Defra has recently reviewed an assessment of the management of marine fish resources, fisheries and nature conservation in the Inner Severn Estuary undertaken by the marine consultancy of Thomson Unicomarine for Gloucestershire County Council (GCC).
GCC considers that the decision to include the county in the Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (D&S IFCA) was not based on sufficient evidence, and that an accurate evaluation of the environmental characteristics and importance of the upper Severn Estuary in relation to marine fish resources, fish sensitivities and marine fisheries would have led to a different decision.
The results of Thomson Unicomarine’s assessment show that the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel support rich and diverse marine fish resources and fisheries, as is common in shallow and well mixed outer estuaries in temperate zones. These marine fish resources support fisheries of small scale in relation to other coastal zones. However, the particularly harsh environmental conditions in the inner Severn Estuary within the boundaries of GCC’s administrative area are stressful for marine fish. As a result, the most abundant species just above the boundaries of GCC are a mix of mainly juveniles of marine estuarine-opportunists and estuarine species, migratory species, and species typical of freshwater habitats. The inner Severn Estuary is part of wider nursery grounds for only some species of marine fish, but also as a result of its harsh conditions, it is likely that its value as such is low.
The available evidence, while limited, strongly suggests that marine fisheries resources in the inner Severn Estuary are of low value, and there is no evidence that these are currently subject to commercial exploitation within the boundaries of GCC.
Despite having one of the highest financial contributions to the D&S IFCA, the area within GCC represents only 1.14 % of the total D&S IFCA area. GCC’s subscription to the D&S IFCA has been calculated on the basis of a set of criteria adopted by Defra. However, the rationale behind the disputed inclusion of GCC in the D&S IFCA appears not to have considered the limited value of the fish resources, the lack of marine commercial fisheries and the very small extension in hectares of the inner estuary within the boundaries of GCC.
In a recent letter to the Leader of GCC, the Minister of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment, George Eustice MP, has acknowledged the evidence submitted to GCC by Thomson Unicomarine, and proposed that Defra chair a meeting between all the D&S IFCA member councils to discuss the possibility of changing the levy responsibilities. Whilst GCC considers that Gloucestershire should be excluded from the IFCA, they will also follow the route of having a levy contribution which is consistent with the small extension of the inner estuary within its boundaries and the lack of commercial marine fisheries activities in the county.