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Marine Protected Areas, No Take Zones

Aug 03,2000 Leon Roskilly


It's the latest thing in fisheries management. All the NGOs are looking toward them as a panacea solution to the problems with our marine resources, and their wider agendas, and their bandwagon is rolling.

MPAs are coming, and quite soon.  If driven by nothing else other than EU requirements.

At a recent DEFRA organized workshop, talking to some representatives of NGOs, they were bemoaning the fact that there was little public appreciation, or indeed interest, from the general public about marine issues.

The sea looks the same, whatever goes on beneath. 

On land, a wooded area destroyed, and creatures suffering, makes a disturbing sight.

Beneath the sea, few see, and the sun sparkles on the waves as pleasantly as it always has.

But just a moment, Drew says 1.1 million households in England & Wales have at least one angling member.  Add in Scotland and Northern Island, and allow for multiple anglers per household, maybe we are talking about as many as 2 million.

1 or 2 million anglers, that's a pretty big slice of 'the public' who are knowledgeable about, and very interested in, what lies beneath the surface, and many of them passionately so.

And they talk about these things to their families and to their workmates.

It would be a grave error for the NGOs to alienate such a potential ally in trying to put right what is wrong down there.

As was discovered with Whitsand Bay in Cornwall where the proposal for a No Take Zone was eventually thrown out following fierce opposition from anglers who were threatened with exclusion. 

If someone had taken the trouble to work out who the stakeholders were, understood them, and positively and proactively engaged them, then I'm sure that a 'win win' proposal could have been evolved, with support from the majority of anglers, rather than the outright opposition to any form of MPA that sprang up once the proposal finally appeared on the radar of local anglers (a long way down the line).

The tragedy is, you only have one shot at getting an individual onside.  There is a lot of people who were involved in opposing those proposals who are now dead set against any form of MPA at all (though they do soften when you start to talk about bass nursery areas and the like, but it's hard work).

But we seem to be marching towards what has happened in the States.

There, instead of having that big section of the public on side from the beginning, when anglers realised what was happening, they came out of the woodwork and joined together (maybe this is the issue that will pull UK angling together!), and started to use their political power effectively, resulting in a number of 'Freedom to Fish' acts being pursued (adopted in Maryland, currently being progressed in New York state), but much worse for the future wellbeing of the marine environment, bogging the NGOs’ resources down in fighting, instead of co-operation with anglers, and having them branded as 'kelp-huggers' by a large proportion of the public, passionately interested in marine conservation, that could have been allies on their side, if they had been engaged early and with consideration.

If there is need to protect an area of the sea, then anglers could be persuaded of that.

But first there has to be clear objectives.

And only those activities that significantly detrimentally affect the likelihood of achieving those objectives restricted (and yes angling would need to be restricted or banned in some areas.  If there is a good reason for that, and well explained, then I don't see that there would be too much of a problem)

And the whole thing should be reviewed against the attainment of the objectives from time to time. 

But to impose restrictions on freedoms simply for dogma's sake, without any defensible reason…..

Or to restrict the activities of one stakeholder ‘to be fair’ to another……..

(Anglers feel that their sport has suffered because of the practices of commercial fishing that has removed too many fish, and eliminated most of the larger fish.  Any suggestion that they should now stop fishing when they haven't been responsible for the damage done, to 'be fair' to the commercials gets a well deserved raspberry.  If heath land was being torn up by four wheel drive vehicles which were then banned to protect the endangered heath land, would you think it right to ban hill walkers as well, in an effort to be seen to 'be fair' to 4WD drivers?)

To restrict activity on the grounds of dogma or political considerations dirties the whole water, stirs opposition, and makes impossible an effective network of areas, by driving up the costs, and making compliance and enforcement both ineffective and very expensive.

(Inland anglers are acknowledged to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the water, reporting problems to the authorities as soon as they occur. At sea anglers can keep watch, but not over areas from which they too are excluded)

But it seems to be the course upon which we are set!

It may be that some the early proposals for Marine Protected Areas will go through with little or no opposition from local anglers, or any great concern.

The real fun will start when larger, more popular angling areas are considered for similar treatment.

The sleeping giant may be slow to awake, but once it does there will be those of late wisdom who will wish that more had been done to get him onside before starting to tear down his patch.




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