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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February, 2005, 15:11 GMT
Easy pickings for cockle licence
Michelle Daniel
Michelle Daniel: I have never been cockle picking
A licence to pick cockles in Morecambe Bay, where 23 Chinese cocklers died, is as easy to get as a library ticket, a BBC investigation has found.

The probe, carried out one year on from the tragedy, reveals how easy it is to get through regulations.

BBC journalist Michelle Daniel got hers by sending proof of ID and her National Insurance number to the North West and North Wales Sea Fisheries Committee.

"I've never been cockle picking," she said. The committee has not commented.

Permit weakness

The journalist sent a driving licence and a utility bill with her application.

Michelle Daniel's cockling licence
Two forms of ID can get this free licence

Just under two weeks after filling in her form at home in North Cheshire, she received her free licence from the fisheries committee.

"It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be especially as I have never been to Morecambe Bay," said Daniel.

Jim Andrews, chief executive of the committee, was unavailable for comment.

Geraldine Smith, Labour MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said just about anyone can get a licence to go cockling in Morecambe Bay.

Watch and compass

"It's a weakness of the permit scheme," she said.

"It's a step in the right direction, but why have a permit if it's not linked to anything and no checks are made.

"It's not worth the paper it's written on."

The committee does not have powers to discriminate on the basis of experience of Morecambe Bay
Department for Work and Pensions
The system is in sharp contrast to the cockling regulations on the Solway Firth in Scotland, where 100 licences will soon be issued.

Cocklers will have to pay for the licences which will be awarded on a points system to the most experienced and expert fishermen.

The licences will cost 5,000 a year for vessels and 250 a year for hand gatherers.

Money raised will be used to enforce the system.

"If it's licensed and people know what they are doing there is less likelihood of fatalities," said Paul Kenny a fisherman who helped draw up the system in Scotland.

Paul Kenny
If it is licensed there is less likelihood of fatalities
Paul Kenny, Scottish cockler

The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that the North Western and North Wales Sea Fisheries Committee had correctly issued the BBC reporter with a licence.

A spokeswoman added: "It is not the case that the committe did not make clear the dangers of working in Morecambe Bay.

"Permits are sent along with health and safety guidelines for fishing in tidal estuaries.

"The committee does not have powers to discriminate on the basis of experience of Morecambe Bay."

The spokeswoman said that safety advice included making sure you had enough information to assess the risks and make decisions as well as taking along suitable equipment and transport.

All cocklers are expected to have basic safety equipment such as a compass and a watch.

So far 21 bodies have been recovered, but police believe a total of 23 Chinese workers died when they were caught by rising tides at Hest Bank in February 2004.

Police appoint cockling officer
06 Jan 05 |  England
Cocklers still at risk claim MPs
14 Dec 04 |  Lancashire

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