Coalition Proposes New Approach to MPAs

25th January 2012 in MPAs

The MPA Fishing Coalition has had its first meeting of the year with DEFRA, MMO, IFCAs and the statutory nature conservation bodies.

MPAC took the opportunity to present an alternative approach to marine conservation zones to the one currently being pursued by government.

Instead of the four regional projects "faux-stakeholder" approach for marine conservation zones, the Coalition proposed that those affected must be at the centre of an authentic dialogue. The aim must be to achieve conservation objectives without displacing fishing vessels from their customary fishing grounds.

Although the four MCZ regional projects have produced some useful recommendations, MPAC maintain that the current process has failed in four main areas:

  • A rushed process leading to poor decisions
  • Weak evidence for decisions on site designation and management measures
  • Weak coverage of fishing interests representation from those groups potentially affected
  • Failure to address the consequences of displacement of fishing activity

To persist with this approach through to management measures within designated sites would inevitably end up with an adversarial trial of strength. By contrast, the policy suggested by the Coalition offers a consensus-based approach with negotiated and agreed outcomes. The key, according to MPAC, is the close direct involvement of those affected in discussions over site and feature boundaries and appropriate management measures within the sites.

MPAC chairman Dr Stephen Lockwood, said after the meeting:

"Whilst, there was some anxiety on the government side about unravelling some of the work on site designation, there did seem to be an appreciation that MPAC’s alternative has obvious merits. There was a commitment to provide a formal response to our ideas and we will discuss that response at our next meeting. We are hopeful that this represents the first step in a process that leads to a genuinely inclusive and participative approach to marine protected areas. We recognise that there is less flexibility in the European Natura sites but our approach has validity here too.

"The weaknesses in the evidence base for SAC and MCZ designation is now well recognised and our approach offers a way in which these uncertainties can be addressed.”

MPAC continues to expand, with applications from Irish fishing groups and pledges of financial support from processors received since Christmas. International fleets increasingly apprehensive of the consequences for their fishing areas and their lack of representation in project consultations. They recognise MPAC as a platform from which to voice their fears and have their interests represented. Concern for the effects of the government’s MPA process on the future of UK fisheries is also growing among processors who depend on local supplies for their factories. Three companies in the southwest have already committed their backing to MPAC and it is hoped that others will follow.

The full text of the MPAC alternative is published below:

A Network Marine Protected Areas: A Good Governance Approach

By virtue of its wide spatial coverage by comparison with other sea users, the fishing industry, in its multiple forms, is likely to bear the main burden as a network of marine protected areas is established in UK waters. The extent to which fishing vessels will be displaced from their customary fishing grounds will depend to a high degree on the process through which marine conservation zones and special areas of conservation are introduced. Specifically, the MPA boundaries and management measures within those boundaries will determine the magnitude of the displacement effect. The MPA Fishing Coalition has highlighted the potential scale of adverse socio-economic consequences, as well the adverse ecological effects in marine areas outside MPAs. The magnitude of these various interactions will be directly related to the way a network of MPAs is introduced.

MPAs are not being introduced in isolation. The cumulative effect of a massive expansion of offshore wind, tidal and wave energy will also potentially carry significant displacement effects, within the same kind of timeframe

The Process to Date: Progress and Limitations

  • Four regional stakeholder groups: Representativeness, although improved during the course of the projects was found to be inadequate and was challenged by the fishing industry, not least by international fleets
  • Science Advisory Panel: The composition and balance have been questioned by the fishing industry
  • Ecological Network Guidance: a failure to recognise the interrelationship between human use of the marine environment and its conservation in achieving ecological coherence, and a disproportionate application of theoretical and untested criteria given the level of knowledge available, and the weight of social and economic considerations at stake
  • Scientific research and monitoring: a failure to effectively address the scientific and monitoring needs of MPAs in a measured and coherent way, instead in the selection of reference areas opting for an abrasive and rushed approach whose designations have yet to be justified legally under the Marine and Coastal Access Act.
  • Rushed Timeframe: challenged by fishing industry–fishing stakeholders felt like being on a train rushing to an uncertain destination rather than a process they had any influence over and which now, at the post regional project stage, has been relaxed
  • NE’s evidence procedure has been criticised, reviewed and modified as a result
  • Stakeholder groups have delivered recommended site designations; fishing representatives have lodged reservations and registered disquiet over the designation process

