The Medway no-take zone (NTZ) is the largest marine protected area the UK. It covers 4.6 square miles of saltmarsh and mudflat environments which are vital for the survival for many fish species, in particular, juvenile fish, providing them with shelter from predators and storms and an abundance of prey for them to feed on.
Many commercial fish species spend their early years inshore and migrate into offshore waters once reaching adulthood, only returning inshore again to spawn. Protecting inshore areas ensure juvenile fish have the best possible chance of survival in order to reach adulthood and reproduce, contributing to the population. As a result, this enhances harvestable stocks of fish offshore and protecting the jobs of commercial fishermen.
The Rochester Oyster and Floating Fishery (ROFF) established Medway’s NTZ in 2015, which was later backed by Kent & Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (Figure 3) by the creation the River Medway Nursery Area (Prohibition of Fishing) Byelaw (https://www.kentandessex-ifca.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/KEIFCA-Medway-Byelaw-2016-SIGNED.pdf), which prohibits any fishing activity within this area.
However, the NTZ has not been monitored for the impact on fish species since this regulation has been set in place and reports of reduced catches up until the NTZ was introduced. Therefore, the Living River Foundation launched the Fish of the Medway project in 2021 (from 2020) to evaluate and quantify the effectiveness of these protected areas, alongside newly created habitats for target species as well as identifying the added benefit for non-target fish species or other groups.
In order to do this, the project will gather data over a complete year to assess variances in fish behaviour across the seasons in order to illustrate the current condition of the Medway estuary and its fisheries. This data will be compared with past surveys, and, as a result, the information gathered will enable Medway’s regulators to understand how and where they can sustainably manage the estuary. thereby saving jobs or creating more if further improvements are required. In addition, we hope to our findings and conclusions can be used in other UK or worldwide estuaries, providing a case study for effective estuary management.
Training courses to join us on surveys with Institute of Fisheries Management estuarine expert Steve Colclough and our Project officers.
We understand there is some local concern about fishing restrictions and hope that the project will be able share information about the zone to the local community to help develop future approaches.