Coalition Faces Period of Intense Activity

6th December 2010 in MPAs

The MPA Fishing Coalition, the body established to ensure that the fishing industry has a voice as the UK Government establishes a network of marine protected areas, faces a busy year-end.

And the New Year promises no let up. The English regional projects will deliver their recommendations on where marine conservation zones should be sited in the middle of next year.

Natural England

Next week the Coalition will again meet with the Government’s statutory advisors on nature conservancy, Natural England, to raise the fishing industry’s issues and concerns about the process of designating candidate marine conservation zones through the four regional “stakeholder” projects. The fishing industry participants in the four projects have so far expressed little enthusiasm for the process, their doubts coalescing around the following issues:

  • The authenticity of the consultative process associated with the four projects, all of which are slightly different from each other
  • The rushed and unrealistic timeframe specified by the Government which undermines the stated objective of a stakeholder-led process.
  • The weak information-base available on which to make reasoned decisions about designation.
  • The confused and apparently mobile jurisdictions over who has responsibility for what between Natural England, JNCC, Defra, the Marine Management Organisation, Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities (IFCAs), devolved administrations and the EU.
  • The failure to take international fleets into account, except in a wholly superficial way.
  • The issue of displacement, which will be one of the most serious, both for socio-economic and ecological reasons but which has yet to be addressed in any systematic way.

The frank discussions between the Coalition and Natural England (often with senior Defra officials in attendance) have helped to clarifiy the issues, even if they have yet to allay the fears.

Minister

A Coalition delegation will meet Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, during the week before Christmas. This will be the first meeting with the Minister, who with the Secretary of State, will have the final say on both the designation of marine conservation zones and the management measures that will apply within them.

The Coalition will be eager to impress on the Minister that it was established not to oppose marine protected areas but to ensure that they are applied in a fair and balanced way that fully takes into account their potential impact on the livelihoods derived from fishing.

But the Coalition will not shrink from spelling out in plain language where it thinks the process of establishing MCZs, and the European MPAs, stray from the principles of good governance, fair treatment, and good evidence.

The Minister will be told that MPAs have a role in protecting biodiversity but that they were initially over-sold in the early days as as a panacea for the failings of the CFP.

This will be an important meeting both in itself and in establishing a process of engagement at the highest levels with the decision-makers who will make the final call on where to site MPAs and what management measures will apply within them.