Burry Inlet, South Wales

The South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee (SWSFC) regulates fishing activities within the Burry Inlet, under the Burry Inlet Cockle Fishery Order 1965. The regulations licence commercial cockle fishers (limiting their numbers) and impose a daily quota. Present byelaws also protect the shellfish beds from "any activity which disturbs or damages the surface of the sea bed within the areas specified... Provided that nothing in this byelaw shall prevent any person from lawfully gathering cockles" (Byelaw 20).

Increasing levels of bait digging activity in the cockle beds during the peak autumn/winter demand for bait and shellfish began to cause a conflict of interest between bait diggers and cockle fishermen in the traditional cockling area (Penclawdd and Llanelli Sands) in the late 1980s. The problem was partly one of difficult access by cockle fishermen over areas dug for bait, and partly direct damage to cockle stocks by digging and smothering under spoil heaps. The SFC therefore sought to introduce a byelaw to limit the areas open to bait digging in order to protect the fishery. The Welsh Office initially suggested that bait digging activity throughout the Burry Inlet should be limited by quota and by permit, with a bag limit of 100 lugworms per bait digger imposed. This would restrict bait digging activity to collection for personal use only and exclude commercial collectors. Bag limits, however, proved to be impossible to enforce, because excess worms could so very easily be concealed while a Fisheries Officer was approaching. It was concluded that a quota system did not work, even on the Burry Inlet that benefited from the presence of a part time Fisheries Officer and the virtually continual presence of licensed cockle collectors during low tides.

In order to obtain Welsh Office approval for excluding bait digging completely from the greater part of the cockle fishery, the SWSFC had to carry out an experiment into the effect of bait digging on cockle stocks (Shackley et al. 1995). This demonstrated that bait digging did cause mortality of cockles, as described by James and James (1979) in North Norfolk, and permission to pass Byelaw 20 (see above) was granted by the Welsh Office. This establishes an open area and a closed area for bait digging, and makes enforcement very much easier. The question of whether bait collection within the permitted area is for commercial or for personal use (which would effectively be impossible to prove conclusively) does not have to be addressed, because there is no longer a bag limit for lugworm. The improvement in enforcement of this byelaw may also, in part, be due to reduced demand for bait worms in recent years.

Several prosecutions were taken against infringement of Byelaw 20 when it was first introduced. One persistent offender was prosecuted at Magistrates Court for persistent infringement of the byelaw by digging for lugworm and for a number of obstruction charges. An appeal was lodged to Crown Court, but dropped after the obstruction charges were removed from the conviction. The fines for six charges of baitdigging were reduced upon appeal and paid by the defendant.

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