Ribble and Dee Estuary cockle beds close

Cockles emptied into bucket
Image caption Authorities said closing the beds was the only way to regulate "unsafe activity" for the time being

Cockle beds off the Lancashire and Wirral coast have closed after the fisheries and conservation authority passed an emergency by-law.

The emergency services have been called out more than 20 times since the Ribble Estuary bed opened on 1 September.

Fishing regulators ordered the closure on Friday to avoid further emergencies.

The Wirral beds have been closed to prevent displacement of fishers from the Ribble and protect the remaining stock in the area.

'Tragedy fears'

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said there were no emergency callouts as hundreds of cocklers visited the beds for the last time until spring.

The North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority said it was responding to advice from Fylde Council, Lancashire police, the coastguard and other regulatory bodies.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies had warned that a tragedy could happen as many unsuitable and ill-equipped small craft operated in adverse weather.

Following the closure, it is a criminal offence to fish or attempt to fish for cockles in either bed. Anyone doing so risks a fine of £50,000.

There have been fears among local residents, the police and coastguard agency of a repeat of the Morecambe Bay disaster. Twenty-three Chinese cockle pickers drowned in the bay in 2004.

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