NFFO Challenges MPA Science Panel

10th December 2009 in Fisheries Science, MPAs

The NFFO has heavily criticised the appointment of what Defra is calling an “independent Science Advisory Panel”, which will advise on whether Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) proposals meet the government’s scientific criteria for delivering its much touted Ecologically Coherent Network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The panel of 9, with the exception of the Chairman, is composed entirely of marine ecologists and natural scientists, despite initial indications that it would also include experts in the fields of economics and social science.

The Federation believes the appointment of the panel raises fundamental questions over what is and what is not science and how far natural science on its own should be allowed a free rein in designating MPA sites.

The Federation said: “In this decision, Defra draws a clear line in the sand over what it considers to be science, which clearly does not extend to the disciplines of economics and social sciences. We on the other hand, have argued that a failure to take into account human factors such as fisheries displacement risks undermining any conservation intentions in delivering a network, yet the response from Defra has so far been muted.”

“Furthermore, the very public proclamations of particular scientific advisors and their close links to the green lobby and their cause célèbre of MPAs as a saviour to the marine environment, calls into question their objectivity in dealing fairly with matters affecting the livelihoods of those dependent upon the seas.”

Scientific claims for MPAs have often been over blown. The Federation said: “Scientists advocating MPAs have often shown graphs of increasing biomass within an MPA, as major evidence of their success. However, it would be clear to the average layman that this would be the most likely response to the removal of human activity from the marine environment and such evidence offers nothing to a reasoned analysis of where the balance between human use of marine resources and conservation should lie.”

Of particular concern to the Federation is the embryonic science advanced to design the Ecologically Coherent Network of MPAs: “There remains considerable debate within the scientific community over whether it is scientifically feasible to rigorously design such a network in light of the lack of data, knowledge and understanding of marine ecosystem processes. This is because delivering the network rests not upon any evidence based science, but upon the application of a set of theoretical principles, exercised in a vacuum which ignores the extent to which ecological processes already function without MPAs,” it said.

“Consequently, any requirements stipulated in the government’s forthcoming scientific guidance on how far MPAs should be from one another, or what percentage of a habitat should be covered, can only be based upon opinion formed within the constraints of a narrow simplistic theory. Under such circumstances, an “independent Science Advisory Panel” composed only of natural scientists that will advise on the government’s own guidelines actually looks much more like a thin scientific veil for what are in fact political decisions.”

The scientific guidance, originally expected in September, has been repeatedly delayed and is now not expected to be released until March 2010 at the earliest, greatly compressing the timeframe to design a network through the input of stakeholders such as the fishing industry. MCZ network proposals from regional stakeholder projects such as Finding Sanctuary are tabled to be forwarded to government by the summer of 2011. The Federation views this timeframe as woefully inadequate.