Dogger Bank : North Sea RAC opens Discussions

26th November 2008 in Advisory Councils, North Sea

The Demersal Working Group of the North Sea Regional Advisory Council met recently in a committee room of the European Parliament in Brussels, to deal with a heavy workload that included discussions on the designation of the Dogger Bank as a marine protected area.

JNCC, the body tasked by the UK to identify candidate areas for MPA status, under European Natura 2000 legislation, presented its pre-consultation proposals in which a 15,000 square kms area of the Dogger Bank would be designated as a Special Area of Conservation. The UK area will be contiguous with similar although smaller, restricted areas in the German and Dutch sectors of the North Sea. Once designated, national authorities will have an obligation to control activities in the area to ensure that the features for which it has been designated are not degraded. The Dogger will be designated with SAC status because it is a sandbank slightly covered with water all the time.

Members of the RAC raised a large number of issues including:

  • the huge size of the area earmarked for designation and whether the feature could be protected by a much smaller area
  • what management measures were likely to apply to the area
  • How the impact of diverted fishing effort on biodiversity and fish stocks would be assessed if the fishing was excluded in the area
  • the socio-economic consequences of a closed area of this magnitude
  • How the level and impact of fishing on the bank would be estimated
  • How wind-farms and aggregate dredging could be permitted in the area if it had SAC status
  • Natura 2000 legislation is flawed in many respects, not least that it does not allow for socio-economic considerations during the process of site selection

It was emphasised in particular, that the Dogger provides an important area where low discard fishing for flatfish can be prosecuted. Denying it to fishermen will force fishing effort onto grounds that will generate much higher discard rates. Protecting one area but with a higher overall environmental impact would not make good sense.

The RAC will develop a formal position on the Dogger when the 12 week consultation period begins in December.