Bernard the Gurnard and his Petition Fish gathered almost 250,000 signatures for marine conservation. It was a bitter blow to learn that the government had ducked its duty and chosen not to protect the full suite of Marine Conservation Zones MCZs.
The Wildlife Trusts summed this up perfectly:
The 127 recommended Marine Conservation Zones were chosen after two years of hard work by more than one million stakeholders from all sectors of the marine environment and at a cost of over £8.8 million to Government.
The Wildlife Trusts are bitterly disappointed by the lack of ambition shown in this consultation. Defra proposes to designate only 31 of the 127 sites recommended by experts and stakeholders at the end of August next year.
Opponents included the marine aggregates industry and MPA Fishing coalition:
“There is already a high level public campaign by green groups as the consultation moves forward, and this is expected to be bolstered by a focus on MPAs in the next instalment of the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Fish Fight series. Against that, we must come forward with credible, factual and site specific arguments on the potential hardship to fishing communities and unintended consequences of poorly selected proposals.”
Minister Richard Benyon’s defended the 31 sites selected using a classic politician’s fudge:
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
UK waters are extremely rich in wildlife yet have a very low level of protection. We are lagging behind many countries that are showing how important the seas are for people’s livlihoods and local economies.
Australia has created the world’s largest network of marine reserves.
I will be joining colleagues in London on Tuesday January 22nd when the Wildlife Trusts will press MPs to get the MCZ show back on the road. Coastal Wildlife Trusts have invested heavily in Living Seas. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildife Trust has taken to YouTube to get its message across.
Noticeably two voices are missing from the debate.
Local artisan fishing communities, for which sustainable catch from inshore sites are critical, have much to gain from well defined and protected areas. Their voice is drowned out by the large scale ‘strip mining’ bottom dredging fishery operations that have most to lose from MCZs and are the most vocally opposed.
Natural England also appears to have been muzzled on this issue too.
Marine conservation like nature conservation on land is now dependent on NGOs to hold politicians to account.
I will be writing more on this over the coming months.