Dogger Bank: death by a thousand cuts?

A satellite image of Dogger Bank. Photo: NASA/Wikimedia
A satellite image of Dogger Bank. Photo: NASA/Wikimedia

Member States have an obligation to ensure that fishing activities do not adversely impact the environment, especially where marine Natura 2000 sites have been designated.

Nevertheless, establishing measures to minimise impacts on such sites has been a slow and tortuous process. Recently, we expressed our support for, what we believed at the time, a step forward in implementing fishing rules in the Dogger Bank, the North Sea’s largest sandbank in which three Member States – Germany, the Netherlands and the UK – have designated adjoining Natura 2000 areas.

Although NGOs still considered it the bare minimum, extensive stakeholder discussion initially resulted in measures that could have ensured the protection of about one-third of the whole sandbank from mobile bottom fishing gear and still allowed for fishing as a viable economic activity.

The proposal notably included a more ambitious 50% of the German Natura 2000 site to be fully protected from bottom gears.

However, a late compromise resulted in another bottom gear – seine fishing – being admitted to most of the proposed closures, bringing the total area protected down to a measly 5%. This is R.I.D.I.C.U.L.O.U.S.

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Environment Audit Committee Report on England’s MPA network

The Environmental Audit Committee have just produced their report on Marine Protected Areas. The role of this Committee is to challenge Government’s progress across a number of environmental areas, and this report follows hot on the heels of a similar enquiry by the Science and Technology Committee in 2013.

In essence, the report is telling Government to just get on with the job of putting in place Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in England and making sure they are effectively managed. From my point of view their recommendations and conclusions are generally pretty sound and well justified.

Reading the report, you get a deeper sense of the polarity of opinion from the people that gave evidence and why Government might sometimes feel a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights. You can pretty much find a counterpoint to every point – the process is moving too fast/too slow; more evidence is needed/the evidence is sufficient; management should be voluntary/management should be regulatory…and so on.

I found it interesting that the report picked up on the need for Government to communicate the facts about MCZs. A vision for what MCZs are for, what they are going to protect and how people might be impacted all need to be much more clearly articulated. When faced with uncertainty, I think it is human nature to fear the worst and consequently many stakeholders have become unnecessarily opposed to MCZs. Government have already indicated that they plan to provide more clarity on what management is likely for our second tranche of MCZs, so I hope that this will lead to a more informed discussion.

The other strong theme in the report was the need to put management in place. Getting effective management in place has been a bit of a ‘whale in the swimming pool’. This is the point at which an MPA progresses from being a line on a map to becoming a true ‘protected’ area in which damaging human activities are restricted in some way. The Committee is certainly right to say that it is important that Agencies such as the Marine Management Organisation and our local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agencies need to have the resources to do this job effectively.

The recommendation that voluntary measures should be used to manage MCZs rather than stronger regulation is something that I don’t agree with. Looking back through the report, this could have come from a misunderstanding about how a voluntary code of conduct in Lyme Bay is being used very successfully to support and supplement existing regulation. Regulation gives you an important safety net upon which sea users can then build community management. Starting with voluntary agreements has a poor record of success and is very unlikely to protect sites from more nomadic users of the sea.

On the whole, the Committee have done well to reconcile the broad spectrum of opinion whilst highlighting how these new MPAs must do their job of protecting our marine wildlife.

Thomas Hooper, Head of Marine Policy at RSPB/BirdLife in the UK

First English Marine Plans arrive

 

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) today releases the final marine plans for the East of England inshore and offshore areas, a total area of almost 60,000km. We’ve had land planning for over 60 years, but this is the first ever time an equivalent plan has been adopted for an area of our marine environment.

From the RSPB’s perspective, what was clear ten years ago is still clear now: sectoral management on its own has led to the continued and unsustainable depletion of natural resources, and to serious declines in the overall health of marine ecosystems.

For us, having a clear and spatial plan that recognises (to the best of our knowledge) where the most important places for seabirds and waterbirds are at different times of year, is a key step forward. It allows the MMO to use this information proactively to guide activities to avoid the worst impacts happening before they occur.

Read more here…