, 20 February 2013

Author Tony Whitbread

Marine nature conservation and the fishing industry are not opposites, indeed the first is essential in order to have the second. This is a message I’ve promoted in previous blogs and indeed evidence from around the world shows that if some areas are set aside from exploitation then the overall amount of fish available increases.

cuckoo wrasse / Robert Goldsmith cuckoo wrasse / Robert Goldsmith

But the importance of the marine environment does not stop at fish and chips. Far more of the earth is covered by sea than is covered by land. The marine environment is the great natural engine that drives the biological, chemical and physical cycles of the planet. More than half the oxygen we breathe comes from algae in the sea. The sea determines our weather – especially in Britain. Everything we put on the land ends up in the sea so the ability of the sea to recycle minerals and ameliorate pollutants is central to our existence. The sea buffers the heat from the sun, makes clouds and delivers rain. Planet earth should not be called planet earth, it should be called planet water!

It is a scandal that, in the process of developing Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), these benefits have been virtually ignored. Nature conservation in the sea has been assumed to be a “cost” measured only by an imagined reduction of income for the fishing industry.

To showcase the potential benefits from the proposed network of MCZs in English and offshore Welsh waters, The Wildlife Trusts commissioned a report from Plymouth University. This concluded that:

  • MCZs can increase the socio-economic benefits of the marine environment. Designation should improve beneficial ecosystem services.
  • The more connected the network, the more we benefit. The more MCZs there are, the bigger they are and the more joined up they are the better it is for society and the economy.
  • Doing nothing means we lose economically as well as environmentally. Failure to designate the network of MCZs is likely to result in the deterioration of the beneficial ecosystem services. In other words if we sit on our hands and do nothing, even the current degraded level of economic benefit that we get from the marine environment will not be sustained.

Experience across the world shows that Marine Protected Areas provide economic and social benefits that far outweigh the costs of designation and management. Yet Defra’s impact assessment failed to mention any monetary benefits that would arise from the designation of individual sites or for the network as a whole.

Finally, congratulations to Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Fish Fight. Hugh, in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society, the London Aquarium and British Sub-Aqua Club is leading a march to defend MCZs to defend MCZs in London on 25th February. Why not join in?

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