Government Designates 27 Marine Conservation Zones

21st November 2013 in MPAs

The Government has announced details of the 27 marine conservation zones (MCZs) which will be designated in a first round. Further areas will be designated in two further rounds in 2015/16 and 2016/17.

The Government has announced details of the 27 marine conservation zones (MCZs) which will be designated in a first round. Further areas will be designated in two further rounds in 2015/16 and 2016/17.

This phased approach vindicates the work of MPAC and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) in pressing the government to resist calls to designate all 127 suggested MCZs in one “big bang”. MPAC and the Federation warned it would be vital to listen carefully to the local fishing industry potentially affected by recommended marine conservation zones and to ensure adequate evidence had been gathered about the conservation features within them. Without adequate evidence about conservation features and fishing activity there was a real danger MCZs could turn into a tick-box exercise with zero conservation advantage but maximum disruption to fishing operations, livelihoods and communities.

The Government has elected to continue building a network of marine protected areas through a careful, phased approach by going ahead with 27 designations out of the original 31 proposed. This means four sites will not be included in this round. Of those four, two will not be designated at all: they would either generate too much economic disruption or the additional evidence suggests habitat features were not of the sort that would have justified designation.

The other two sites require further scrutiny and so a final decision on designation has been deferred. That means they may still be designated under further rounds but more evidence will be gathered in the meantime to inform those decisions. The Government received 40,000 responses to its consultation exercise, many of them from fishermen and fishing organisations worried about their livelihoods. From the beginning the Government made it plain it would balance scientific information on vulnerable habitats and features with data on the socio-economic consequences of applying management measures within a designated MCZ.

MPAC and the NFFO has worked hard to keep the Government on this track and to resist pressures from a coalition of media oriented NGOs, and the odd celebrity chef, who appeared more concerned with headlines than putting the MCZs in the right place or fishermen’s livelihoods.

Management Measures within MCZs

The real impact of MCZs will be felt only as management measures are applied within the designated areas. One small but important aspect of Defra’s announcement this week was that the Government will encourage a partnership approach to the protection of vulnerable features within MCZs rather than reaching for new layers of legislation. The fishing industry already successfully operates within a number of voluntary agreements and so it is natural the Government should suggest that this means of achieving its conservation objectives should take a prominent place in its strategy. MPAC has recently suggested a protocol be developed for voluntary partnerships within MCZs. These would contain a menu that would guide groups in the development of their own partnership agreements.