Two years after fishing fleets backed a move to create the North Sea’s first ever “no-take zone” at Flamborough Head, the precious waters are showing signs of recovery.
Early improvements to the seabed and an increasing number of shellfish are said to be proof the marine environment can be restored with a united front approach from those that use the sea for their leisure or livelihood.
David McCandless, the chief fishery officer at the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NEIFCA), which monitors the site, said: “The site was developed with the help of local fishermen and recreational groups and there’s a good level of support and people are taking ownership of the site, which improves compliance and the effect of what we are trying to do.
“What we have learnt most from the project in these early stages is the process of establishing the site and how to go about that in a positive way. It has certainly brought together recreational and commercial fishermen that have an interest in Flamborough Head.
“It would have been nice to have a larger area covering a wider variation of marine habitat but we have this area which has full support and it was born out of a positive agreement.”
While the early results, which show an increase in the average size of lobsters caught and a boost to mussel populations, are encouraging, Mr McCandless said it could be decades before the real benefits are reaped.
He said: “It’s just the length of time things take in a marine environment, particularly where things like habitat recovery is concerned. It’s a long term process which can take decades.”
Plans to conserve the nation’s coastal waters with a vast network of protected areas known as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) were supposed to be underway by the end of this year.
But despite almost £7m being spent, the scheme has been delayed until 2013 and only 20-30 sites will be chosen out of a possible 127.
And the Yorkshire Post revealed on Saturday the North Sea has been left out of the top 30. No timetable is in place for the other sites, leaving a question mark over when Yorkshire will be protected.
Mr McCandless said the success of the no-take zone Flamborough Head, which has been recommended as an area having the highest level of protection under the scheme, was proof the sites needed to be designated.
“I think Marine Conservation Zones have definitely got a role to play in terms of the overall management of the marine environment because if the habitat is right then it’s going to be positive for the fisheries as well. It’s about striking a balance. People should still be able to access local fisheries around this network of protected areas. The sooner they are in place the sooner the positive effects will come through.”
The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, which has carried out dive surveys at the site, is also seeing the benefits of the no-take zone.
Kirstin Smith, the trust’s North Sea marine advocacy manager and a member of NEIFCA, said: “Reports from divers have shown changes in the sea bed condition and an increase in crustaceans in the area.
“We look forward to getting the full results of our first surveys this summer.”
The waters outside the zone are also showing signs of improvement, an indication the no-take zone is benefiting other parts of the North Sea.
Ralph Bublitz, a lecturer in marine biology at Hull University’s Scarborough campus, said: “I have been doing most dives outside the no-take zone, mainly around South Landing where the lighthouse is. One thing that was quite clear was that the shellfish population has increased.”