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Saving the Seabed May Not Cost the Earth After All

2nd September 2013
Saving the Seabed May Not Cost the Earth After All

#seabed – A British government decision to slash 75 per cent of a proposed network of marine conservation zones (MCZs) intended to save seabeds and estuaries in England from being damaged by commercial and recreational activities, has been criticised by professional fishery managers.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is proposing to go ahead with only up to 31 of 127 zones recommended by its advisors. It says it would be too expensive to set up more.

Responding to the watered-down proposals, the Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) said it was "extremely disappointed" no more zones would be designated in the near future. Instead it called for "a clear timetable" for more, especially close inshore and for early discussions on how to manage and enforce them.

One zone the institute wants brought forward is in the Thames estuary which it says is one of the best studied estuaries in the UK, containing a wealth of well documented features fully meeting the MCZ criteria.

The estuary had long been a showcase for sustainable development. Most of the development challenges cited for delaying it were already being dealt with in a fully sustainable manner.

Another is the Alde-Ore estuary near Felixstowe, Suffolk. This contains a recruiting population of smelt (Osmerus eperlanus) a recognised MCZ flagship species. New evidence suggests a spawning run by these into the freshwater reaches of the estuary.

The institute agreed with the fisheries minister Richard Benyon that enforcing remote offshore zones could be costly, particularly if fishermen from other countries fished there.

Inshore, however, the use of sound and accessible science in selecting zones would engender strong commitment to self-enforcement among local sea users. Policing costs, including intelligence gathering, could then be "very low indeed."

There were already very good examples of self-enforcement in shell fisheries. In estuaries on the Thames and in Devon trawling restrictions had been maintained in an inclusive and coherent manner, at low cost.

Because Defra had not said how the zones would be managed and enforced the marine industry had, in some cases, provided "its own worst case scenarios," of the costs.

"This is an understandable reaction," according to Steve Colclough, chairman of the institute's marine section, "but it tends to militate against further designation [of more zones] in the near future."

Because of the uncertainty over management, some anglers felt that if estuaries became conservation zones they would be excluded from fishing in them. This was a factor in a number of cases and reassurances about a balanced approach carried little weight.

The institute was also disappointed the proposals did not refer to the socio-economic benefits of conservation zones. Around the world there was evidence they brought significant long-term benefits to fisheries, tourism and recreation. There had been early benefits to fishermen in recent examples of marine protection in England such as in Lyme Bay and Port Erin Bay on the Isle of Man.

Mr. Colclough said the institute was concerned about the balance of evidence and inconsistencies in some zone decisions. The rationale that estuaries, mudflats and salt marshes were some of the most productive aquatic ecosystems, was built into the reasoning for selecting some zones but not others.

The importance of conservation species such as the smelt had only been used in some decisions. For example, the Medway estuary was put forward for designation now, but data presented on the presence of a self-supporting population of smelt was not in the proposal. The institute said it was frustrating to be unable to see clearly where and how high quality information which it had provided had been used in making decisions.

"Such action tends to reduce the commitment and engagement so vital for success of these projects... We were promised [the MCZ process] would be transparent and fair, based on good science... Unfortunately we and others have noted specific data errors" which damaged the credibility of the whole process.

"These may seem small issues, but not to users who already feel threatened by the whole process. Understandable fear of the unknown quickly becomes antagonism."

As a professional body promoting more sustainable fisheries management, the Institute of Fisheries Management has a wealth of relevant experience, Mr. Colclough added, and said he looked forward to positive future engagement with Defra and others.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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