Lyme Bay, UK

  • In Lyme Bay, Dorset, BLUE has established a model of sustainable fishing hailed as a ‘world first’. The model combines science and technology to improve traceability of catch size and location.
  • Investment in chiller units has improved quality and was hailed as ‘the best thing to happen in this port in 100 years’.
  • Fishermen receive higher prices while habitats and stocks are recovering. The Lyme Bay model is now being rolled out around the UK coast and in the Mediterranean.
  • Recent reports include an ecology and fisheries data report published in 2016 and an ecosystem services and human well being report published by Plymouth University in 2016.

In Lyme Bay, which straddles the border between Dorset and Devon, there was a history of mistrust between conservationists and fishermen.  The government’s enforced closure of a 60 square mile area to scallop dredging and trawling in 2008 should have led to the protection of what has been called ‘England’s coral garden’ – reefs extraordinarily rich in corals and sea fans.  But despite the closure to mobile fishing gear the area continued to be over-fished by pots and nets.

Starting in 2012, BLUE brought together local Lyme Bay stakeholders in an unprecedented collaboration. Fishermen sitting around a table with marine authorities, scientists and conservationists promised lively discussion. .

We encouraged fishermen to take a lead role in shaping conservation measures to protect the future of their fishery.  Commercial and recreational fishermen signed up to voluntary codes of conduct regulating fishing activity, scientific research was undertaken to inform best-practice management and a partnership was created with the Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) to build the sustainable, traceable and high quality credentials of our Reserve Seafood label, which is now commanding higher prices for the fishermen.

Four years on, the same group of stakeholders still sits at the table and has achieved a huge amount for both conservation and fisheries management.

The Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation Reserve (the ‘Reserve’) has become the country’s first Fully Documented Fishery, a programme which collects and analyses data from over 40 vessels to inform long-term management of the Reserve. Catches are stored in quayside chiller units to ensure freshness.  BLUE also works with fishermen to deliver a schools’ outreach programme educating children about the importance of the ecosystem that lies beneath the waves.

One of the challenges of 2016 was to quantify exactly how effective the Reserve has been in improving fishermen’s livelihoods and fostering a recovery in a marine environment. The results were better than we could have hoped for when we embarked upon the project.

Local fishermen in the scheme are reporting increased catches and lower effort per unit of catch. The improved infrastructure is a huge help – some claim that the chiller units installed by BLUE in Axmouth and Beer ports are ‘the best thing to happen to these ports in 100 years.’ Investment in data-gathering equipment brings the benefits of a fully documented, traceable fishery, notably higher prices for their catch, thanks to the Reserve Seafood label. A University of Plymouth study reports higher contentment among those in the scheme and a desire by younger generations to enter the industry.

The model is also good for the marine environment. As a combined result of the ban on mobile gear and the collaborative approach introduced by BLUE, there has been a four-fold increase in flora and fauna reef species since 2008, a doubling of scallop landings, a quadrupling of juvenile lobsters (observed and put back) and a two-and-a-half times increase in landing of brown crabs.

BLUE hopes to communicate the success of the Reserve to a wide audience. To this end, the Reserve is featured heavily in the new Seaton Jurassic Centre and we now have a part-time education officer to help take the message of marine conservation into schools.

BLUE is confident that the Reserve is a template for sustainable UK fishing, not only in the protected areas which now make up a quarter of the UK coastline, but in other areas that choose to adopt the same methods and create their own reserves. The model could transform the future of UK inshore fishing, reversing declines in marine life and reinvigorating coastal communities.  If you are interested in discussing how BLUE could support local fishermen and marine life in your area, please contact or

Find out more about the Reserve on its website here:

What the Reserve Fishers had to say:

‘I could have lived down there and not caught anything like I’m catching now in one dive.’

‘The ability for us to be involved in the management measures on the ground has allowed us to see 20% to 30% increases in our income from our improved catches.’

‘Before the scheme, I would cut up many white fish I caught for bait or would have to drive two hours to market as they would not keep. Being able to get fish on ice the minute it’s caught and stored in the chiller unit until it can be picked up has increased the amount I can earn and taken time off my working day.’

‘Five years ago it would be a good day if you caught two lobsters in a pot. Today you pull up a pot and there can be up to 26 small lobsters – all about five years, indicating this could be the first benefits of our efforts.’

‘It’s full of juvenile rays and our catches are getting bigger. Hopefully we can see some recognition for our efforts which have seen a sustainable population return to the bay.’

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