Thursday, 8 September 2011

Two cheers for the Marine Conservation Zones

So today has seen the publication of proposals for the Marine Conservation Zones that will be listed under the 2009 Marine and Coastal Access Act.

It's an important day for Britain's seas and for maritime management overall. It holds out the hope that Britain's authorities, along with other European governments, will at last begin to take the marine environment seriously.

They're not really designed to protect fish stocks per se. In fact, its the special or unique nature of the environment and the species within it that are the real criteria for selection. You can play with a map of the proposals here.

But the protection of precious fish stocks might well be one of the positive spin-offs, because trawling and other harmful industrial activities will be prohibited. There'll be somewhere for fish to hide. Implementation of the Act also develops an overall planning framework for the seabeds - something that's never been there before. As well as setting a Marine Management Organisation to look after that process.

Even so, the MCZs are fragmentary, small in scale and scattered - as well as applying only to English waters (with some offshoots). And only 20 of the proposed 127 sites are at present slated for 'full protection', along with academic studies to judge their effectiveness. Northern Ireland's legislation has been delayed, and Scotland's is a matter of some controversy as Westminster and Stormont tangle over their respective powers. Deep doubts have always lingered about governments' willingness and ability to enforce the MCZs.

The Coalition also seems to be deeply uncertain about implementing the all-England and Wales coastal footpath that was also (an entirely welcome and positive) part of the Act, but that's another story.

The Marine Conservation Zones represent a good and positive (though overdue) start.

But while world fish consumption keeps going up and up - due to dietary changes in the developed world, as well as an increasing global population overall - that's all they are.

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