Major issues in the management of the River Dee cockle beds were raised in an important debate in the House of Commons last night.
MPs on both sides of the English and Welsh border spoke on behalf of their constituents who were experiencing issues in the way Natural Resources Wales (NRW) was managing the cockle beds and the lack of scrutiny from the Environment Agency.
Speaking on behalf of cocklers from the Wirral peninsular were Margaret Greenwood MP for Wirral West and Justin Madders MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston who have been campaigning on behalf of local cocklers for over a year.
"I held a meeting with both organisations in my constituency office, at which it was agreed that the Environment Agency would be the first port of call for the cocklers on the English side of the river, and that it would raise the cocklers’ concerns with NRW.
"My constituents feel that the Environment Agency is not representing them adequately, and that, as NRW is an agency of the Welsh Administration, its responsibility is obviously to people in Wales rather than those in England.
"They have spent months making requests for access to the accounts showing the fishery costs and have made repeated requests to see the full accounts.....they have been provided with only a summary, which has led them to conclude that the fishery is not being managed properly. "
Speaking on behalf of cocklers from Ellesmere Port and Neston constituency, Justin Madders said the situation highlighted the injustices that can be created when devolution fails to address the important question of cross-border accountability.
"My hon. Friend has eloquently set out many of the problems faced.......as a result of the transfer of responsibility for the Dee estuary to NRW—problems that the Environment Agency has been aware of for some time, but is seemingly unwilling or unable to act on.
"It was therefore remarkable that in the latter part of 2015 the Environment Agency proposed a new regulatory order to reflect current management arrangements, and that NRW take over sole responsibility for the Dee.
"The issue of accountability has come to a head because of the implementation by NRW of what is known as the bird food model for determining quotas, which was imposed on the estuary without consultation.
"That represents a dramatic departure from previous systems, and has put the livelihoods of many fishermen in jeopardy......it is entirely unfit for purpose and it is destroying their livelihoods, yet there seems to be no legitimate route through which they can raise their concerns about it. Where is the accountability in this situation?"
"The Environment Agency might have outsourced the day-to-day running of the estuary, but it should not be able to outsource its responsibility to my constituents who have been let down by this abrogation."
In response the Defra minister George Eustice congratulated Margaret Greenwood and Justin Madders for securing the debate, adding that both had been heavily involved in trying to raise their constituents' concerns.
Mr Eustice stated that he has now asked the Environment Agency officials to attend future meetings in relation to the management of the cockle beds.
Margaret Greenwood and Justin Madders added:
"We welcome the minister's announcement that Environment Agency staff will attend meetings in relation to the management of the cockle beds in future. However, there remain unanswered questions and we will continue to work on behalf of my constituents to find answers to these. It is important we protect the cockling industry in the Dee Estuary and the livelihoods of those who depend upon it."