Call to resurrect Marine Conservation Zones is a 'Mishmash of Misinformation and ignorance'

17th November 2014 in MPAs, Sustainability / Environment

The NFFO has responded to a call to re-launch a government campaign to designate 127 marine conservation zones across the UK.

Call to resurrect Marine Conservation Zones is a 'Mishmash of Misinformation and ignorance'

Ben Bradshaw's letter in the Independent on Sunday is a call to arms for the immediate designation of 127 marine conservation zones across UK waters, supposedly designed to protect our seas against a ‘climate change battleground’.

Not only is he championing a campaign that is a mixture of inaccurate information and over simplification. It is one that defies scientific evidence.

One point in which he is not wrong is that in the early 2000s fishermen opposed drastic reductions in the quotas for North Sea cod. However, he draws the wrong conclusion. Fishermen argued that a recovery policy based on slashing quotas, would, in a mixed fishery like the North Sea, have only one result: a dramatic increase in discards. The quotas were slashed - by 80% over two years - and the result was that for a number of years for every cod landed one was discarded. The recovery of cod, in spite of this myopic policy, can be attributed to a number of measures. The reduction in the whitefish fleets by two thirds, mainly through a series publicly-funded decommissioning schemes, was the main factor.

These are a number of reasons why the campaign does not need to be resurrected:

  • Closed areas did not play a significant role in rebuilding the North American cod stocks in the 1980s. He seems to have made this up.
  • Bass stocks have not "collapsed." Poor recruitment and high fishing pressure (both commercial and recreational) have led to a decline in biomass. It is important to introduce balanced and proportionate constraints to reverse this trend. What this has to do with his central thesis: the immediate reduction of 127 marine conservation zones is hard to discern.
  • West Country boats are not tied-up, as he implies, because of overfishing of skates and rays but because of quotas drastically reduced to meet a short-sighted and arbitrary policy timetable. Ray catches in the Bristol Channel have not varied more than 3% over the last 7 years.
  • The spurious link that he makes between marine conservation zones and climate change is just baffling.

This is a disturbing mishmash of ignorance and misleading assertion. It has at its heart the notion that marine conservation zones are a panacea for all the ills of the marine environment, indeed the world, when they are not. Well designed and situated marine protected areas have an important role to play in protecting vulnerable marine habitats and species. They are not a panacea or substitute for a range alternative fisheries management measures which are successfully rebuilding our fish stocks. Since the year 2000, fishing pressure across all the main species groups has been halved and fish stocks are responding, some very dramatically, like North Sea plaice, others more slowly, as we would expect.

There is a very good reason why the Government's policy of implementing a network of marine conservation zones, carefully and progressively is the correct approach. It is not in nature conservancy's or in the fishing industry's interest to put marine protected areas in the wrong place. Only if you are content to have tick box exercise, rather than effectively protecting the marine environment could you support the call for a rushed process driven by gesture politics.

The signatories to Ben Bradshaw's letter should know better. Indeed many of them do know better but chose to go along with a simplistic campaign because it carries a clear but misleading slogan which they hope the public will support.