Parliament concerned by UK Government’s handling of MCZs and MPAs

The House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee published its report Marine Protected Areas Revisited on 25th April 2017, advising that: The Marine Protected Areas Revisited report has found Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are not being effectively managed, and the Government needs to do more to protect vulnerable marine habitats, features and species once a site is designated as an MPA.

The Committee also expressed concern that the Government had moved the goal posts by setting unreasonably high standards of evidence for designating MPAs.

The Committee recommended that the Government should:

  • Adopt a precautionary principle approach to Tranche 3 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) site selection and designations.
  • Put in place strong monitoring and surveillance regimes to deter illegal activity.
  • Commit to establishing highly protected reference areas within the MPA network.
  • Provide support to the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) to help them properly detect and deter illegal activities.
  • Provide its assessment of any additional budget and resources that will be provided to the Marine Management Organisation and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities to enable them effectively to manage the third tranche of Marine Conservation Zones and Marine Protected Areas.

The Committee also found a number of concerns about the Department for Environment Food, and Rural Affairs’ handling of MPAs, including:

  • The slow progress made in designating Marine Conservation Zones. Only 50 MCZs have been designated so far — well short of the 127 sites originally recommended by the regional projects in 2011.
  • The Committee was shocked and disappointed by the Government’s decision to exclude highly protected reference areas from the Third Tranche of MCZs before the Government received expert evidence on the subject.
  • The delays in creating a well-co-ordinated and ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas. There are still a number of gaps remaining , particularly for sites to protect sand, mud and highly mobile species.
  • The Government’s unwillingness to provide adequate investment for the gathering of further evidence for the vulnerable areas.
  • Weaknesses in communicating the potential benefits of MPAs to stakeholders.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of Environmental Audit Committee said: “It is worrying and disappointing the Government have still not got their act together on assigning the vulnerable Marine Protected Areas.

“The Government needs to focus on monitoring and protecting the current areas rather than moving the goal posts to create unachievable and over complicated demands on the management of susceptible areas. Without effective management, surveillance or monitoring our MPAs are just paper parks.

“The government needs to put firm plans in place to stop further degradation of our vulnerable ecological systems, before they are destroyed forever.”

Marine Protected Areas create significant opportunities and benefits for marine habitats and wildlife. It was clear that few people were aware of these potential benefits. The Government must implement a robust communications strategy to raise awareness of the MPA network amongst businesses and the general public.

 

Source: Environmental Audit Committee, 25th April 2017. For further details, see www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/news-parliament-2015/marine-protected-environment-report-published-16-17

For the Full Report and submissions of evidence, see www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmenvaud/597/59702.htm

 

Marinet observes: It would have been surprising if the Environmental Audit Committee had not been critical of the UK Government. There is widespread concern, and some disillusionment, in the UK environmental movement over the Government’s delivery of MCZs and of their management of MPAs in general.

Most MCZs/MPAs have nothing that could be seriously described as a management plan, and none have specific management bodies. At best, there is oversight by the Inshore Fisheries Committees (IFCAs) and Natural England for sites within 6 nautical miles, and by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Joint Nature Conservation Committee for MPAs beyond 6 nautical miles. However the IFCAs and MMO are now operating on reduced annual budgets.

Fishing and commercial activity is allowed in most MCZs/MPAs, and the Government has expressed no intention of reversing this policy. Indeed, MCZs were established under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 on the specific basis that they should be “open” to commercial activity, and the MMO which is charged with licensing commercial activity freely admits that it sees its job to ensure that this is so.

Does all of this matter? One has to ask this question because there is scarcely a single UK marine NGO that is raising this as a fundamental issue which requires to be seriously challenged, either politically or legally. Indeed, when the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (which created MCZs) went through Parliament no marine NGO, other than Marinet, sought an amendment of the Act to prevent the situation that currently pertains.

So if this situation does matter, what are the UK marine NGOs going to do?

Marinet can see no credible plan of corrective action on the horizon of these marine NGOs, no UK political party which even seems remotely interested, and just marine scientists who are willing to measure the problem but dare not take any action which would “violate” their academic institution.

To be frank, the situation looks bleak. Fish stocks and marine biodiversity remain seriously challenged, pollution and commercial exploitation is readily licensed, and whether we are inside the EU or outside the EU appears to affect policy not one jot.

Probably the only people who can make a difference are the UK electorate. The powers exist both within Parliament and in law to alter this depressing state of affairs. The question is, will they awaken to the plight of our fish and seas, and elect a Government which believes that all of this really matters?

If you wanted to win a fortune based on a long odds bet, now is the time to place it.

 


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