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Qualified Welcome from Fishing Industry for Ecological Analysis on MPAs in West Irish Sea

19th July 2023
IFPO chief executive Aodh O’Donnell
IFPO chief executive Aodh O’Donnell

Irish fishing industry organisations have given a qualified welcome to an ecological analysis relating to potential marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Irish Sea.

The recently published report recommends a list of 40 sensitive species and habitats which should be protected when MPAs are designated in the western Irish Sea.

Angel shark, basking shark, tope, American plaice and the European eel are among the 40 species and habitats, along with the blonde ray, cuckoo ray, edible sea urchin and short-snouted sea horse.

Some 18 of the features or species nominated, including 14 fish, which are already on protected lists.

The 132-page report does not include species or habitats already listed in the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, or individually managed under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Prof Tasman Crowe, director of University College, Dublin’s Earth Institute, and a group of scientists were given four months to come up with an ecological analysis informing new legislation on MPAs.

They were asked to focus on the western Irish Sea area extending from Carlingford Lough to Carnsore Point, where the first concentration offshore wind farms will be built off the Irish coast.

The Government has committed to designating 30 per cent of Ireland’s “blue field” as marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2030 in line with EU commitments, and MPA legislation is expected to be in place by the end of the year.

The ecological study notes that it is a key area for commercial fishing of the Dublin Bay prawn, whelk and herring, and profiles the extent of fisheries for scallop, cockles and pot fishing for whelks.

It also documents fisheries for razor clams, dredging for mussel seed, beam trawl fishery for rays and mixed demersal fish, along with bottom trawling targeting rays and mixed demersal fish.

It says it is “important to note that the full extent” of areas within which the 40 species or habitats are found would not be required for an effective network of MPAs, and notes that “not all activities would need to be restricted within them”.

National Inshore Fishermen’s Association secretary Kieran Healy said that he had represented his organisation on the stakeholder consultations for the report, and the authors had emphasised that transparency had to be a key factor.

“We were invited to have our say and to elaborate on our concerns, so I couldn’t find any fault with the process,” Healy said.

He said that the report was “extremely well put together” and “everybody’s contribution is addressed”.

“It is quite up front about there having to be some sort of tradeoffs in relation to bottom trawling, dredging and beaming,” he said, and he believed fishermen should be allowed to state their case.

However, Healy also urged “all fishermen to read this report”.

IFPO chief executive Aodh O’Donnell said it was “important that this work is done, but the issue we would have is that it was compiled in very little time”.

“There was also no matching socio-economic impact analysis, and we are calling for this to be done,” O’Donnell said.

“A very high percentage of the areas where there is fishing for Dublin Bay prawns and mussel seed falls into the scope of what is being considered, so we need a proper study of the impact,” he said.

Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation (ISEFPO) chief executive John Lynch said that the report was “very comprehensive” and welcomed an approach which focused on species or sensitive structures and habits.

The report is “probably the closest thing Ireland has to a marine spatial plan”, Lynch said, and it highlighted that “the sea is a very busy place” and there is “still a job of work to do”.

Published in Marine Planning, Fishing
Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - FAQS

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are geographically defined maritime areas where human activities are managed to protect important natural or cultural resources. In addition to conserving marine species and habitats, MPAs can support maritime economic activity and reduce the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

MPAs can be found across a range of marine habitats, from the open ocean to coastal areas, intertidal zones, bays and estuaries. Marine protected areas are defined areas where human activities are managed to protect important natural or cultural resources.

The world's first MPA is said to have been the Fort Jefferson National Monument in Florida, North America, which covered 18,850 hectares of sea and 35 hectares of coastal land. This location was designated in 1935, but the main drive for MPAs came much later. The current global movement can be traced to the first World Congress on National Parks in 1962, and initiation in 1976 of a process to deliver exclusive rights to sovereign states over waters up to 200 nautical miles out then began to provide new focus

The Rio ‘Earth Summit’ on climate change in 1992 saw a global MPA area target of 10% by the 2010 deadline. When this was not met, an “Aichi target 11” was set requiring 10% coverage by 2020. There has been repeated efforts since then to tighten up MPA requirements.

