Fishing in MPAs

Mark Duffy
Principal Advisor, Marine Programme Team, Natural England


Under the auspices of Defra there is currently a large project underway seeking to make commercial fishing activities compliant with MPA conservation objectives within “English Waters”. Spatially this is out to 200nm or the median line with advice provided by Natural England and JNCC, and management put in place by the IFCAs, the Environment Agency, the MMO or the European Commission. Work initially focussed on SACs and SPAs but the project has been extended to include MCZs. Delivery is overseen by an Implementation Group made up of the above partners as well as representatives from both commercial fishing and the NGOs.

Due to the scale of the task, management has been introduced on a risk prioritised basis i.e., initially bringing in measures where either significant damage was being caused or had potential of occurring and there was supporting evidence for such. This prioritisation was informed by a Matrix of gear types versus sub-feature type coloured coded red / amber / green pending risk presented. This presentation will focus on an approach currently being explored to address some of the amber risks where the level of evidence may be imperfect. The approach has been termed “adaptive risk management” and here we will consider its application to fishing, but it has already been taken forward in the terrestrial environment e.g. in nutrient management plans for impacts on SACs. It is legal.

The uncertainties in evidence may include:

  • the relationship between fishing pressure and feature condition
  • knowledge of baseline conditions for some habitats
  • low certainty over the definition of favourable condition
  • vague conservation objectives

Adaptive management is an iterative and systematic approach for managing risk within the context of scientific uncertainty. Evidence from the monitoring of management outcomes, is fed into a structured process which reviews this information and responds, where appropriate, by adjusting the site management measures.

The intention is to avoid introducing overly precautionary measures yet still maintain sufficient protection for the interest features (and meet Article 6 obligations when for SACs /SPAs). The conditions should allow progress towards favourable condition but should be accompanied by an appropriately designed monitoring programme that can detect change and management measures reviewed in light of such changes. Adaptive risk management can only be utilised if particular conditions can be met up front.