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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

A “vast majority” of respondents in a public consultation on marine protected areas (MPAs) support the Government’s plans for expanding the network, according to an independent review.

Some 93 per cent of respondents also support the inclusion of existing conservation sites into the national MPA network, the review for the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has found.

The Programme for Government aims to increase MPAs from around two per cent to 30 per cent of Irish waters by 2030, and most respondents felt the current level was insufficient.

Some 91% support the “key principles for the ongoing MPA process”, the department said.

It said respondents noted information and data gaps along with deficits in education around marine protection.

The need for “meaningful, early, and timely engagement with stakeholders, particularly the fishing industry, was considered critical to the MPA expansion process”, the department says.

“Respondents stated that the role of stakeholders and the general public was central to successful implementation and management of MPAs, and that coastal and island communities and businesses need to be supported throughout the establishment and implementation of any MPA,” it said.

“Respondents called for urgent action, based on evidence, along with increased research and resourcing, in order to protect our marine life and also the benefits to the economy and society that come from having a diverse and productive marine environment,” it said.

A total of 2,311 responses to the public consultation were received by the department, it says.

The highest percentage of responses to the consultation’s online survey portal came from the environmental sector, followed by education, health and fisheries, it said.

“ A very wide range of representative bodies, organisations and enterprises also made submissions to the consultation,”it noted.

It said it had begun developing “stand-alone legislation” to enable identification, designation and management of MPAs to meet Ireland’s national and international commitments.

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

MPAs are geographically defined maritime areas with certain protections for conservation purposes. In addition to conserving marine species and habitats, MPAs can support maritime economic activity and reduce the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

“Many valuable views and perspectives, covering all stakeholders and the public in general, have been highlighted through this public consultation,” Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said.

“The strong support for the MPA process, expressed through these submissions, is a positive indication that stakeholders and the wider public are keenly interested in having a clean, healthy, diverse and productive marine environment,” he said.

“I thank all of those who made a submission for their time, their insights and their substantive input. This is an urgent issue and my department is making strides in the protection of our maritime area,” he said.

Mr O'Brien noted that the Maritime Area Planning Bill, which he described as the “biggest reform of marine governance since the foundation of the State”, was enacted in December.

“We are also progressing the establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA) as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Environmentalists have been critical of the priority given to maritime area planning legislation, primarily for offshore renewable, in contrast to the timeline for legislation for MPAs.

The full report on Marine Protected Area (MPA) Public Consultation Submissions can be found here

Published in Marine Planning

#MarineWildlife - The Northern Ireland Environment Minister says the new Marine Bill put before Stormont marks a "turning point" for the North.

As 4NI reports, this week saw the fourth stage of the Marine Bill in the NI Assembly as well as the launch of a consultation strategy for Marine Protection Areas (MPAs).

Should it be enacted in legislation, the Marine Bill - strongly supported by the RSPB among others - would give the Assembly powers to select and manage Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to safeguard the North's marine biodiversity.

Minister Alex Attwood commented: "Northern Ireland’s seas are home to some of the world's most spectacular wildlife and habitats, and have the potential to power our nation through wind and wave and create thousands of new jobs.

"We have reached a turning point and must modernise in order to meet increasing and competing demands on our seas."

The Marine Bill also provides for the creation of a National Maritime Plan which covers all aspects of the marine environment from wildlife to investment in tidal and offshore wind power.

4NI has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife