UK announces Highly Protected Marine Areas pilot project – Food Tank
The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) recently announced a plan to introduce five highly protected marine areas (ZHP) to help recover marine ecosystems.
A 2020 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations finds that 59.6 percent of fish stocks are “maximally fished in a sustainable manner.” Since 1990, fish consumption has increased by 122 percent, and the world’s appetite for fish continues to grow. Global capture fisheries production reached 96.4 million tonnes in 2018, the highest level on record.
“We need to strike a balance in supporting sustainable industries while increasing the protections of our seas to ensure a healthy, resilient and diverse marine ecosystem,” UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said in a statement.
A 2021 survey by DEFRA and the Ocean Conservation Trust found that 57% of people in England and Wales rated the health of the oceans as bad or very bad. Respondents believe that the biggest threats to the marine environment were plastic pollution, chemical pollution and overfishing. Seventy-eight percent of respondents say they have or are ready to change their lifestyle to protect the ocean.
HPMAs are defined marine areas protected from industrial fishing practices. These techniques include bottom trawling, which involves dragging a heavy net along the seabed, and any other activity requiring extraction, destruction or deposition. These practices can cause enormous damage to fragile marine ecosystems and capture non-target species such as corals, turtles, dolphins and seabirds.
HPMAs will complement the already existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which cover forty percent of UK waters. MPAs aim to help restore ecosystems while allowing the pursuit of sustainable fishing practices. But a survey conducted by Oceana in 2020 shows that bottom trawling and dredging occurs in 97% of UK MPAs. Oceana’s investigation also indicated that many MPA sites suffer from a lack of strong management that focuses on protecting a single habitat or species, allowing other damaging activities to dump. ‘take place.
In June 2020, former Environment and Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon released a study, commissioned by the UK Secretary of State, concluding that HPMAs are a critical part of conservation efforts. In response, the UK government announced its intention to bring the areas into UK waters.
The UK has since defined a site selection process that will assess the ecological, social and economic impacts of potential HPMA sites. A number of organizations will engage in the assessment of potential sites, including DEFRA; the Joint Committee for Nature Conservation; Natural England; the Center for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture; the Marine Management Organization; the Association of Coastal Fisheries and Conservation Authorities; and the Environment Agency.
But the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations (NFFO), which represents UK fishermen, has expressed concern about the HPMA’s selection process. NFFO stresses that the first step of the HPMA nomination process focuses exclusively on ecological criteria and does not consider socio-economic impacts until later.
Dale Rodmell, deputy managing director of NFFO, told Food Tank: “Deliberately ignoring human use issues in HPMA selection is a fool’s game. We need to extract protein from seafood in the most synergistic way that preserves fish stocks and ecosystems. If we ignore how this is best done in harmony with food production, it is to the detriment of the ecosystems we seek to protect. “
Proponents of HPMAs postulate that fishermen will benefit from HPMAs, as healthy fish stocks will flow into surrounding waters. But Rodmell told Food Tank: “There are often unintended consequences resulting from displaced fishing that can negate the effects of overflows. For example, when fishermen lose access to one area, they may be forced into another more remote and already heavily populated by fishermen. According to Rodmell, this can lead to increased competition between marine users and space conflicts.
Meanwhile, environmental groups are urging the UK government to act quickly and impose stricter protections more broadly. Chris Thorne, Ocean Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, considers HPMAs to be vital, but it is only a small step in the right direction until the sites are significantly expanded.
DEFRA plans to develop a list of potential sites by the end of 2021 and designate five sites in 2022.
Photo courtesy of Martin Sepion, Unsplash