Independent experts commissioned by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have produced a report looking at navigational risks in relation to oyster farm activity in the Whitstable area.

The report, which has been published on the Marine Management Organisation's website, acknowledges that the presence of the trestles causes or is likely to cause obstruction or danger to navigation, whilst concluding that the farm's operations are now acceptable as a low risk to marine navigation.

In response, the RYA has formally written to the Director of Marine Licensing at the MMO setting out our concerns with the report and reiterating the legal case that the measures put in place since the investigation started do not negate the need for a marine licence.  It is the RYA's view that these trestles require a full marine licence on the basis that they could cause obstruction or danger to navigation. 

Assessing navigational risk 

The Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company (WOFC) has deployed Oyster trestles in this location since 2009, although it is alleged that the footprint and number of trestles has recently increased over a relatively short period of time.

Under section 13 of the Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) Order 2011, the deposit of any shellfish, trestle, raft, cage, pole, rope or line in the course of the propagation or cultivation of shellfish is only exempt from requiring a marine licence if any such deposit does not cause or is not likely to cause obstruction or danger to navigation. 

In response to concerns raised by Whitstable Yacht Club, Whitstable Watersports Centre, the RYA and MCA, the MMO previously agreed to work with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Trinity House to assess how oyster racks in the area may affect local navigation and safety.

RYA concerns

The Marico report (PDF, 2.46MB, 60 pages) considers a range of risk control measures aimed at reducing the navigational risk posed by the trestles, however most of these risk control measures involve vessels avoiding the area in which the trestles are located - which the RYA believes amount to an unreasonable interference with legitimate uses of the sea, just as much as does the physical presence of the trestles.

Emma Barton, Planning and Environmental Manager at the RYA, explains: "Today's report makes it clear that the racks at Whitstable are both an obstruction and a danger to navigation. This supports the RYA's belief that the deposit of these racks is therefore subject to a marine licence.

"The RYA fundamentally does not support a number of the conclusions published in this report. However, we welcome the announcement that the MMO's investigations under its marine licensing remit are still ongoing and that it has committed to reviewing guidance around marine licence exemptions to take into account learning from this issue."

Next steps

As part of an industry group set up by the MMO to focus on improving exemptions as part of the Licensing Improvement Programme, the RYA will continue to ensure that recreational boating interests are fully taken into account and that lessons are learned to ensure that navigational safety is not again put at risk.

Following the conclusion of the MMO's investigations at Whitstable, the RYA will also consider what further action to take, particularly given the wider implications that the outcome may have on similar proposals around the country.