Improving the evidence for fisheries management decisions in Marine Protected Areas

16th September 2015 in Industry Science Partnerships, MPAs, North Sea

The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO) has contracted leading marine environmental consultancy, ABPmer and Ichthys Marine Ecological Consulting, to contribute to the evidence base for fisheries management decisions in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Improving the evidence for fisheries management decisions in Marine Protected Areas
Photo courtesy of Simon Armstrong

The project, supported with funding from Seafish and the European Fisheries Fund, is aiming to develop understanding of the effects of fishing gears on conservation features at selected MPA sites in order to inform the design of appropriate site management measures.

The Government's revised approach to fisheries management in European Marine Sites (EMSs) in English inshore and offshore waters assesses the impact of fisheries on protected features and aims to introduce management measures where necessary by 2016.

Interactions between fishing gear and EMS conservation features are subject to an assessment; conducted on a precautionary basis at a site-specific level Such assessments must be evidence-based but there are uncertainties around the impacts of some gear types on some designated features, the spatial extent of some features and of fishing activity.

The project is exploring whether site-specific evidence about fishing gears and their operation can be collected cost effectively to improve decision making. In consultation with fishermen and other fisheries stakeholders, shadow assessments for fishing activity in three sites before and after the collection of site-specific data to assess whether the improved level of information can lead to more targeted management decisions. A range of methodologies are being trialed to reduce uncertainty and to contribute to the evidence base for assessing fishing activity.

The sites and fisheries considered by the project are:

  • Beam trawling in North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SCI;
  • Shrimp trawling in The Wash and North Norfolk Coast SAC;
  • Otter trawling in Margate and Long Sands SCI.

Dale Rodmell, Assistant Chief Executive of the NFFO said: “Ensuring there is an appropriate evidence base is crucial to the successful management of Marine Protected Areas that protect both conservation features of concern, whilst supporting sustainable fishing livelihoods to remain viable and prosper. By helping to bring to bear our fishing industry activity data and knowledge, we hope to demonstrate a win-win approach to protected area management.”

Suzannah Walmsley, Principal Fisheries Consultant at ABPmer said: “We are delighted to be undertaking this work for the NFFO.
Although substantial amounts of literature are available regarding the interaction between fishing gear and the associated target habitats, limited information for management exists for specific gear/habitat interactions, distinguishing between natural and fishing disturbances and their effects, and on ways to minimise the impacts different components of fishing gear have on the seabed. The results of this project will have benefits for both conservation interests and for the future of the fishing industry by determining more definitively the risk posed by fishing activities to EMS conservation features.”

The project will hold a Fishing Gear Impacts Workshop on 16-17 September 2015, where leading international gear experts, ecology experts, regulators, advisers and industry will come together to consider the impacts of the specific gears in use in the sites. The outputs of the workshop will feed into the assessments to be able to better assess the impacts of the gears in use on the habitats and species present in the sites.