ANALYSIS - The Government is currently considering proposals for a system of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) that will contribute to Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) around the UK's coastline.
The Government is proposing to designate around 10,900 km2 of marine habitat to MCZ's in the first phase next year. The 31 proposed sites provide a home to a variety of animals and plants, such as corals, jellyfish and seahorses.
Last week, the government consulted on the plans for MCZ's. Launching the consultation, Richard Benyon said: “The UK has one of the world’s richest marine environments, and we need to make sure it stays that way. This is why we are creating a network of marine protected areas.
“We have to get this right. Designating the right sites in the right places, so that our seas are sustainable, productive and healthy, and to ensure that the right balance is struck between conservation and industry.
In Scotland, a report released on the 3 December 2012 by Scottish Environment LINK identified that MPA's could provide a £10 billion boost for Scotland.
If designated, the MPA network would almost double the 12 per cent of Scotland’s seas currently protected, bringing the total area to more than 20 per cent.
MPA's would help to save Scotland's marine environment, much of which is now in a state of decline. The areas would also help to boost fish stocks through protection of breeding grounds.
Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said: “Accounting for 13 per cent of Europe’s seas and 61 per cent of UK waters, Scotland’s seas include many diverse habitats, with rare and beautiful species that it is our responsibility to protect. That’s why the Marine Act included ambitious commitments to safeguards our seas."
Calum Duncan, Marine Conservation Society, stated that "for the benefits to flow, marine protected areas must be well-managed and must properly protect ecosystem function. They must not become 'paper parks'. Once these figures sink in to policy circles, there is only one way forward. A network of well-managed marine protected areas is a vital part of the way we expect our seas to be managed."
With a series of MPA's, some fishing activities may be affected. Seafish stated that: "Fishing activities which do not have a significant impact on wildlife will be unaffected, some fishing activities might need to be restricted in certain areas, but if so, it may be possible to find wildlife-friendly ways to keep working."
Seafish has supported the concept of MPA's but believes they need to have more clear and measurable objectives, as MPAs designed for fisheries management may be quite different to those designed to protect marine biodiversity.
Unlike similar plans in Australia, which caused an outcry from fishermen affected by marine protection plans, there has so far been a positive response from the Scottish fishing industry to the proposal.
Bertie Armstrong, Chief Executive of Scottish Fisherman’s Federation, said: “The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation looks forward to studying the report on Marine Protected Areas and to continuing its practical, positive input, having been closely involved in the development of this element of marine spatial planning since its inception.
“We have long recognised the protection requirements of the environment that we work in every day. We have insisted from the start that scientific evidence and commonsense be used in determining the size and number of protected areas and what, if any, practical measures are required in each individual case.
“It is absolutely essential that science guides the process, which must serve the requirements of the marine environment and of sustainable harvesting of seafood. If MPAs in Scottish waters are properly organised, the objectives should actively support each other. We are committed to that.”
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