Closed seasons

Closed seasons may be useful in preventing damage through shoreline species collection at certain times of the year, whether to target species, non-target species (e.g. wintering birds), or interference with other shoreline uses. Some bait collectors consulted during the review suggested the introduction of temporary closures during the lugworm breeding season. Worms may be of lower quality than usual at this time because of high gamete levels in the body cavity prior to reproduction, and more difficult to obtain immediately after reproduction (they stop casting while larvae are living in the adult burrows). Such closure would be relatively complex to administer because of the difficulty of forecasting and advertising closure times, which would range over a period of some months from beach to beach within any one region. It would be difficult to justify such an approach without evidence that this type of closure did have a beneficial effect on recruitment of young to the bait beds – this research has not been carried out. Closure of depleted white ragworm beds for periods of up to one year has also been suggested as a positive management option. Bait collectors and anglers are, however, reluctant formally to propose these measures to regulating authorities because of concern that this may publicise the location of vulnerable bait stocks and increase exploitation pressure, or because such closures could become permanent.

Closure of bait beds in estuaries during peak seasons of bird activity on the mudflats, or very bad weather, would also reduce disturbance at this most vulnerable period. A temporary ban on shooting during exceptionally bad weather is already possible under existing legislation. A similar tool for bait collection may be a possible solution. Bait collectors may argue that worms are already very difficult to obtain during cold spells, because they burrow more deeply and do not produce fresh casts, and little bait collection activity takes place at these times as a result.

Unfortunately both the main autumn lugworm breeding season and the presence of peak migrating and overwintering shore bird numbers coincide with the period of peak demand for bait, likely making a closed season at this time of year a contentious proposal. However, there may be some benefit in closing recreational bathing beaches to bait collection during the summer when bait stocks are at their peak and alternative sources on less popular holiday beaches more likely to be acceptable. This would reduce conflict between bathers and numerous other summer beach users and bait collectors.

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