Marinet recommends to the Minister: “make fishermen the managers of MCZs”

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has completed on 31st March its most recent public consultation on the implementation of the Marine Conservation Zone (MCZMCZ Marine Conservation Zone) network for English seas.

A Great Scallop

Pecten maximus © Paul Naylor

In order to assist the Environment Minister, Richard Benyon MP, Defra has been enquiring whether the government should go ahead and designate 31 of the MCZsMCZ Marine Conservation Zone from the full set of 127 sites recommended to the Minister by the four regional consultative Stakeholder Groups. All 127 MCZ recommendations have been vetted for their scientific merit by a panel of marine scientists appointed by Defra and the Minister, and comments have also been submitted by the Statutory Nature Conservation organisations (Natural England and JNCC) who advise the Minister.

Throughout the consultation disquiet has been expressed in many quarters of the marine environmental movement about the paucity of MCZs to be designated at the present time, and the Minister has commented that a number of sites need further scientific study to provide quality assurance for the whole process and, in addition, the Minister has said a fundamental issue exists around the affordability of the full list of recommended MCZs due to cut-backs in Defra’s budget.

Conger eel

Conger conger © Paul Naylor

Tim Watson, Marinet lead member on MCZs, commented in Marinet’s public consultation submission to Defra, “It is noteworthy that the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, in its 25th Report (Turning the Tide) recommended that 30% of the sea area be included within a U.K. Marine Protected Area network. We applaud, therefore,… efforts in identifying a suitable network which will move marine conservation on within the U.K. We are aware that within the marine environment knowledge of habitats increases with research, but we are most concerned that the current consultation only relates to 31 of the 127 identified sites. We have previously observed that the MCZ identification process was extended by six months to enable more information to be gathered. It is unsatisfactory, now, not to consult on the full list of sites given that the six months extension enabled the Science Advisory Panel to endorse the full list.”

In specific advice to Defra and the Minister, Tim Watson concluded, ”We therefore urge you adopt the full list of 127 proposed MCZ’s on the basis that they have scientific backing. This will meet UK commitments to a wider European Marine Protected Area network and give marine ecosystems sustainable protection for future generations.”

Commenting further on these issues David Levy, chair of Marinet, said: “We would like to suggest to Richard Benyon, Minister for Fisheries at Defra, that he and the Civil Service think more creatively about how to operate the subsidies regime that is available from his Department and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund for use by conservation areas, fishermen and their industry.”

Expanding on what he meant by thinking more creatively, David Levy explained, “The Minister, in his response to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight Series Two television programmes said that H F-W did not understand how expensive it is to creates MCZs. However it is also clear from these programmes that the key to delivering successful MCZs is to have fishermen directly involved in MCZ management, as evidenced at Lyme Bay, Dorset. Put simply, MCZs can rebuild fisheries by protecting important habitat areas, and the people who benefit directly from this (renewed stocks for the future) and who can best supervise the area (know its features and ways) are the fishermen. So it is essential that the subsidies from the EU and UK are given directly to the fishermen in these areas so that they, firstly, are employed as the MCZs’ managers, and secondly, so that they have a direct interest in the success of each and every MCZ.”

In conclusion, Mr. Levy offered support for the Minister, saying: “Respectfully, we observe that at the moment we can see little innovation in the administration and delivery of the MCZ process. Examples of creative, innovative practice already exist elsewhere – Australia, New Zealand and the USA – and if the Minister were to respond positively and imaginatively we would quickly, and genuinely, affirm that he has delivered an ecologically coherent network of MCZs as promised.”

Source: Marinet submission to Defra and the Minister, 20th March 2013. For full details of this submission, see the text on the Marine Reserves page of the Marinet website.

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