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Our threatened native oysters win protection
6:00am Tuesday 26th November 2013 in News
COLCHESTER’S threatened oysters have a lifeline after being given special protection.
The Blackwater and Colne rivers and surrounding estuaries, covering 284sq km from Clacton to the Dengie peninsula, have been made a Marine Conservation Zone.
The announcement came after oystermen and Essex Wildlife Trust carried out research which proved stocks of north Essex’s prized native oysters were severely depleted and faced extinction.
A temporary ban on fishing the species, cultivated off north Essex’s shores since Roman times, is in place. Meanwhile, oystermen are making a living out of the more plentiful rock oysters.
Andy May, the trust’s conservation manager, said work would now start to restore the beds where native oysters are harvested in the hope of reintroducing fishing in future years.
Dredging will stop oysters getting covered in sediment while the area will be cultivated to protect them from predators like starfish.
He said: “It’s fabulous news.
We’re now working with the Blackwater oystermen to make sure the area is sustainable and licensing is properly regulated.
“We’ve already proved the native oyster is in decline and that without a serious conservation effort they would become extinct. The zone will allow for activities to be regulated and ensure certain operations are identified and, if they cause problems, then they’ll need to get a licence to continue.”
Research last year using sonar technology, mapping and depth reading found the number of young oysters settling, known as recruitment, had plummeted.
Richard Haward, a seventh generation Blackwater oysterman who led support for the zone application, said it would be several years before stocks were restored enough to allow a full fishing season. He said the zone would prevent commercial fishermen coming in and overfishing the native oysters once their numbers were up.
Mr Haward said: “We have spent a lot of time and effort pushing this through because we think it’s the only way forward for the native oyster. We’re pleased it has come to fruition.”
Beverley Perkins, chairman of West Mersea Town Council’s waterside committee, helped with a draft management plan with the oystermen and trust.
She said: “The Blackwater zone will serve to protect the habitats and heritage that make Mersea Island such a unique and special place.
“We understand there will be significant consultation to ensure the local economy does not suffer as a result of this designation, but rather, that our waterfront remains unspoilt for the enjoyment of future generations.”
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