Fiona Nicholls is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK. This is a sponsored post by Greenpeace UK.
You might be wondering what Marine Protected Areas mean for our fishers and coastal towns. Many of these communities are struggling, and have been for years. Catches are declining, jobs are disappearing, incomes are shrinking and communities are being gutted.
It would be right to ask whether banning various types of fishing in our Marine Protected Areas would just be another blow to our fishers and fishing communities, but once one looks into the science, it is clear that the answer is resoundingly no.
A robust, properly protected network of Marine Protected Areas would do quite the opposite – it would safeguard the health of our fishing communities, and our oceans, long into the future. It would boost catches for local fishers, in turn leading to bigger profits, providing a much-needed boost for our coastal towns.
The benefits of Marine Protected Areas for fishers and fish alike are well evidenced in the scientific literature.
When you protect large areas of ocean from high-intensity fishing operations, you provide fish stocks with space to recover and grow. This not only leads to increased quantities of fish within the protected areas, but it also leads to significant spillover benefits outside the protected area.
In fact, in places where effective Marine Protected Areas are there, fishers will deliberately fish along the borders of the protected area as they know these are the richest fishing grounds – a phenomenon known as “fishing the line”.
Additionally, as the female fish within the protected area grow older and larger, away from the pressure of industrial fishing, they will produce significantly more eggs which will boost the size of stocks both within and outside of the protected area.
So in fact, according to the science, Marine Protected Areas act as “reproduction factories”, not only protecting fish stocks, but boosting them both in and out of the protected area. This leads to larger catches, increased profits and more jobs. However, this only works if they are fully protected. Partial protection is no better than leaving areas fully open to exploitation, as demonstrated by this detailed study of Australian protected areas at sea.
If strongly protected Marine Protected Areas help fishing communities, instead of hindering them, you’d also be right to ask why some parts of the industry are so vehemently against them.
Well the answer is simple: profit.
The biggest companies in the industry don’t care about fishing communities, or the small scale fishers who make up the vast majority of British fishers and are the backbones of our coastal communities.
These companies, which operate large industrial boats, appear to care more about turning a profit around than safeguarding their industry in the long term.
This is particularly true when you consider supertrawlers operating in UK waters. These vast floating fish factories catch tens of thousands of tonnes of fish each year, and spend thousands of fishing hours operating inside areas that are supposed to be protected.
No supertrawlers are UK owned, and only one supertrawler occasionally lands its catch in the UK, despite all of them fishing frequently in our waters. They employ few, if any, local British fishers, and contribute next to nothing to the UK economy.
This Conservative government must see through the myopic complaints of small but vocal parts of the fishing industry. The Government should follow the science, and do what it needs to do to protect our fishers and their communities by properly protecting our Marine Protected Areas.
That means immediately banning supertrawlers and bottom trawlers from operating in the entire network. This will provide a vital boost to the UK’s fishing communities.
Doing nothing would be a death sentence for many of these communities. The Government keeps telling us that the UK is a world leader in marine conservation, and that wants to level up our coastal communities. Now is the time – and the opportunity – to put those words into action and get ocean protection done.