The FLAG area covers the North Thames from Thurrock to Shoeburyness in Essex and is based around the port at Leigh-on-Sea. The port is the first when travelling up the Thames from London and has significant cultural importance in the area, attracting tourists from all over South East England. The major fisheries industry in Leigh-on-Sea is the cockle fishery which dominates much of the port. However, there are also several trawlers targeting mixed fisheries in the Greater Thames and Southern North Sea areas.
Most of the vessels based in the North Thames area are over 10m in length and are, therefore, due to the tide, limited to fishing for 12 or 24 hours periods or for only a few hours at high tide. The silting of the creek provides a major limitation to fishing in the area and has contributed to a decrease in vessels and fishermen in the area, moving elsewhere for more flexible fishing. One of the significant studies the FLAG will undertake is an investigation into the most sustainable solution for the infrastructure of the port and the dredging of the creek involving all port users in the process.
Other challenges include the lack of new entrants into the industry despite there being many jobs in fishing, a lack of local training facilities for retail and processing and environmental changes occurring in the estuary which are impacting on fisheries. The preservation of the ports cultural identity and its lack of support, despite attracting an overwhelming number of tourists throughout the year, also presents a challenge to the FLAG area.
The North Thames FLAG includes three specially protected areas, the Thames Estuary and Marshes, the Benfleet and Southend Marshes, and the Outer Thames Estuary. The conservation of habitats and species is a focus of each of these protected areas.
Key strategies for the FLAG include: achieving a sustainable fishing industry in the North Thames area, recognising its importance to the area’s economic and cultural growth, and a closer connection between the sector and economic, environmental, social and tourism outcomes. This will lead to a more seaward facing community that embraces the ethos of a healthy and productive marine environment; it will also underpin the community’s local economy while fostering engagement with the industry economically and culturally.
Project examples and ideas include:
The FLAG does not make calls for projects and therefore has no specific deadlines. Project submissions can be made at any time and submission guidance is provided on the FLAG website. Once a submission is received, it will be reviewed at the next FLAG board meeting.
The FLAG cooperates with the five other FLAGs across England. The FLAG is interested in transnational cooperation project with other FLAGs that are also situated in an estuary and is willing to exchange experiences and best practices.
Members include Cultural Engine CIC, a local social enterprise company which is joint lead partner for the FLAG, the Southend on Sea Borough Council, Leigh Town Council, Leigh Port Partnership, Southend Association of Voluntary Services, Port of London Authority, Natural England, Marine Management Organisation, Shoebury Watermans Association. The FLAG also includes several local fishermen, cockle pickers and boatyard owners.