Fishing Industry Urges Care Over Marine Protected Areas

25th February 2013 in MPAs

On the day that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall led a march on Parliament, The National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations (NFFO), which represents fishermen’s groups, individual fishermen and producer organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has declared its support for the planned introduction of new marine conservation zones (MCZs) in UK waters, but cautions against a rush to designate over a hundred of them at a stroke.

UK fishing body says a rushed process will do more harm than good

On the day that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall led a march on Parliament, The National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations (NFFO), which represents fishermen’s groups, individual fishermen and producer organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has declared its support for the planned introduction of new marine conservation zones (MCZs) in UK waters, but cautions against a rush to designate over a hundred of them at a stroke.

Environmentalists will gather in London today (25 February), to press Government to rush ahead with the immediate introduction of 127 MCZ sites. But the NFFO and other fisheries organisations have warned that unless care is taken, the new areas could do more harm than good by displacing fishermen from their customary grounds.

According toPaul Trebilcock, Chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, all responsible fishing industry stakeholders back MCZs but from experience, their introduction needs to be scrupulously planned, managed scientifically and phased in to avoid negative results.

He said: “MCZs aren’t a new phenomenon – in fact the industry has been working actively within them for over a hundred years – but they do require selective introduction. In 2001, a large area of the North Sea was closed as an emergency measure to protect cod stocks. The scientific evaluation afterwards showed that this did next to nothing for the fish but displaced fishing fleets into immature haddock areas and onto pristine areas of the seabed that had never been fished before. This is what can happen with a rushed process driven by political pressure.

“On the other hand, there are examples, such as the Trevose seasonal closure off North Cornwall, that are making a genuine contribution to conservation. The difference is that it was designed, planned and introduced with good evidence and the broad support of fishermen.”

As such, the NFFO says that sufficient time must always be given over to proper planning and consultation on any proposed protected areas – and that the process must involve all interested parties.

If this investment is made, it is believed that negative conservation outcomes can be avoided. As well as displacement to more pristine or vulnerable habitats, such own goals include displacement to less productive areas where a greater amount of effort is needed to catch equivalent quantities and the locking out of fishermen from a location’s sustainable stocks, in order to protect those that are perceived as vulnerable.

By contrast, the initial 16-month period identifying potential sites for MCZ designation was regarded as not long enough by the fishing industry, when compared to the ten years allocated to plan Californian marine protection zones and half a century for conservation areas on land. In addition, much information and guidance was submitted late, resulting in some proposed sites receiving minimal scrutiny.

The long-list of 127 potential MCZs has been scrutinised rigorously by the Government’s Science Advisory Panel, made up of six eminent marine biologists under the chairmanship of former Met Office chief executive, Dr Peter Ryder.

After close deliberation, it concluded that the evidence on how all zones would protect vulnerable habitats was too patchy to go ahead with all 127 sites immediately. Instead, it proposed designating 31 sites straight away, with more work required to collect additional evidence before decisions are taken on the remaining zones.

Paul Trebilcock continued: “The advisory panel made the right decision but we are very concerned that some nature conservation groups are lobbying for full implementation of all 127 sites, regardless of scientific evidence or the socio-economic impact.

“Environmentalists may not be particularly concerned about fishermen’s livelihoods or the effect of poorly sited MCZs on local fishing communities - most of the initial sites will be close inshore - but they should be concerned about the ecological consequence of bad decisions”.

“So far the environmental community has refused to address the fact that displaced fishing activity is a critical issue that must be managed very carefully. We are not opposed to marine conservation zones and see their value in protecting vulnerable marine habitats. But we are absolutely adamant that na├»ve enthusiasm should not railroad the government into premature and hasty decisions.”

With the lastest series of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Hugh’s Fish Fight ramping up pressure further, the NFFO seeks a measured approach based on scientific scrutiny to the introduction of marine protection areas. It says the series has failed to acknowledge some of the less sensationalist sensational facts around Marine Protected Areas. For example, while 70% of the UK’s land area is under agricultural production, it has been estimated that only between 5-21% of the seabed is fished in English and Welsh waters. Fishing also does not transform natural habitat in the same way as agriculture and is not the same as ploughing. Its distribution is often patchy with some areas fished, whilst other areas are not. Compared to the turbulence from wave and storm action, in many shallow sea areas fishing can have little additional impact . Compared to other forms of food production, fishing has a low impact and represents a renewable resource that requires minimal human inputs to harvest.

Paul Trebilcock added: “The NFFO believes that effective fisheries management and conservation can go hand in hand with commercial concerns. An industry that is presently worth some £649 million to the UK economy delivering healthy protein at a time when there are very valid concerns about processed foods and other meats is important for more than one reason.

“We have offered the environmental NGOs the opportunity to meet to discuss all aspects of the MCZ issue. It will be a great pity if the good work that has been done in developing a rational and inclusive process for designating zones and the management measures within them is blown away in a whirlwind of media sensationalism.”