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SFF Supports Marine Protected Areas but Only when Science Supports

22 February 2013

SCOTLAND, UK - The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) is underlining its support for the concept of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) but says their designation must be made in a fair and coherent manner that is underpinned by strong scientific evidence.

With the latest series of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Fish Fight’ TV campaign on Channel 4 focusing on MPAs, the SFF is warning that the decision-making on the designation of protected areas at sea must be made with great care and with the full consultation of all marine stakeholders, especially those with the most experience of the marine environment – the fishermen.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, says: “Plausible-sounding suggestions based more on emotion than fact might make good TV, but actual plans for MPAs must be backed by sensible verification otherwise they might do more harm than good to both the marine ecosystem and sustainable harvesting of food from the sea. For example, the introduction of an MPA in one area without proper consideration of the overall impacts might lead to increased fishing pressure in another area because of displaced effort.”

The SFF is keen to highlight that in the course of a year it is estimated that only about 25 per cent of the sea areas around Scotland comprising prime fishing grounds are actually fished. It is, however, important that access to these key fishing areas is maintained so as to continue the sustainable harvesting of an important food resource. Scottish fishermen have also pioneered the use in recent years of temporary real-time area closures to protect spawning grounds and juvenile fish so as to take into account the dynamic nature of our marine environment.

“The protection of the marine environment lies close to the hearts of Scottish fishermen because a healthy ecosystem leads to productive seas,” says Mr Armstrong. “It is also entirely possible to meet the intertwined aims of marine protection and sustainable food production by dealing in fact rather than emotion.

“We were, for example, fully involved in the consultation in the recent past for the designation of new Special Areas of Conservation such as on the north-west Rockall Bank. It is essential that such co-operation and consultation continues into the future so as to minimise any impact on the traditional and sustainable activities of the fishing industry, whilst at the same time ensuring the protection of our valuable marine environment. It is equally important that sensationalist media campaigns do not influence the way that MPAs are designated.”

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