Friday, September 17

UK to test “highly protected marine areas” for the benefit of ocean activists | Fishing industry

The UK government has announced plans to increase the protection of wildlife and habitats by banning fishing and other harmful activities at a handful of selected marine sites off the coast of England.

More than 97% of Britain’s marine protected areas (MPAs), designed to safeguard habitats and biodiversity, are being dredged and washed ashore, according to data published by The Guardian. Conservationists have long criticized them as ineffective “paper parks.”

The pilot plan of at least five highly protected marine areas (HPMA), announced by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was welcomed by the Wildlife Trusts as a “landmark” measure that would allow degraded underwater habitats to recover and set a new standard for marine protection.

Other groups and conservationists said that the proposal, while a step in the right direction, lacked a formal commitment and that the government was not acting fast enough to meet its own objectives of protect 30% of the oceans by 2030 or to mitigate the climate crisis.

The Blue Marine Foundation said the pilot runs the risk of bypassing the “currently dismal” system of AMP in the UK. Narrowly 40% of the country’s territorial waters are covered by MPAs.

The HPMAs pilot scheme was the government’s response to the Independent Benyon Review, published last year, on the case that special sites are introduced together with MPAs in England.

HPMAs are defined as “areas of the sea that allow the protection and recovery of marine ecosystems by prohibiting extractive, destructive and depository uses and allowing only non-harmful levels of other activities to the extent permitted by international law.” Selected sites would be chosen by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee with input from stakeholders. A formal consultation will take place next year.

Puffins on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, off the Devon coast
Puffins on Lundy Island, Bristol Channel, a marine protected area. The birds face competition for their staple food, sand eels, from commercial vessels, which catch them for use in animal feed. Photograph: Ben Birchall / PA

Charles Clover of the Blue Marine Foundation welcomed the pilot scheme, which he said would show the full potential for the recovery of our seas, provided the selected sites were large enough.

“However, they will be proposed next year, two years after Lord Benyon’s review, so this is not really very fast,” Clover said.

“There is also the danger that the creation of a few highly protected areas will distract from the application of the existing network, which is unfortunate, since most protected areas, including all those located offshore, allow methods of Harmful fishing such as trawling and fishing. dredging “.

Jean-Luc Solandt, MPA specialist at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “There is little commitment to it. To be ecologically significant, they must be offshore, they must be comprehensive. At scale, it would get carbon storage and secure animals on the seafloor and, over time, generate more fish. “

He urged the government to “go ahead with the measures and put money into execution.”

On Tuesday, World Oceans Day, Greenpeace UK launched Operation Ocean Witness, a six-month operation patrolling the shores of Britain. The group said its ship, the Sea Beaver, “will patrol UK protected areas off the south coast and do what the government has not done so far: protect UK marine protected areas from destructive fishing, a key Brexit promise delivered. ” broken.”

Conservation group Oceana revealed this week that Bottom trawlers spent 68,000 hours fishing in UK protected areas. that were created specifically to protect the seabed in 2020.

The short-nosed seahorse
An extremely rare short-nosed seahorse, discovered off the Devon coast. HPMAs could allow degraded habitats and marine life to recover. Photograph: Russ Shears / National Marine Aquarium

Professor Callum Roberts, a marine conservationist at the University of Exeter and a member of the Benyon review panel, said: “We need to move much faster. The UK is leading the way in protecting 30% of the oceans by 2030, but it is of little value unless the protection of these sites is high enough.

“The question is whether it will slow progress rather than speed it up. In the Benyon report we said that if the government wants to achieve its ambition to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity, it will have to opt for high protection of large areas ”.

Chris Thorne, an ocean activist for Greenpeace UK, said the plan was “a small step in the right direction” but that it would need to be expanded.

“Marine highly protected areas will be vital in transforming our existing broken network of marine protected areas, where all forms of destructive fishing are still allowed to take place. They can restore habitats, revive fish populations, bring struggling coastal communities to life and help us address the climate emergency. “

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