Unprotected marine protected areas

| October 27, 2009

Legislation to designate marine reserves around the coast of Britain is likely to contain a loophole that will allow fishermen to damage the fragile areas of seabed without fear of fines.

Conservationists are warning that the Marine & Coastal Access Bill, which has its final reading in the House of Commons on Monday, contains a clause that makes a mockery of calling the areas “protected” and that barring last-minute intervention, those caught harming protected areas will be able to escape punishment by simply stating that they were “sea fishing”.

Fishermen have defended the loophole, saying that it is necessary to protect them from being prosecuted for causing accidental damage under European environmental law.

The conservation zones will protect nationally important habitats, geology and geomorphology alongside marine wildlife.

On average, protected areas result in a 21 per cent increase in biodiversity and a 466 per cent increase in biomass. In small areas the main benefits are seen among lobsters, crabs and shellfish, whose larvae seed wider areas outside the reserve.

“Protecting habitats has got to do fish stocks good in the end,” said Dave Murphy, a trawler captain for Interfish until he became Finding Sanctuary’s outreach officer two years ago. “I’ve had the opportunity to make my life fishing. I’d like my two boys to have the same chance.”

Fishermen are not the only ones reluctant to reveal where their interests lie. Wind farm developers invest heavily in finding suitable locations. But with £120 billion of investment going into the next round of wind farm developments, their wishes carry a weight that the £700 million fishing industry does not.

Much of the Marine & Coastal Access Bill is being hailed as the world’s most progressive marine legislation. But as Melissa Moore, a policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “What is the point of having marine conservation zones to protect fragile species if there is no barrier to damage caused by fishing?”

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