Underwater diver clashes with council over mussel ‘factory’

A tractor and trailer bringing mussels off Heysham beach up Oakley Road. Photo by Adam Hanlon.
A tractor and trailer bringing mussels off Heysham beach up Oakley Road. Photo by Adam Hanlon.
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A diver who travels the globe taking photos of the world’s most beautiful marine creatures is at loggerheads with the council over mussels.

Underwater diving instructor Adam Hanlon is angry that the street where he lives in Heysham is being used by mussel fishermen to get to a nearby fishing site.

Mr Hanlon lodged a formal complaint after Lancaster City Council decided fishermen could use a slipway near his home.In previous years they have used the slipway near the Battery to access the mussel beds off the shore at Heysham.

But the council decided to change the access point to Oakley Road, a small residential street leading down to the promenade off Heysham Road, saying this was for safety reasons.

A tractor and trailer has been driving along Oakley Road regularly to collect and load up shellfish since the mussel beds reopened last Monday.

Mr Hanlon, who owns Capernwray diving school near Lancaster and leads regular underwater diving expeditions around the world, said: “Residents of Oakley Road are up in arms about this.

“At any one time we have 25-30 vehicles down Oakley Road and lots of machinery.

“The fishermen work at night, there is a lot of noise, no kind of traffic control or safety for pedestrians, and there have been a few near misses.

“It’s like having a factory next to a residential street.”

Mr Hanlon has been in constant contact with Mark Davies, chief officer (environment) at Lancaster City Council to make his feelings clear since the mussel beds ropened.

He said he remained unhappy with the council’s stance, which is supported by the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIWFCA) which manages and regulates the mussel fishing area.

“Lancaster City Council is very unwilling to change, modify or backtrack,” he said.

“That’s not the way a council should behave.

“The first day it happened I was told the reasons were for safety and convenience, but I’ve yet to receive any clarification on this.”

Coun David Smith, cabinet member with responsibility for Environmental Services, said: “The council’s aim in controlling access across council land on the promenade to the re-opened mussel beds is to try and take a balanced approach by working with fishermen and NWIFCA to ensure that operations are managed in a way that causes the least disruption to residents and visitors.

“This is a small but important fishery operation which provides employment and income for 20-30 fishers for a few weeks in August and September.

“Based on previous problems at the Battery relating to safety, impact on other amenity uses during the busy holiday period, location and narrowness of the slipway, the slipway adjacent to Oakley Road was deemed to be the best option.

“Having received a small number of complaints from Oakley Road residents who believed that the harvesting activity using the nearby slipway was causing a disturbance and posing a hazard, officers from both the council and NIWFCA)have visited the site to meet residents and the person in charge of the operation in order to reach a compromise.

“Furthermore, officers from NWIFCA have been in almost constant attendance at the site.

“Thus far from the perspective of the council, NWIFCA and the fishers, things have run well and much better than in previous years.

“We do accept that the mussel picking causes some disruption for nearby residents and agencies are working to keep that to a minimum. It does seem the vast majority understand that mussel picking is something that has been taking place in different forms for centuries in Morecambe Bay and ultimately the fishers have a right to be there to make their living.”

Rob Benson, director of Kingfisher Seafoods of Barrow-in-Furness who is running the shellfish operation, said: “I can understand the feelings of the people of Oakley Road.

“When somebody makes change, there are some people who don’t particularly like it.

“If you went and spoke to people who live near the Battery they’d be delighted.

“From our point of view, it’s going really well. It makes our job a lot easier.

“We’ve got space to operate and it makes it much safer for fishermen. They are now just 3-400 yards away from the edge of the shore.

“We have cut down the number of movements we’re making every day and we’re sticking to working in daylight hours.

“It’s the most organised operation from everybody’s perspective that we’ve ever had.”

Last week, Lancaster City Council issued new guidelines for fishermen using slipways “to ensure safety both for fishermen and the public”.

The council stipulated that the Oakley Road slipway would be used for those working for shellfish buyers while the Battery slipway would still be used, but only for self-employed fishermen.

The Visitor also contacted the NWIFCA but they were unavailable for comment.