Does Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee understand the need for MCZs?

Following Marinet’s letter of 5th April 2014 to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee in which Marinet expressed concern that the Committee had failed to ask pertinent questions of the Minister about the Government’s shortcomings over the delivery of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZsMCZ Marine Conservation Zone), the Committee has replied on 22nd April asking Marinet to explain the nature of its concerns.

Marinet has responded to the Committee in a letter dated 24th April. Marinet has submitted an explanation, as requested, about our perceived shortcomings of the questioning of the Minister by the Committee, and has asked that the full membership of the Committee consider these matters with a view to re-approaching the Minister to secure clear and precise answers.

Of particular concern to Marinet is that neither the Minister, nor indeed the Committee as a whole, appear to understand the urgency for an “ecologically coherent network” of UK marine reserves; and that neither the Minister, nor the Committee as a whole, clearly understand what “ecological coherence” means in this context.

Also of particular concern to Marinet is that neither the Minister, nor any member of the Environmental Audit Committee in their questioning, made any reference to “co-location” — the means by which marine reserves are centred on areas of human activity (such as offshore windfarms, shipping lanes, seabed pipelines, and reference sites adjacent to marine aggregate dredging areas). These areas of activity offer huge potential for marine conservation e.g. the rebuilding of fish stocks when windfarms are located in spawning areas, the exclusion of other human activity for safety reasons in shipping lanes and, similarly so, in the case of seabed pipelines and other various areas of activity.

If the opportunity for marine reserves co-located in conjunction with centres of human activity is developed then large areas of the sea become available for designation, large numbers of habitats and a very diverse range of species are protected, and industry is able to work in sympathy with conservation (surely a long-held aspiration of both sides) with money and resources more likely to become available for the management of the reserves. It is a classic win-win situation for all parties. Yet no-one on the Committee asked the Minister about co-location, and the Minister made no reference to it !

Why is the UK Government and, equally importantly, why is the UK Parliament failing to respond proactively in the delivery of marine reserves in our seas? This is the question Marinet is seeking an answer to.

Certainly the Committee’s questioning of the Minister failed to reflect the perception of the eminent body of marine scientists working on the Oxford University based International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) which has stated in their October 2013 report that there is a need for “urgent remedies… to halt ocean degradation” and has recommended the “protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems”.

IPSO believes that marine reserves are urgently required, and should cover both a substantial area and range of ecosystems. This has been the view of other campaigners for marine reserves in UK seas in recent times, such as the Marine Conservation Society supported by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and FishFight.

The question remains, however, as to the degree to which the avowed supporters of marine reserves in UK seas are prepared to push for their immediate and comprehensive implementation?

Therefore in addition to requiring the UK Parliament to challenge the UK Minister, Marinet has asked the Marine Conservation Society and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in a letter dated 30th April 2014 for their assessment of the Minister’s and Environmental Audit Committee’s performance.

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