Developing a participatory approach to the management of fishing activity in UK offshore Marine Protected Areas
Successfully involving the fishing sector and stakeholders in decision-making over the…
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:
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
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:
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.
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:
The MCZ process should:
‘independent' implies acceptability to the majority, if not all interested parties, not just those making the appointment.