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Dredging, Indifference and Apathy

Aug 03,2000 Chris Pledge


The proposed dredging of 23 million tons of aggregates off of Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight. Peter Quarmby, Hants & IW area manager for the Environment Agency, says;

"Thank you for your letter of the 16 April 1998 enclosing Chris Pledge's correspondence about proposed dredging by Hanson Aggregates.

This is not an easy subject and the Agency recognises that there is a need to assess the impacts of dredging and ensure that there will be no serious impact, while recognising the need for offshore dredging to provide aggregates, both for the construction industry and for the construction of sea defences.

A decision as to whether a dredging license should or should not be granted is the responsibility of the DETR marine licensing section. There is a decision-making process taking into account the available evidence and knowledge of the processes at the time. We have a much better understanding of the processes and the environment today than decisions that were made sometime ago, when the understanding of coastal processes (which is still far from complete), was less developed.

Dredging may also require the permission of the Crown Agents, who in most cases administer the ownership of the seabed on behalf of the Crown. Additionally a MAFF license may be required under FEPA, (Food and Environmental Protection Act).

The Agency is consulted as part of the government review procedure. We will express an opinion as to whether the particular application is, to our knowledge, likely to have a significant affect on coastal processes. The current applications to the West of the Isle of Wight are in an area where our current understanding is that there is no longer any active coastal processes operating. The Agency would therefore not object to the application when there is no demonstrable link between the location of the dredging and an impact on the coast.

The Agency, together with our colleagues in SCOPAC (the Standing Conference On Problems Associated with the Coastline), are also concerned that there maybe an effect due to the cumulative amounts of dredging offshore. This potential problem is not fully understood at present and SCOPAC are considering research into determining the cumulative affects in greater detail. Their preliminary findings suggest that although there may be a minor effect the problem is not as serious as some people suspect."

OK, there is no doubting the need for aggregates, but researching Hanson's Internet web site it tells us that; "Of the 11.2 millions tons dredged in 1997, 8.6% (963,200 tons) was supplied to UK wharves, 40% to external UK customers. Significant volumes - some 51% of sales, is supplied to major contracted outlets and to other wharves in Belgium, Holland and France. More than 1/3 of this volume was sold to Belgium subsidiary DeVreese D'Hoore who operate at Zeebrugge. Hanson Marine also operate major wharves at Amsterdam, Antwerp and Dunkirk.

Given the same ratios of export and home use, this means just 2 million of the proposed 23 millions tons of aggregates taken from our coastline will be destined for use in the UK!

By the time SCOPAC have finished their study any damage will be permanent, and a huge are of seabed laid waste. If they are wrong and the removal of such a huge quantity of aggregate does effect the ecosystem, where will the replacement sand and gravel come from?

So do Hanson's claims that these aggregates that are needed for beach replenishment stand up to scrutiny?

That could be debatable, as the Environment Agency has recently sieved an entire beach to remove the wrong type of shingle, stones too small were being blamed for the erosion of Preston Beach, Weymouth Dorset.

The agency has admitted using the incorrect kind of shingle when it last repaired sea defences on this beach. It does not reflect the waves properly and can get washed back out to sea. The mixed shingle used on this project was dredged off of the Needles, at a cost of £2 million. Nice work if you can get it!

--oOo--

On the MAFF front, more disappointment. In March 1999, I put a number of questions to Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley on the actions of Southern Sea Fisheries officer Mark Whitely. It appears that my letter to Mr. Morley was somehow misplaced, and it was only thanks to my own MP's enquiry that I received a reply, which in his own words is "not very helpful".

The Minister was less than forthcoming on how it was possible for Mark Whitely to forget that it was his own proposition on fish limits that caused such a backlash from sea anglers. He gave away little on the what considerations are made when appointments are approved for the sea fisheries committees, other than the appointee is required to represent the fishery as a whole and not his/her specific interests. The Minister also avoided the question of a commercial fisherman being able to represent sea anglers on the Southern Sea Fisheries Committee.

My suggestion of a review of the Sea Fisheries Committee's as a whole also fell on stony ground.

On the plus side, larger mesh sizes look set to be introduced after being negotiated in Brussels, and there is a new set of regulations being proposed for the under 10m fishing fleet.

I also spotted an item on Teletext recently stating that two Scottish fishing boats working out of Wick had been fitted with high tech equipment that allowed for accurate weighing of fish at sea, which should reduce wastage and overstocked boxes.

If a bar coding system could be added to individual fish boxes, fisheries inspectors would then be able to spot cheats easier instead of waiting hours to see who claimed the catch on their quotas?

A junior angler recently asked me, "What is the biggest problem that faces our sport?" My reply was apathy. What did I mean? Well, as my English dictionary says, it's an absence of interest in or enthusiasm for things generally considered interesting or moving, or an absence of emotion. A Latin word derived from pathos - without feeling.

So, apathy to me sums up the vast majority of sea anglers - without feeling, interest, enthusiasm or emotion for what happens in their sport! And ultimately that will be our downfall.

Not a fishing industry that's hell bent on cleaning the seas of every sizeable fish that is edible, can be turned into fertiliser, or used as imitation leather? Not the pollution from nitrates and sewers which are causing fish to change sex, or the oil tankers from mega rich multinational companies that flush clean their tanks at sea and pollute the shores, rather than pay to have this operation carried out under controlled conditions?

Not a dredging industry that wishes to strip acres of seabed clean of any living creature, not the fanatics that wish too stop anything or anybody enjoying something because they don’t agree with it? Or anyone who buys a house or land near the sea and then decides that they own the beach down to low tide and beyond into the next country?

No, it's sea anglers themselves that will ultimately be their own judge, jury and executioner. Because for too many years we have been reactive to the situations I have highlighted and not being proactive - anticipating problems and looking after our rights.

Finally, let me leave you with this snippet; MP's have voted to build the most expensive office block in the UK near to the House of Commons. Each office will cost an estimated £1.2 million per MP - and there are 650 or so of them aren't there? The plants for the courtyard alone will cost £200,000!

What did the NFSA receive last year as the representative body for an estimated 1.1 million-sea anglers. In the region of £40,000, I believe - there will be some tough choices for us to make in the future.



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