COCKLERS have rounded on a sea fisheries regulator for threatening the industry by announcing that low stocked cockle beds would reopen when an access point became safe.

The North West and North Wales Seas Fisheries Committee announced this week that it would be delaying the opening of cockle beds at Flookburgh until the only suitable access point at West Plains Farm was deemed safe to use.

The beds were due to reopen on December 9 to the dismay of local cocklers but, following discussions with the Health and Safety Executive and English Nature, this has been temporarily abandoned.

No date has been fixed for the reopening although the NWNWSFC says it is keeping a weekly watching brief on the shifting river channels that have blocked the access point and created serious concerns for safety.

Although cocklers have welcomed the delay they believe it has been imposed for the wrong reason.

The Westmorland Gazette reported last week that cocklers believed the beds had not had enough time to replenish themselves since a ban on fishing the lucrative shellfish was imposed in April after a scientific survey showed adult and juvenile stocks were dangerously low.

Grange-over-Sands cockler Ben Barker said he believed the NWNWSFC was purposely "beggaring" the Morecambe Bay cockling industry by pushing to open the beds as soon as possible.

He claimed to have been told by a fisheries officer that keeping cockle beds low would be beneficial, as it would in turn keep the number of cocklers travelling to the area at a minimum.

"We've said the stocks have not recovered enough to fish but they don't seem too concerned about that," he said.

"The fisheries (NWNWSFC) seem only to have bent to the pressure from English Nature and the police over the access situation."

Mr Barker joint owner of Barker and Pugh Ltd believes the beds should be kept shut until next winter to allow stocks to recover sufficiently, while other fishermen have called for a six-month delay.

Principal fishery officer for the NWNWSFC Martyn Boyce said he was unable to say when the bed would be reopened and that weather conditions would determine when the access point became passable and therefore when the beds, the only ones in the north of Morecambe Bay with small fishable stocks, could reopen.

The committee says it is also seeking to open beds at Fleetwood as soon as possible.

The announcement comes days after a meeting between Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron and Inspector Richard Vernon from Ulverston, who is Cumbria police's voice on cockling issues.

Mr Farron has written a letter to the NWNWSFC calling for a six-month delay, citing low stocks of cockles and the lack of a suitable access point as the main reasons.