A constructive meeting with the representatives from the Marine Management Organisation was held in the NFFO offices recently to discuss the arrival of marine spatial planning and in particular, the first two draft marine plans.
These will be for the East Coast Inshore and the East Coast Offshore. Marine Plans will then be extended to all UK waters in due course.
From the NFFO’s point of view there are two key aspects to marine spatial planning. The first is the quantity and quality of the information on which the plans are based, and the second is the governance arrangements that ensure that any aspects of the plans that affect fishing are fully discussed before being implemented. By virtue of its dispersed and varied patterns of activity, and absence of territorial property rights, fishing is always likely to be vulnerable to displacement by more geographically concentrated, politically prioritised, or high value offshore activities. For this reason the role of fish in the nation’s food security was one of the first items raised with the MMO. Damaging fishing and fish resources could have serious implications for long term sustainability given that the latter is a renewable resource if managed carefully.
Data and Dialogue
Sound, accurate data at the appropriate spatial scale is the bedrock of marine planning. Without information, it will not be able to achieve a more coherent approach to coordinating the explosion of offshore activities of which we are experiencing the early phases. Without accurate data, marine plans could potentially make things worse. However, at the same time, data on fishing activity is often commercially sensitive and valuable information which it is not appropriate to put into the public domain.
For this reason a very careful balance must be struck between providing fishing industry information to defend our most important fishing grounds, whilst ensuring that this data is only used for the purposes it was released for.
We were pleased that the MMO shared these concerns and were willing to discuss arrangements that would provide the right degree of protection for fishermen’s information, whether gathered through VMS satellite monitoring, electronic logbooks or more traditional means. There is a legal dimension to this in the form of the provisions of the Data Protection Act.
We stressed that raw data is only the beginning and a critical component in marine planning is the interpretation of the data to make sense of what is really happening in terms of fishing patterns. Although some offshore developers try to take short cuts by hiring self-appointed “experts”, in reality the only way to this effectively is to open a dialogue with the people involved – the fishers in the specific fisheries concerned. The MMO appeared to understand and appreciate this.
A statutory obligation on all offshore developers to consult the fishing industry is the minimum condition that would ensure that this dialogue takes place.
We are in the early stages of marine planning and it is not yet clear what it will look like when fully developed. The degree to which marine plans will provide guidance on the location of offshore activities, or the degree to which it will be used as part of more formal rules on what can be done where remains to be determined.
It is obvious however that marine planning has the potential to affect the fishing industry in very significant ways, for the good if done well and for the bad if done badly. This is why even in these early days the Federation is devoting so much of its time and resources into getting it right. One of our many concerns is that the establishment of a network of marine protected areas and the expansion of offshore wind-farms and other forms of renewable energy is taking place in the absence of a proper marine spatial planning framework.