South East Committee Prepares for MPAs

27th September 2011 in MPAs, South East

The fishing industry in the South East must prepare itself for a dialogue with fisheries managers at individual site level.

That is the message sent out from the NFFO’s South East Committee when it met recently in Shoreham. There was recognition that a handful of local representatives had worked tirelessly to ensure that our voice was heard in the Balanced Seas regional project but it was agreed that there was still much to do to defend access to critical fishing areas.

Before the recommended marine conservation zones are confirmed by ministers and management measures applied within them, it is vital that fisheries managers sit down with the vessel operators potentially affected. The experience of Lyme Bay has become a byword of how not to introduce marine protected areas in a heavy handed, top-down, rushed and brutal way on the basis of patchy evidence. If the mistakes of the Lyme Bay are to be avoided there must be detailed discussions on a site-by-site basis to find the right balance between protecting the vulnerable feature - and allowing fishing to continue within the area. Often some kind of zoning provides the solution.

The Committee believes that this requires the industry as a whole, to identify the main fisheries in each candidate MPA and to select individuals from each of the main gear groups who can engage with the decision-makers. Often this is reasonably straightforward as it is clear who is likely to be the spokesman for a gear type in a given fishery – they just need a little persuasion! The key is that whoever is selected, they must have the support and backing of the industry as their legitimate spokesperson.

The NFFO in discussions with Defra, the MMO, and Natural England have been led to believe that the management authorities are keen to develop this approach so there is a heavy responsibility on the industry to organise itself.

Cat amongst the Pigeons

One possible obstacle to the consensual and thorough approach to management measures within marine protected areas, advocated by the NFFO and the MPA Fishing Coalition, lies in the emergence of an adversarial legal strand within some of the more aggressive environmental NGOs. The recent letter from Client Earth/ Marine Conservation Society to the MMO, threatening legal action unless all fishing is banned from European SACs in UK waters, pending prolonged and costly impact assessments, opens the real threat of displacement from fishing grounds at an early stage and on a huge scale. This has been one of the MPA Fishing Coalition’s main fears from the outset, as large scale displacement will have serious ecological, as well as economic and social consequences - if a legal challenge is successful. We are confident that the MMO has more than sufficient arguments to counter such a blunt and aggressive approach but experience tells us that the law works in mysterious ways and this import from the USA is very unwelcome. There can be no guarantee that a court (at least in the first stages of an action) would not be persuaded to support such a step. Although the threat of legal action is initially focused on the introduction of European Natura sites, this litigious approach could equally be applied to domestic marine conservation zones under the provisions of the Marine and Coastal Access Act. The South East Committee took full account of this unwelcome development.

New Chairman and Areas of Work

The well attended and lively meeting in Shoreham unanimously elected Tony Delahunty, fisherman from Selsey, as Chairman of the NFFO’s South East Committee. The meeting discussed a range of issues in addition to marine protected areas. There was broad support for the NFFO’s evolving shellfish policy, and our work in the Industry Working Group with NUTFA and UKAFPO on a resolution to the quota problems facing the under-10 metre fleet. The meeting stressed that the interdependence of all vessels, irrespective of size in maintaining port and marketing infrastructures.

Concern about the Commission’s blunt approach to the conservation of skates and rays was voiced. The Federation was able to tell the meeting of a North West Waters initiative to develop a more tailored approach that once fully developed, would allow harvesting of those species of rays for which there are no conservation concerns, whilst providing adequate protection for those that are under pressure.

Communications

More than a few fishermen expressed surprise at the work that is going on within the Federation on their behalf. It was agreed that there is a two way communications problem and it was hoped that the new invigorated South East Committee would go some way to resolving this. The meeting considered that it was essential that the Federation is made aware of the views of fishermen in the South East and that the grass-roots are kept abreast of what the NFFO is doing on issues of concern to them. It was agreed that Tony Delahunty’s appointment as Chairman and his regular attendance at NFFO Executive Committee meetings would go a long way to establishing stronger communications.

Given the wide geographical extent of the South East it was agreed to hold further meetings in the east and north of the region to afford all fishermen the opportunity to participate. These will be organised as soon as practical.

The meeting also discussed:

  • TACs and quotas for 2012
  • CFP reform
  • The MCA’s intention to apply mandatory wearing of Personal Flotation Devices from next year and the implications for vessel insurance
  • IFCAs’ willingness to work with the industry on a sensible approach to MPAs
  • The replacement to the European Fisheries Fund, the proposals for which are expected in November