MPAC Flags up its concerns about MCZ Designation Process

19th March 2014 in MPAs

The MPA Fishing Coalition has flagged up its concerns about the sequence of designating marine conservation zones and then implementing management measures within them.

MPAC Chairman, Dr Stephen Lockwood said, “All the best-practice models available suggest that in order to obtain protection for vulnerable features, whilst at the same time minimising the conflict of MCZs with fishing businesses and communities, it is necessary for regulators to engage closely with fishermen at site level. It is in these vital discussions that adjustments and adaptations can be found to achieve conservation objectives without displacing fishermen from their customary fishing grounds.

“A consensus approach offers the best way of securing fishermen’s support and involvement in securing conservation goals. Following our recent meeting with Defra when we discussed the timetable for designating MCZs in English waters, our fear is that when push comes to shove, this vital engagement will be lost in a rushed process.”

“We welcome the Government’s commitment to a rational, evidence-based and phased approach, to designation of marine sites. This is the only way we can be assured that the features and site boundaries are in the right locations.

“But once designations are made, experience suggests that there will be intense pressures from some quarters to implement management measures straight away and the local-level discussions will be pushed aside. The experience of the European marine sites is fresh in our minds. The threat of legal challenged by one NGO was enough to press the fast-forward button. It is far from inconceivable that once formal designation of all three tranches of MCZs in English waters is made, these kinds of pressures will re-emerge. In addition to a vocal NGO community, geared up to push for immediate implementation measures, there are a number of international obligations like OSPAR and EU legislative requirements that will set up irresistible pressures on the ministers of the day.”

“All this if fine if all you want is a tick-box exercise so that you can move on to the next environmental target and claim the credit. But if you want a lasting, equitable and effective outcome, time for discussion is required.

“It is our belief and contention that formal designation should be withheld until after decisions have been reached on suitable management measures for each site. And those decisions should only take place after proper meaningful talks with the fishermen who will potentially be affected. Calm discussions will deliver the best outcomes but our fear is that the designation process is set up in a way that will exactly preclude this.”

Dr Lockwood said that MPAC has also identified two other areas of concern in its discussions with Defra. At present there does not appear to be a clear coordination of site designations across devolved administrations or with bordering states. A lack of adequate, and transparent, coordination could result in unnecessary duplication of sites necessary to meet statutory and international obligations. In addition, despite numerous promises to undertake a review of possible effort displacement from MCZ, no such review has been produced. MPAC is worried that not only could displacement jeopardise livelihoods in marginal areas but could exacerbate stock management problems associated with forthcoming no-discard measures.