RESTRICTIONS on shellfish pots in Lyme Bay could spell the end of the industry, a merchant has warned.

Conservation charity the Blue Marine Foundation yesterday introduced a voluntary code of conduct which restricts the amount of gear used by each fisherman to 250 crab and lobster pots, 500 whelk pots, and individual nets of up to 600 metres.

At present, some larger vessels use up to 1,000 pots.

The agreement, known as the Memorandum of Understanding, aims to strike a balance between conservation needs and commercial needs of fishermen.

The foundation hopes that, if the project is successful, the model could be used in other areas of the country.

But Colin Horne, of Weymouth-based Weyfish, whose suppliers fish in the Lyme Bay area, said: “If this comes into force, the few boats that are still running here will pack up, and that will be the shellfish side of the industry finished here in Weymouth.”

He added: “When I was fishing 30 years ago, 250 pots was a lot.

“But stocks have gone down, and running costs like fuel, insurance, harbour charges and bait have gone up colossally.”

Charles Clover, chairman of the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “The proposed scheme sets out not only to protect the ecosystem of Lyme Bay, but also, crucially, to create some value for local fishermen through the process of conservation.”

The Lyme Bay Working Group is formed of fishermen, scientists, regulators and the foundation, and the agreement will mean the restrictions will be self-regulated.

Andy Alcock, secretary of the Weymouth and Portland Licensed Fishermen’s and Boatmen’s Association said fishermen would struggle to make a living under the restrictions.

“As the boats go up in size, they go further afield and require bigger pots and more crew. When you start bringing in restrictions, people will have to be laid off. Who is that going to benefit?”

But others spoke out about the need for sustainable fishing.

Alex Jones, who represents a group of younger fishermen from Lyme Regis, said: “The future has to be with fishermen and scientists working together towards a common goal of sustainability.”

Clampdowns on fishing in the Lyme Bay area in the past have proven controversial.

In 2008, 10 per cent of the bay, or 60 square miles, was permanently closed to scallop dredging.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the move but fishermen warned the ban could drive them out of business.

The Blue Marine Foundation said the area has partially recovered, but use of other fishing techniques has doubled the pressure.