Marae Moana is a multiple-use marine protected area created on July 13th 2017 by the government of the Cook islands in the south Pacific, north- east of New Zealand. The area extends across over 1.9 million square kilometres. However, In September 2019, Jacqueline Evans, a prominent marine biologist and Goldman environmental award winner who was openly critical of the government's plans for seabed mining, was replaced as director of the park by the Cook Islands prime minister’s office. The move attracted local media criticism, as Evans was responsible for developing the Marae Moana policy and the Marae Moana Act, She had worked on raising funding for the park, expanding policy and regulations and developing a plan that designates permitted areas for industrial activities.

Criteria for identifying and selecting MPAs depends on the overall objective or direction of the programme identified by the coastal state. For example, if the objective is to safeguard ecological habitats, the criteria will emphasise habitat diversity and the unique nature of the particular area.

Permanence of MPAs can vary internationally. Some are established under legislative action or under a different regulatory mechanism to exist permanently into the future. Others are intended to last only a few months or years.

Yes, Ireland has MPA cover in about 2.13 per cent of our waters. Although much of Ireland’s marine environment is regarded as in “generally good condition”, according to an expert group report for Government published in January 2021, it says that biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are of “wide concern due to increasing pressures such as overexploitation, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change”.

The Government has set a target of 30 per cent MPA coverage by 2030, and moves are already being made in that direction. However, environmentalists are dubious, pointing out that a previous target of ten per cent by 2020 was not met.

Conservation and sustainable management of the marine environment has been mandated by a number of international agreements and legal obligations, as an expert group report to government has pointed out. There are specific requirements for area-based protection in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the OSPAR Convention, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Yes, the Marine Strategy Framework directive (2008/56/EC) required member states to put measures in place to achieve or maintain good environmental status in their waters by 2020. Under the directive a coherent and representative network of MPAs had to be created by 2016.

Ireland was about halfway up the EU table in designating protected areas under existing habitats and bird directives in a comparison published by the European Commission in 2009. However, the Fair Seas campaign, an environmental coalition formed in 2022, points out that Ireland is “lagging behind “ even our closest neighbours, such as Scotland which has 37 per cent. The Fair Seas campaign wants at least 10 per cent of Irish waters to be designated as “fully protected” by 2025, and “at least” 30 per cent by 2030.

Nearly a quarter of Britain’s territorial waters are covered by MPAs, set up to protect vital ecosystems and species. However, a conservation NGO, Oceana, said that analysis of fishing vessel tracking data published in The Guardian in October 2020 found that more than 97% of British MPAs created to safeguard ocean habitats, are being dredged and bottom trawled. 

There’s the rub. Currently, there is no definition of an MPA in Irish law, and environment protections under the Wildlife Acts only apply to the foreshore.

Current protection in marine areas beyond 12 nautical miles is limited to measures taken under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives or the OSPAR Convention. This means that habitats and species that are not listed in the EU Directives, but which may be locally, nationally or internationally important, cannot currently be afforded the necessary protection

Yes. In late March 2022, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that the Government had begun developing “stand-alone legislation” to enable identification, designation and management of MPAs to meet Ireland’s national and international commitments.

Yes. Environmental groups are not happy, as they have pointed out that legislation on marine planning took precedence over legislation on MPAs, due to the push to develop offshore renewable energy.

No, but some activities may be banned or restricted. Extraction is the main activity affected as in oil and gas activities; mining; dumping; and bottom trawling

The Government’s expert group report noted that MPA designations are likely to have the greatest influence on the “capture fisheries, marine tourism and aquaculture sectors”. It said research suggests that the net impacts on fisheries could ultimately be either positive or negative and will depend on the type of fishery involved and a wide array of other factors.

The same report noted that marine tourism and recreation sector can substantially benefit from MPA designation. However, it said that the “magnitude of the benefits” will depend to a large extent on the location of the MPA sites within the network and the management measures put in place.

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