if fishers on the island were forced out of work, they would have to leave the island entirely because the twice-daily tides make it possible to access the mainland for only 14 hours a day, making other employment difficult.
The Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA), which would be responsible for regulating and policing the HPMA, said strict rules are already in place for fishers, including no trawling or dredging.
“There are five types of marine protected areas around Lindisfarne,” said Les Weller, the chair of the NIFCA, “We are one of the most protected parts of the coast.”
Weller said he had only found out about the proposal from a Guardian article published in June. “This is a top-down consultation and is very ill-thought through,” he said.
“Our seas here have never been in decline.” Weller said he would lead a “balanced consultation, from the bottom up”, and submit the result to Defra before the closing date on 28 September.
By Berwick upon Tweed Constituency Labour Party chair, Catherine Preston.