River Medway Fish
Protecting fish and livelihoods in the Medway

Author: Tom Clegg, Kent and Essex IFCA

Location: Medway, South East England

Kent & Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) have been working in close partnership with local fishers to create the UK’s largest no-take zone in the River Medway. A 12.1 square kilometre area of intertidal habitat has been designated as a ‘no-take zone’ to protect juvenile fish in their vital nursery area habitat by closing the area to all types of fishing activity.

This collaboration between local fishermen and regulators is a unique example of a bottom-up approach to both conservation and fisheries management, ensuring stable protection for generations to come.

The River Medway, located in the outer Thames Estuary on the north Kent coast, is an estuary steeped in history and tradition. Fishing boats have worked the waters for centuries under the regulation of a historical fishing guild, The Rochester Oyster and Floating Fishery (ROFF). Holding rights to fishing since 1729, prospective freemen have to serve a seven-year apprenticeship before being given free rights to fish.

Today, the 50 freemen of ROFF are looking to the future by conserving juvenile fish. The intertidal areas of the River Medway are vital nursery areas for small fish in the early stages of life. Species such as bass, mullet and sole can use the tall saltmarsh grasses for shelter from storms and predators, whilst the creeks and adjacent mudflats support an abundance of prey that they rely on.

Shane Hales, Chamberlain of ROFF, says “… this innovative project could potentially help many Thames Estuary fishermen as adult fish spread out from these vital nursery areas. Conservation is the cornerstone of our Fishery and to be able to help protect our juvenile fish stock with the largest no take zone in the country is a massive step forward for our Fishery.”

The project does not end with its designation. A long-term research programme is being designed to investigate how fish use estuaries and how they use the estuarine habitats, including ROFF Freemen conducting trawl surveys and continuing the long-term monitoring of small fish populations in the river. Kent & Essex IFCA are visiting schools and the local community to raise awareness of the River Medway Nursery Area and the importance of marine conversation through education packs and lesson plans to work alongside the National Curriculum.

To raise awareness of the project, thousands of wooden fish have been sent nationwide and throughout the local Medway community. Each one decorated represents one more fish that will benefit from increased protection in the River Medway, so Kent & Essex IFCA are asking the country to get involved by posting their decorated fish back to join the shoal on display at the Medway River Festival on 9th July.

The designation of the River Medway Nursery Area is only the start of a long-term project that uses marine conservation to improve fisheries management. Through a grassroots approach, the project will continue to develop with the local community at the heart of it.

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57t2Z30-MZI