Under the Westminster Marine Bill and the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the government is legally committing itself to delivering a network of marine protected areas.
This process is happening at a time when there is a growth in other competing interests in the marine environment, notably with the expansion of offshore wind farms. Other sectors as well as conservation interests are therefore laying their claim to marine space that was once the sole provenance of the fishing industry.
A NFFO delegation attended a recent workshop organised by Defra to define the social and economic information needed for the government’s Marine Conservation Zone planning process. The meeting heard that while fixed infrastructure such as oil and gas is well defined, data on mobile activities such as fishing is poorly represented. The workshop was attended by NFFO’s Chairman Davy Hill, John Butterwith, Ned Clarke and Dale Rodmell.
Although the NFFO has reservations over the potential misuse of information on fishing activity, and is working to ensure that all data is subject to careful interpretation in conjunction with the industry, there are serious dangers of losing access to key fishing grounds if we cannot demonstrate these through detailed chart information. If large parts of the fleet are not to be simply ignored in the marine planning process, the industry must grasp the nettle of this issue and be prepared to lay down its own claim of existence and importance.
The fishing industry has had a poor history of contributing information on its whereabouts only for it to be used against it. The rushed and ultimately counterproductive North Sea seasonal cod closure was based upon a flawed process of simply identifying where the fleet fished before banning it from the prime area, and more recently the Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area debacle certainly has not helped to inspire confidence. We know from these examples how not to do it and the Federation is pressing for a better approach in which fishermen have a voice.
For those vessels over 15metres it is now no longer a question of whether skippers wish to provide detailed information as this is collected automatically through the VMS system. For vessels under 15metres information is dependent upon landing declarations and logbook data. The problem with such data for marine spatial planning purposes is that it is mainly only available referenced to ICES statistical rectangles, which is a poor definition for spatial planning purposes. A recent project completed by ABPmer for COWRIE (Collaborative Offshore Wind Research Into The Environment) to assemble spatial fisheries value layers and is the most advanced attempt undertaken to date using this existing available data, but it also highlights the limitations in this data that the Federation warns must be taken into account in using such outputs in marine planning processes (see report on COWRIE website). In addition, such information on its own does not directly account for the effects of displacement which ultimately is the core issue for the industry at the heart of current marine planning processes.
Access issues are going to be one of the major challenges for the fishing industry in the near future and the Federation is helping to shape the industry’s response to this threat. This will include undertaking mapping work as part of the Federation’s ports visits programme (see related article).