New research to aid sustainable fisheries management in Marine Protected Areas

20th January 2016 in Fisheries Science, MPAs, North Sea

Scientists now have a better understanding of the level of fishing activity that can be carried out within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and still remain compatible with conservation objectives thanks to new research.

New research to aid sustainable fisheries management in Marine Protected Areas
Research has provided a more accurate picture of the effects of trawl gears in MPAs

The research, carried out in three MPAs, looked at the effects of fishing activity and natural environmental conditions on the seabed and has resulted in a more accurate picture of what is happening beneath the waves. With this information scientists have a greater bank of evidence to justify what levels of bottom towed gear fishing activity can be carried out within MPAs and still encourage conservation.

This will be good news for fishermen, who face losing their traditional fishing grounds as the roll out of a series of government-backed MPAs continues. While hardline conservationists demand complete no-fishing zones, this new evidence will help to scientifically justify protected areas that allow fishing activity to continue. This can even include bottom trawls where the fishing gear makes contact with the seabed.

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) commissioned the work, which was led by ABPmer with Ichthys Marine Ecological Consulting Ltd, and supported with funding from Seafish and the European Fisheries Fund (EFF).

The MPAs and fisheries examined included:

  • 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: “We commissioned this research to specifically look at MPAs where there are fisheries taking place on sediment habitats, and particularly in areas that are thought to be naturally dynamic. There is a misconception that fishing with mobile gears that contact the seabed are damaging wherever they occur, but we wanted to examine whether the existing fisheries were compatible with conservation objectives in such areas.

“Our choice of MPAs also looked at where there would be great hardship if these fisheries were to be banned from their traditional fishing grounds. We are very pleased with the results, which help to advance technical approaches to fisheries assessments. We hope the management authorities will take on board the findings, particularly for the three sites in question.”

Suzannah Walmsley, fisheries specialist at ABPmer, said: “The Government’s approach to managing commercial fisheries in European Marine Sites in English waters requires assessment of fishing activity and its impact on protected features. This new research is an important step in ensuring that there is an appropriate base of evidence from which to draw further conclusions. Incorporating information from the industry reduced the uncertainty and the need for precaution to be used in management. We based assessments on the impacts of individual gear components which allowed a clear distinction to be drawn between the different pressures and their spatial extent. This will assist the successful management of Marine Protected Areas that benefit both conservation interests and the future sustainability of the fishing industry.”

The research has provided greater insight into the environmental impacts of fisheries in two main ways – one assessing how fishing activity affects MPA habitats, the other assessing how environmental conditions do the same. Firstly, it trialled ways to reduce uncertainties in understanding the distribution and intensity of mobile gear fishing activities while also analysing the effects of fishing gears on habitats and species. Secondly, it modelled the physical disturbance of seabed sediments from wave and tidal action that influences the habitats of the MPAs. This will provide further insight into the environmental context in which the fishing activities are taking place, ensuring that disturbance from fishing is considered in the context of levels of natural disturbance that the habitats and species are adapted to.

This week the government announced the designation of 23 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), adding to the 27 designated in 2013. A third phase of MCZ designation goes to consultation in 2017.

Research outputs include: