4 January 2012
MPAC, the alliance of fishing organisations which was formed to defend access to fishing grounds during the establishment of a network of marine protected areas in UK waters, has recently taken stock of progress made so far.
Completing the second year of its existence, MPAC, the alliance of fishing organisations which was formed to defend access to fishing grounds during the establishment of a network of marine protected areas in UK waters, has recently taken stock of progress made so far.
The main markers in the organisation’s short history are:
- Its formation in the Palace of Westminster on 11th February 2009, with support from sympathetic MPs
- The appointment of respected fisheries scientist, Dr Stephen Lockwood, as MPAC Chairman
- Launch of the MPAC Fighting Fund and membership campaign, which quickly secured wide support from across all areas and fishing groupings in the UK
- Regular engagement with senior DEFRA and devolved administration officials
- Meetings with fisheries/environment ministers from DEFRA and the devolved administrations to outline the aims and purposes of MPAC
- The extension of MPAC membership beyond the UK to include Dutch, French, Irish and Belgian fishing organisations, equally concerned about displacement from their customary fishing grounds
- Regular engagement with the Government’s statutory advisors on nature conservancy to challenge the weak parts of the approach to establishing marine conservation zones and EU special areas of conservation (SAC) and special protection areas (SPA)
- Emphasis on 4 main flaws in the MPA approach to date:
- A rushed timeframe
- Unrepresentative stakeholder involvement
- A weak evidence base for designation decisions
- Failure to address the issue of displacement of fishing activities
- Building a broad coalition of fishing interests
- A high profile launch with extensive media coverage
- A commitment to an evidence-based approach
- Support for the introduction of MPAs to provide protection for rare and vulnerable ecology but rejection of flawed, rushed and woolly thinking in government policy
- A successful challenge to Natural England’s initial assertions that it had a role as fisheries managers as opposed to advisors to government
- Bringing a degree of realism to what MPAs can achieve in terms of building commercial fish stocks (as opposed to protecting biodiversity)
- Securing public recognition that the potential contribution to the protection of biodiversity made by marine protected areas needs to be balanced by the contribution made by the fishing industry to the food security of the nation
- Insisting on a more sophisticated measure of the extent of fishing pressure on seabed features
- Challenging the use of extreme language and unsupported assertions by senior officials in the statutory nature conservation bodies – “the infamous rape and pillage remarks”
- Effectively drawing attention to the international dimension of fishing activity outside the 6 mile limit and emphasising the need to adapt consultation and evidence gathering procedures to take account of that fact
- Bringing to bear a rigorous approach to evidence used to designate MCZs, SACs and SPAs
- Drawing attention to the cumulative impact of multiple offshore developments (amongst which is the establishment of marine protected areas) all of which increasingly constrain where fishing activity can safely and legally take place
- Drawing attention to the absence of a formal marine spatial planning framework for rushed decisions on the designation of marine protected areas
- Successfully securing a review of Natural England’s scientific and evidence procedures by the government’s Chief Scientific Officer which resulted in important tightening up of arrangements
- Close involvement of MPAC members in the four MCZ regional stakeholder groups charged with making recommendations on designated sites for MCZs
- Challenging the application of narrowly interpreted theoretical science to the selection of MCZs
- Successfully bringing Government attention to the potential and often unforeseen consequences of displacement of fishing activity
- The articulation of an alternative approach to managing MPAs, based on close involvement and dialogue with of the principle stakeholders at site level
- Building understanding of the need for a local/regional focus along with a consensus approach that minimises the scope for displacement
- Securing a ministerial decision to extend the time allowed for gathering evidence on which site designations will be based
- Securing ministerial commitment to provide additional funds to strengthen the evidence base for the designation of marine conservation zones
- Securing ministerial support for a phased (as opposed to a “big-bang”) approach to the designation of MCZ sites, thus allowing for a more robust evidence based approach
- Securing a written assurance from the UK fisheries minister that no MPA beyond six miles will be formally designated until such times that EU approval ensures that any restrictions will apply to all member states’ vessels, not just those registered in the UK.
Despite this impressive list of achievements, there is no scope for complacency. The MPA Fishing Coalition recognises the huge task that it faces to ensure that every marine protected area established in UK waters is justified on the basis of sound evidence and that the impacts on fishing activities are minimised to the least extent possible.
As the focus shifts from site designation to the management measures that will apply within marine protected areas (up to and including complete exclusion of fishing activity) it will be more important than ever for the fishing industry as a whole to work together through the Coalition.
The Coalition stands ready to reinforce the efforts all those fishing groups and individuals who have registered their support for the work of MPAC and who are concerned about their future access to their customary fishing grounds.
The Coalition’s Fighting Fund remains open for contributions and the essential work of the Coalition can only continue with your support:
The MPA Fishing Coalition