The Evidence Deficit

There is a broad recognition that the process of designating MCZs and SACs has been seriously constrained by inadequate information with regard to:

  • Conservation features & management objectives:
  • Fishing Patterns: absence of fine-scale data
  • Fishing methods: impact on features
  • Intensity of fishing: absence of quantitative analysis
  • Sensitivity of features
  • Natural turbidity
  • Site specific data

The Democratic Deficit

If fishermen had the same property rights as farmers there would not be an issue. Independently evaluated compensation would have to be paid directly to those fishermen adversely affected. But fishermen do not have property rights on their fishing grounds, no matter how long they have fished them or no matter how serious the economic consequences of displacement. Like the North American Indians they can legally be displaced from their customary hunting grounds by more powerful economic and political interests. This might be legal but not many would judge it to be fair, equitable or particularly democratic.

Other Stakeholders

Notwithstanding the deficiencies in the process of designating MCZ sites to date, it would be wrong to suggest that this work has no value. In fact in many cases it provides a useful though seriously limited starting point for decisions on designation and management measures. When we turn to management measures for fishing impacts within MCZs, it is clear that the spatial scale, the composition and an effective way of dealing with data deficiencies there is a clear need for fisheries-specific arrangements at the appropriate spatial scale.

A Dialogue-Based Approach

Learning the hard won lessons of Lyme Bay, as well as the Australian and Californian experience, it is possible to envisage a different and better approach. The essence of an alternative approach would be the replacement of the current faux-stakeholder process by a genuine dialogue at site level about the area to be designated and the management areas within them.

This would require:

  • A focused stakeholder process involving key players in discussion: fisheries managers, fishing industry representatives and independent expertise
  • Time for dialogue and preparation and analysis of the available evidence
  • Good faith
  • Participants with a legitimate mandate to negotiate
  • The best information available
  • An adaptive approach
  • A willingness to compromise if necessary
  • Scope to adapt both site boundaries and management measures to achieve an optimum outcome for both the conservation status of vulnerable features and the operation of the fishing industry
  • A consensus approach to the level of evidence required in each case that would not necessarily require high levels of expenditure in order to gather additional evidence

Moving Forward

The MCZ process should:

  • Build on the progress made to date but with an awareness of its limitations
  • Apply an approach based on the principles of good governance
  • In the absence of complete information apply a risk-based approach that provides confidence to stakeholders and management authorities that both sufficient levels of protection and proportional management are achieved.
  • Move to a process that complements high level strategic engagement between MPAC and SNCBs/Defra/MMO with site specific engagement involving relevant fishing stakeholders potentially affected by the MCZ.Use all metrics, including site boundaries and zoned management measures within MCZs to achieve an optimum outcome for:
  • the conservation status of the feature
  • the socio-economic status of the fishing industry
  • the wider marine environment
  • Recognise the inherent limitations to the management information available; and whilst continuing to build the evidence base, reach a consensus position on the boundaries of current understanding and adopt management measures taking those limitations into account through a progressive and adaptive approach.
  • Be based on an accurate and comprehensive baseline and effective and targeted monitoring and review regime which should be used to inform management (Where possible opportunities for working collaboratively to gather evidence should be directed towards stakeholders affected by management decisions)
  • Ensure that as far as possible the site boundaries and management measures are consistent with the emerging marine spatial plans.

‘independent' implies acceptability to the majority, if not all interested parties, not just those making the appointment.