Fishermen have agreed to limit the amount of fishing from permitted gear in a key South West marine reserve as part of efforts to manage the area for nature and local communities.
A partnership between fishermen, scientists and conservationists in Lyme Bay, the UK's largest inshore marine protected area, aims to conserve seafood stocks and make the local fishing industry sustainable.
Organisers hope the alliance will be a blueprint for managing areas of the sea for the benefit of communities and for nature, ahead of the setting up of a network of marine protected areas around UK waters.
The partnership will also fund a scientific study by Plymouth University to see how much fishing the bay's reefs can sustain.
In 2008 the Government closed off 60 square nautical miles of Lyme Bay to scallop dredging and bottom-trawling – fishing methods that were damaging the reefs – which conservationists say has allowed a partial recovery of fragile habitat.
But it drove a doubling of fishing pressure from other techniques that are still permitted, with more use of static pots and nets causing overfishing and declines of up to 50% in some species, marine charity the Blue Marine Foundation said.
Under the new partnership, which is part-funded by Marks & Spencer, a voluntary code signed by fishermen from four ports in the bay comes into force on Monday restricting the amount of gear used by any one fisherman to 250 crab and lobster pots, 500 whelk pots and individual nets of a maximum 600 metres.
The voluntary restrictions, which come as regulators look at measures to limit the amount of fishing with static gear in the area, are the first example of self-regulation by UK fishermen, the Blue Marine Foundation said.
Charles Clover, chairman of the Blue Marine Foundation and author of End of the Line, which charts the over-fishing crisis in the oceans, said: "The Lyme Bay project is designed to address two challenges the UK Government has come up against to date in its efforts to create marine protected areas.
The proposed scheme sets out not only to protect the ecosystem of Lyme Bay, but also, crucially, to create some value for local fishermen through the process of conservation."