Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy: Cocklers failing to heed tragic lesson

David Morris Morecambe and Lunesdale MP
David Morris Morecambe and Lunesdale MP

It may have been a decade since 23 cocklers drowned off Lancashire’s shoreline but despite pledges that lessons have been learned, cocklers have been repeatedly caught on Lancashire’s sea beds – with several near-misses in the Ribble estuary in 2011.

The coastguard agency dealt with 23 incidents involving cockling in Lancashire’s Ribble estuary in the month after its cockle beds opened in September, with 25 rescued.

The creation of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority as a direct response to the Morecambe Bay disaster led to 67 prosecutions nationally but it is believed people are still taking risks during times when the cockle stocks have been replenished.

At present, the GLA says the number of permits issued has reduced from 2000 in 2004 to 120 now, and in order to be granted a permit and fish for cockles applicants must now complete a safety course.

However, 2014 could mark a significant turning point in the fight to prevent a similar tragedy happening, and protect exploited immigrants and other workers.

A Morecambe Bay Fisheries Order, which will allow for more long term and adapted management of the entire mollusc fisheries, and more stringent safety measures, may come into force in the autumn.

David Morris, who has been campaigning for the introduction of a licensing system on the bay, as part of the order, said: “I take the view that no matter how much you regulate gangmasters, no matter how much you reduce illegal immigration and the salaries you pay workers, no-one should be out in the middle of Morecambe Bay unless they are properly trained, properly supervised and aware of the dangers in the environment that they are working in.

“No amount of general employment legislation will ever be enough in this environment. For that reason I believe we should be licensing people to undertake onshore fishing in Morecambe Bay.”

As the tragedy is commemorated, the Slavery Bill, which will protect exploited or trafficked people, is being pushed through Parliament.

Security Minister James Brokenshire said: “The death of 23 people as a direct result of criminal exploitation remains as shocking today as it was 10 years ago.

“It illustrates the evil of modern slavery and why the Home Secretary and I are determined to stamp it out.

“We are taking action against this abhorrent crime on a number of fronts. The National Crime Agency is leading an enhanced and co-ordinated response to targeting trafficking gangs, we are increasing protection for victims and we are overhauling legislation.’’