Marine Protected Areas Code of Conduct

15th November 2012 in MPAs

MPA Fishing Coalition Calls for Agreed Protocols

At its most recent meeting with those branches of government most concerned with implementing a network of marine protected areas in UK waters (Defra, Marine Management Organisation, IFCAs and the statutory nature conservancy advisors), the MPA Fishing Coalition called for a code of conduct to ensure that marine conservation zones and European marine sites are designed and managed in line with the principles of good governance.

MPAC Chairman, Dr Stephen Lockwood, said,

“The process of establishing a network of marine protected areas, and the management measures that will apply within them, will be one of the most significant developments affecting fishermen since the introduction of TACs and quotas. Access to their customary fishing grounds is a fundamental issue for fishermen, affecting livelihoods and lives, as well as the integrity of marine ecosystems.

All branches of government involved in this process therefore have a responsibility and duty to ensure that the highest standards of governance are applied. However, at present there is no commonly agreed Code of Conduct, based on best practice, which provides guidance on the establishment and management of MPAs. The process in the UK, despite the assurances given, feels and looks very much like a set of ad hoc arrangements, made up as we go along. This applies to the evidence used, the engagement with stakeholders and the measures that will apply within MPAs”.

“MPAC has therefore asked the Government to set in train a process, involving all of the main stakeholders that will lead to a commonly agreed set of standards for establishing and managing MPAs.

We hope that the MPA Code of Conduct would:

  • Draw on best practice worldwide
  • Without being slavish, and fully taking into account that conditions may differ in our waters, use the lessons drawn from the process of establishing MPAs elsewhere in the world.
  • Ensure clarity in what exactly is being protected by marine protected areas and why – in other words establish clear objectives for both the programme as a whole and also for each site
  • Establish clear standards and protocols for the evidence to be used
  • Define adequate forms of risk assessment to allow for balance and proportion to be established between competing priorities
  • Define the steps requires to fill the gaps where evidence baselines are inadequate
  • Define clear standards for the involvement of all of those stakeholders potentially affected by MPAs, irrespective of nationality, or method of fishing
  • Provide guidelines and standards for dealing with potential displacement effects where MPAs or parts of MPAs are closed to certain types of activity
  • Take into account that the marine environment is inherently dynamic
  • Ensure that the implementation of management measures within a network MPAs does not outstrip the resources available to manage them
  • Set timescales and protocols for monitoring the progress of MPAs towards their goals
  • Be able to adapt the boundaries and locations of site to take account of evolving information bases, including precision information on fishing patterns
  • Take fully into account negative socio-economic consequences of MPA boundaries and management measures and mitigate these as far as possible
  • Provide for urgent revisions of MPA boundaries and management measures where the socio-economic consequences are disproportionate

Dr Lockwood continued “We were pleased with the Government’s initial reception of our request for a Code of Practice. Once established it would serve as a checklist to ensure that MPAs are approached in a fair, proportionate and consistent way.

The principles of good governance have served as a useful signpost for the strengthening of fisheries management and there is no reason why the same standards should not apply to MPAs.

At present, MPAs are too much of a political football, seen as a panacea by some and anathema by others. An agreed Code of Conduct for MPAs would hopefully put the whole process on a more considered basis, less vulnerable to short time political pressures and media scares. It could also be used as a standard against which to judge whether the original legislation driving the establishment of MPAS – the EU Habitats Directive or the UK’s Marine and Coastal Access Act – got it right.

It will clearly be important for the Code of Conduct to have buy-in from all stakeholders, which is why we have suggested that a draft code should be prepared by a respected independent authority, without links to government, environmental NGOs or the fishing industry”.