MPA Coalition Reinforces Concerns

21st December 2010 in Domestic Fisheries Policy, MPAs

The body formed to provide the fishing industry with a voice on how marine protected areas are established in UK waters, the MPA Fishing Coalition, recently met with UK fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon.

A representative group from across the UK and further afield took the opportunity to reinforce the Coalition’s views that despite the money and political capital that has been thrown at the issue, the implementation of a network of MPAs is being mishandled.

The Coalition’s broad support base, across all sizes of vessel and methods of fishing and all parts of the UK, as well as fishing organisations from other member states, gives its views an authority and weight that have obliged Government to take them seriously. In its first year the Coalition has established itself as a powerful voice that has raised serious concerns and challenged many aspects of the MPA process. From the outset the Coalition has made clear that it would not oppose a network of MPAs but would fight to ensure that they are applied fairly, in a proportionate manner that ensures no unjustified restriction to fishing.

The Minister was told that the Coalition’s concerns lay in five main areas:

  • The unrealistic timetable for implementation that undermines the Minister’s express wish that the network of MPAs be established on the basis of an open, transparent and evidence-based approach.
  • The departure of the process, overseen by the statutory conservation bodies (who will make recommendations on the designation of MPAs) from internationally accepted standards of science and evidence.
  • Failures in the representativeness of the four regional stakeholder projects that will undermine the legitimacy of their recommendations. This is seen most acutely in the failure to address the reality of international fleets that have access rights beyond the six mile limit and will potentially be affected by UK MPAs.
  • Confusions over who will have jurisdiction over the development of management measures – from light monitoring to complete closure – that will apply within MPAs once designated.
  • The failure to address the question of displacement of fishing effort from those MPAs where some kinds of fishing activity are deemed incompatible with the protected features.

Coalition Chairman, Stephen Lockwood said:

“The Minister repeated his view that he is determined that the network of marine protected areas should be introduced through consensus and through a transparent, open and rigorous evidence-based process. He is unwilling to depart significantly from the timetable that has been laid down. However, the Coalition delegation who met the Minister, detected some recognition that flexibility on timetable will be required. The Minister’s commitment to an approach that “gets it right” rather than to an arbitrary and unrealistic timetable was reassuring, even if he was making no specific concessions at this stage.

“On science, the Minister sought to assure us that the processes in place meets high standards but was unable to convince us on the reasons why a home-grown approach to standards of evidence and peer review was being used, when ICES would be the normal route to provide impartial scientific assessment and advice, especially where international fleets are concerned.

“Our concerns about the weakness and lack of clarity about who will develop management measures and what criteria they will use remain as strong as ever. And despite all the activity, the Government has hardly begun to scratch the surface of the displacement issue, yet it carries huge implications for the economic consequences of MPAs, as well as ecological degradation outside the protected zones.

“This was a useful and important meeting. The Minister sought to allay our fears and was clearly interested in the Coalition’s view on how MPAs could be introduced with minimal disruption. The Coalition did not shirk from spelling out unpalatable truths about the deficiencies in the current approach. The Coalition is now engaged at many levels within the MPA process but sees its primary role as ensuring that the fishing industry is represented at the highest levels where the critical decisions will be made.”