A CHARITY has defended responsible fishermen after poachers were caught fishing illegally for scallops in Lyme Bay.

Two scallop-dredging vessels were apprehended while fishing within the marine protected area at night.

Although many local fishermen are working with the charity Blue Marine Foundation to manage the protected areas responsibly, poa-chers are undoing the work by damaging the reefs.

Charles Clover, pictured, co-founder of Blue, said: “Two vessels were apprehended recently but not yet charged.

Dorset Echo:

“Scallop dredgers were operating at night, which is illegal anyway, there is a seven o’clock curfew in Lyme Bay.

“IFCA (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority) and the MMO (Marine Management Organisation) put in a higher level of surveillance over the Christmas period to catch them.

“There are a lot of poachers that are damaging the reefs.

“We want to give some value to the people who are not damaging the reefs and have gone to a lot of trouble to fish responsibly both inside and outside the protected area.

“Marine protected areas are controversial but it is possible for fishermen to get something out of them as long as they are not stopped from fishing.”

Axminster chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight programme will this week examine the impact of marine protected areas on biodiversity and sustaining fish stocks, with a focus on Lyme Bay.

Blue, founded in 2010, is working with fishermen in Lyme Bay to help them managed the areas and get value for their product.

Mr Clover said: “I think we’re becoming effective in Lyme Bay because we’re coming in as a kind of honest broker between the conservationists and a fishing industry that feels very bruised by its dealings with conservationists and government.

“We wanted to work with the fishermen to try and get some added value for the fish they catch and to make fishermen the local heroes for looking after the Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation Reserve.”

Although Blue has no statutory legal powers, it is working to deliver more fish, biodiversity, and for the benefit of the coastal communities.

Mr Clover said a ‘fantastic’ meeting was held in Lyme Regis last week, when 60 fishermen, chefs, fish auctioneers and other stakeholders came to-gether at the Royal Lion Hotel.