Tranche 3 MCZs Must Avoid “Gold Plating” at the Expense of Livelihoods


The NFFO is warning that the completion of the Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) network in English and Northern Irish offshore waters must not become a book keeper's exercise that slavishly gold plates the network at the expense of livelihoods. This follows a new search for more MCZs by government nature conservation advisers.

Search for Sites

JNCC and Natural England have
embarked on a new process of selecting MCZs following producing a gap analysis to
guide the completion of the network in English waters. Shortfalls have been identified following an
analysis of the existing MPA network and remaining sites recommended in 2011
under regional projects but using different geographic regions to those that
had guided the selection of recommended MCZs in the first place. The analysis includes Scottish North Sea
waters and different regional boundaries in the southern North Sea and English
Channel to those used in the regional projects.

The new devolution settlement
in Wales has also removed the Welsh offshore area from the analysis and consideration
of sites in these waters that had been identified by the Irish Sea regional

Surveys of designated and
proposed sites also appear to have revealed that in some sites the habitat type
is different from that which had informed original site selection and therefore
these areas no longer contribute to network targets.

The shortfalls identified in
the exercise primarily include sand and mixed sediment habitat in the Channel
and coarse sediment in the south west approaches and UK Secretary of State administered
waters in the Irish Sea.

Dale Rodmell, Assistant Chief
Executive said: “These new searches are troubling as they have come out of
the blue and are being undertaken over a very short time-frame. The initial selection of recommended sites in
2011 followed an 18 month process which in itself was rushed, but this process
seems to be taking a matter of weeks simply to meet government’s self-imposed
target of completing the network by 2018.”

“In all of the haste there is
a real danger that the livelihood needs of marine users will be harmed. What’s more, as we have highlighted all along
during this process, displacing fishing activity does not simply remove it. It is as much as likely to redeploy elsewhere
and if displacement is not carefully considered, as well as the social
injustices, it is likely to result in a conservation home goal.”

new Conservation Features to Existing Sites

The existing suite of MCZs are
also being examined by JNCC and Natural England for additional features as part
of the gap filling exercise.

“The risk here is that there
may be good reasons why the regional projects decided not to add a particular
feature to a site and these must be recognised and respected. In the Swallow Sands MCZ in the North Sea,
for instance, the swallow hole mud habitat depression that forms an important
fishing hotspot was deliberately left out of the recommendations for that very
reason. It should not now be added just
because it is perceived that the Scottish MPA planning process did not include
enough mud in its part of the North Sea.”

“The sense in our industry is
that this is all going in one direction beyond the initial planning process,
and the legitimacy that underpinned the original selection of sites risks being

“If a site or part of a site
turns out not to be the habitat that it was thought to be, then conservation
advisors should also assess the case for either amending the MCZ boundary or not
proceeding to designate, he said.”

Mobile Species MCZs

The new searches follow in the
footsteps of other emerging proposals for highly mobile species which may go
forward as part of the tranche 3 consultation process.

“Government should not
become blinkered by propaganda from MPA advocates that think MPAs are the
solution to all ills. There are a whole
host of potential management approaches and it should be asking whether a
static approach for highly mobile species makes sense.”

“It should also ask the
question whether the costs associated with such an approach match up to the
alternatives – quite simply, MPAs can tie up government resources focusing on the
fine minutiae of individual MPAs which could be far more effectively deployed in
wide-scale sustainable marine management.
Government is risking committing public resources to a policy that
simply can’t see the wood for the trees. A more coherent conservation strategy is

for Buck

One alternative is to work
directly with industry to address particular conservation issues. For example, the government has worked with
the fishing industry to develop incentivised arrangements that support the
avoidance of unwanted catches. These
have demonstrably worked in the case of catch quota initiatives for cod. A new trial is currently getting underway on
spurdog avoidance in the south west that is hoped to reduce fishing induced mortality
of the species and help to deal with a potential choke under the landing

“These are practical
approaches targeted directly at a particular conservation issue that don’t
generate a quagmire of bureaucracy and inertia that is associated with MPA
designation and management. Rather than
following a prohibition based approach, which inherently underlies the current
approach to MPAs, this is also about working positively to support people’s motivations
for conservation. At the end of the day
industry has no desire for unwanted catches,” Dale Rodmell said.

Sea Mud

In the Irish Sea, Welsh
administration of its >12nm zone has left a UK Secretary of State planning
area now divided into 2 separate small regions of the Irish Sea, both of which
coincide with the vitally important nephrops fishing grounds. By virtue of administrative boundaries, sites
had been previously selected on prime fishing locations risking the negative
effects of displacement that could have knock-on effects for the sustainability
of the fishery.

In a move to come up with a
more practical option, the fishing industry identified an alternative site for
mud habitat in an area identified as “Queenie corner” in 2015.

Dale Rodmell said: “This area
has been put forward in good faith by the fishing industry to be considered as
an alternative to what would be damaging site location choices elsewhere and it
is important that when the Minister comes to consider the options for tranche 3
that these efforts are duly recognised.”