Coalition Challenges Scientific and Legal Basis of ‘No Take Zones’

5th April 2012 in Domestic Fisheries Policy, MPAs

MPAC, the Coalition established to ensure that fishing gets a fair hearing in the establishment of a network of marine protected areas in UK waters, has written to the UK Fisheries Minister and also to devolved administrations, challenging lazy assumptions about the use of No Take Zones within marine protected areas.

Following designation, management measures within MPAs may run from light monitoring to complete closure, depending of the conservation status of the feature being protected and the threat posed by various activities. It is fishing industry concerns that No Take Zones are being sneaked into place without serious thought or evidence that are now being highlighted by MPAC.

The Coalition’s Chairman, Dr Stephen Lockwood:

  1. Questions whether there is any statutory basis that enables the Minister to designate such sites, unless a scientific case specific to each site has been made that such designation is necessary
  2. Notes that the Coalition is unaware that a specific scientific case has yet been made for a single NTZ within the UK MCZ programme
  3. Observes that the Government’s statutory advisers in England are pursuing the objective, of establishing No Take Zones under the heading of “reference areas” under pressure from, but in league with, the environmental NGOs, on the grounds that there are only two such sites in the UK and, intrinsically, they seem like a good idea that appears to work elsewhere.

The Coalition goes on to challenge the sloppy thinking behind NTZs by drawing attention:

  • to the fact that whilst it is true that there are only two sites in UK waters that have been designated NTZ for the purposes of marine conservation (Lundy and Flamborough Head), there are, in fact, other sites of similar scale (some smaller, some larger) around the UK in which fishing is already either highly restricted or explicitly prohibited. These sites have all been identified and described in a report prepared by the Governments fishery science advisers.
  • The point is made that irrespective of the primary reason for which fishing has been excluded, all such sites contribute to marine conservation and biodiversity and such sites should be recognised as contributors to a coherent mosaic of conservation areas.
  • It is understandable that many people believe an NTZ is intrinsically a good idea but such thinking invariably overlooks critical available facts. Some gears in some places have a measurable effect on benthic habitats and communities, others do not

The Coalition does not presume to challenge the utility and efficacy of NTZs that have been established in other parts of the world. Ministers have been told however that we do, challenge the uncritical inference that a measure that works in another marine bio-geographic region will be no less beneficial in the NE Atlantic. Invariably, the examples given (not least by Prof Callum Roberts, a member of the Science Advisory Panel) to justify the designation of NTZ are drawn from tropical or subtropical reef habitats. We would not question that towed gear has the potential to cause physical disruption to such habitats but, in NE Atlantic waters, we do not have reef-dependent commercial-fish communities as are found in the tropics. In addition, and as found by Prof Michel Kaiser’s study off south Devon, it is extremely rare for static gear in UK waters to affect non-target species. Indeed, within the Lundy reserve no demonstrable adverse effect has been found relating to the use of static gear.

Yet as recently as January, senior officers within Natural England were citing the Lundy NTZ experience as justification for widespread introduction of such sites in UK waters.

The scientific facts gathered during a study commissioned by Defra and NE show that, at best, the claims made by NE and others are overstated.

    • The claim that the Lundy NTZ provides evidence in support of NTZ elsewhere is wholly dependent on increased abundance and productivity of lobsters but lobster is not the only commercial crustacean species in the site. Hoskin et al. found the marginal increase in brown crab production somewhat equivocal but there was clear evidence that (commercial) velvet crab abundance and biomass had decreased. Predictably, due to its itinerant habits, there was no detectable effect on spider crab.
    • NE believed the NTZ was justified to safeguard macro-benthic fauna across the board, not just the commercial crustaceans but the emerging evidence suggests that this objective has not been met

The evidenced arguments put forward by the Coalition have been advanced to ensure that ministers appreciate that the Coalition’s concerns about the arbitrary introduction of NTZ are well founded. The fishing industry can be persuaded to accept restrictions on its activities where a specific scientific case has been presented, argued and found substantive. What it cannot accept is the imposition of restrictions on a whim – as appears to be the case with MCZ ‘reference areas’.

The Coalition urges the Minister to reconsider the introduction of reference area/No Take Zones:

    • By asking the Government’s senior scientific advisor to take a critical look at the scientific case,
    • Directing Defra lawyers to reconsider the claim that the Marine and Coastal Access Act permits the introduction of NTZs for a purpose other than species’ or habitat protection.

Rogers, S.I. (1997). A Review of Closed Areas in the United Kingdom Exclusive Economic Zone. Sci. Ser., Tech. Rep., CEFAS, Lowestoft, (106), 20pp

Hoskin, M. G., R. A Coleman, & L. von Carlshausen (2009). Ecological effects of the Lundy No-Take Zone: the first five years (2003-2007). Report to Natural England, DEFRA and WWF-UK.