Developing a participatory approach to the management of fishing activity in UK offshore Marine Protected Areas
Successfully involving the fishing sector and stakeholders in decision-making over the…
The NFFO is warning that the completion of the Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) network in English and Northern Irish offshore waters must not become a book keeper's exercise that slavishly gold plates the network at the expense of livelihoods. This follows a new search for more MCZs by government nature conservation advisers.
New Search for Sites
JNCC and Natural England have embarked on a new process of selecting MCZs following producing a gap analysis to guide the completion of the network in English waters. Shortfalls have been identified following an analysis of the existing MPA network and remaining sites recommended in 2011 under regional projects but using different geographic regions to those that had guided the selection of recommended MCZs in the first place. The analysis includes Scottish North Sea waters and different regional boundaries in the southern North Sea and English Channel to those used in the regional projects.
The new devolution settlement in Wales has also removed the Welsh offshore area from the analysis and consideration of sites in these waters that had been identified by the Irish Sea regional project.
Surveys of designated and proposed sites also appear to have revealed that in some sites the habitat type is different from that which had informed original site selection and therefore these areas no longer contribute to network targets.
The shortfalls identified in the exercise primarily include sand and mixed sediment habitat in the Channel and coarse sediment in the south west approaches and UK Secretary of State administered waters in the Irish Sea.
Dale Rodmell, Assistant Chief Executive said: "These new searches are troubling as they have come out of the blue and are being undertaken over a very short time-frame. The initial selection of recommended sites in 2011 followed an 18 month process which in itself was rushed, but this process seems to be taking a matter of weeks simply to meet government's self-imposed target of completing the network by 2018.”
“In all of the haste there is a real danger that the livelihood needs of marine users will be harmed. What’s more, as we have highlighted all along during this process, displacing fishing activity does not simply remove it. It is as much as likely to redeploy elsewhere and if displacement is not carefully considered, as well as the social injustices, it is likely to result in a conservation home goal.”
Adding new Conservation Features to Existing Sites
The existing suite of MCZs are also being examined by JNCC and Natural England for additional features as part of the gap filling exercise.
“The risk here is that there may be good reasons why the regional projects decided not to add a particular feature to a site and these must be recognised and respected. In the Swallow Sands MCZ in the North Sea, for instance, the swallow hole mud habitat depression that forms an important fishing hotspot was deliberately left out of the recommendations for that very reason. It should not now be added just because it is perceived that the Scottish MPA planning process did not include enough mud in its part of the North Sea.”
“The sense in our industry is that this is all going in one direction beyond the initial planning process, and the legitimacy that underpinned the original selection of sites risks being undermined”.
“If a site or part of a site turns out not to be the habitat that it was thought to be, then conservation advisors should also assess the case for either amending the MCZ boundary or not proceeding to designate, he said.”
Highly Mobile Species MCZs
The new searches follow in the footsteps of other emerging proposals for highly mobile species which may go forward as part of the tranche 3 consultation process.
"Government should not become blinkered by propaganda from MPA advocates that think MPAs are the solution to all ills. There are a whole host of potential management approaches and it should be asking whether a static approach for highly mobile species makes sense.”
“It should also ask the question whether the costs associated with such an approach match up to the alternatives – quite simply, MPAs can tie up government resources focusing on the fine minutiae of individual MPAs which could be far more effectively deployed in wide-scale sustainable marine management. Government is risking committing public resources to a policy that simply can’t see the wood for the trees. A more coherent conservation strategy is needed.”
Bang for Buck
One alternative is to work directly with industry to address particular conservation issues. For example, the government has worked with the fishing industry to develop incentivised arrangements that support the avoidance of unwanted catches. These have demonstrably worked in the case of catch quota initiatives for cod. A new trial is currently getting underway on spurdog avoidance in the south west that is hoped to reduce fishing induced mortality of the species and help to deal with a potential choke under the landing obligation.
“These are practical approaches targeted directly at a particular conservation issue that don’t generate a quagmire of bureaucracy and inertia that is associated with MPA designation and management. Rather than following a prohibition based approach, which inherently underlies the current approach to MPAs, this is also about working positively to support people’s motivations for conservation. At the end of the day industry has no desire for unwanted catches,” Dale Rodmell said.
Irish Sea Mud
In the Irish Sea, Welsh administration of its >12nm zone has left a UK Secretary of State planning area now divided into 2 separate small regions of the Irish Sea, both of which coincide with the vitally important nephrops fishing grounds. By virtue of administrative boundaries, sites had been previously selected on prime fishing locations risking the negative effects of displacement that could have knock-on effects for the sustainability of the fishery.
In a move to come up with a more practical option, the fishing industry identified an alternative site for mud habitat in an area identified as “Queenie corner” in 2015.
Dale Rodmell said: “This area has been put forward in good faith by the fishing industry to be considered as an alternative to what would be damaging site location choices elsewhere and it is important that when the Minister comes to consider the options for tranche 3 that these efforts are duly recognised.”