Wednesday 20 February 2013

Protect for prosperity – protecting marine ecosystems DOES make economic sense.

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.

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?

Friday 15 February 2013

Hugh’s Fish Fight

It was really good to see the first in the series of Hugh’s Fish Fight last night.  The Wildlife Trusts have been campaigning for years to improve the protection of our marine environment and it is really good to see someone bring this more into the public arena.

The statistics are stark:  We probably have less than one twentieth of the fish in the sea than we might expect in a natural situation.  If you compare the catch landed in the year 1900 with the catch landed in the year 2000 (with the massive increase in technology and fishing effort), less than 10% of the 1900 figure was landed in 2000.  The odds are that if we had managed the sea sustainably we would now be harvesting vastly more fish than we are now.  

This is not a case of conservationists causing the collapse of an industry.  This is a case of an industry, through bad practice, bad management and (especially) bad regulation, killing itself.  Indeed it is the action of conservationists that is the one thing that might save the industry in the long term.

The Marine Act was a success.  The proposal for 127 Marine Conservation Zones, whilst extremely limited, was a success.  The number of actual MCZs going forward to consultation (31) is a scandal!  The reticence is due to some skewed view of economics where the environment is always perceived as a cost and any exploitative activity is seen as income.  Here we have a very clear example of where an unsustainable industry has damaged itself, and yet people still seem to see the conservation of the resource it relies on as a cost!  MCZs will mean more fish in the sea, not less, and could be one of the ways of saving the industry, not damaging it.

So, please take a look at the wildlife Trusts web site and see our film and look at Hugh’s web site for how you can support the campaign for better protection of our seas.