Devolution and No Take Zones

13th April 2012 in MPAs

In addition to questioning their legal and scientific basis, MPA Fishing Coalition has recently highlighted wide differences in the way that the Defra and the devolved administrations are approaching ‘No Take Zones’ within marine protected areas.

Once MPAs are designated, the focus moves to the management measures that will be applied within them. Depending on the outcome of impact assessments, this could range from little other than perhaps additional monitoring, to complete closure to fishing (No Take Zones).

On the evidence so far:

  • Marine Scotland is taking an evidence-based and collaborative approach, working with the fishing industry to minimise social, economic and displacement impacts, and using ‘No Take’ Zones only as a last resort, when there is no other way of protecting the conservation status of a vulnerable feature
  • Defra / Natural England, despite having no explicit legal authority in the Marine and Coastal Access Act, is sneaking some NTZs in as ‘reference areas’ to use as control sites for management measures. It is not clear how far beyond this it will go in establishing NTZs or what guiding principles will be used.
  • The Welsh Assembly, has to date avoided meaningful dialogue with the fishing industry, although this may change after 16th April when a consultation exercise opens. European Special Areas of Conservation and Special Areas of Conservation already cover large areas of the Welsh inshore zone : the critical issue now will be the management measures that are applied within them and the extent to which they are comprised of No Take Zones.
  • The Northern Irish Assembly Northern Ireland has yet to publish proposals.

It is in the nature of devolved government that different policies are pursued in different parts of the country. However the principles of good governance should at least provide a common touchstone that ensures that, even if there is not an integrated approach, within different parts of the UK, then at least a coherent approach should apply. Tested against the principles of good governance, the Marine Scotland approach so far scores well, Defra indifferently and Wales pitifully.

Coalition Chairman, Dr Stephen Lockwood, has recently written to the UK and devolved ministers, underlining the importance using an evidence-based approach when considering whether a ‘No Take’ Zone is appropriate in given circumstances. The MPAC has also presented a paper outlining a consensus focused and evidence-based alternative to the approach pursued so far in respect to the establishment of a network of marine conservation zones in English waters. The statutory nature conservation bodies and Defra agreed to provide a formal response to MPACs proposal and the next meeting between MPAC and Defra / Natural England and JNCC will be held shortly

The Government recently announced a change of policy following a review of the implementation of the Habitats Directive which may have a bearing on policy in the area of marine protected areas. Although the main impact of the Review’s conclusions will be seen with regard to large infrastructure projects, two components are particularly relevant to us:

  • That the evidence base for decisions should be strengthened
  • That policy should be creating a culture of cooperation between those implementing the Habitats Directive and those who are affected by it

MPAC has worked hard to ensure that fishing vessels are not bulldozed off their customary fishing grounds; but it has also worked to earn respect by only advancing coherent and well founded arguments base on strong evidence. It is reasonable to expect the same of Government.