Proposed plans to protect vulnerable marine areas off the coast of Kent fall short and would set a bad precedent for the waters around the UK.
The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is proposing measures to protect Margate and Longsands Special Area of Conservation from potentially damaging fishing. The site was designated for protection due to sandbank habitat – this provides important feeding habitat for seabirds and also nursery grounds for many fish species.
This proposal is part of the UK Government’s “Revised Approach” to fisheries management in English marine protected sites. It has committed to bring these sites in line with EU law by the end of 2016 – assessing the impacts of fishing activities on the habitats and species in protected areas and implementing management measures where needed.
ClientEarth lawyer Alice Puritz said: “The Margate and Longsands proposals do not go far enough – they don’t protect sensitive habitats from bottom-towed fishing and it’s not clear they respect the law. Continual disturbance of the seabed from these activities will create biodiversity deserts dominated by a small number of organisms that can withstand such conditions.
“This has a negative impact on the creatures that depend on healthy, diverse ecosystems for their survival – like fish, seals and seabirds. Diverse ecosystems are good for nature as well as the fishing industry.”
This case is particularly important because it could set a precedent for future UK decisions about fisheries management measures in those protected sites which have mainly sandbank habitats.
The proposal takes a zoned approach to managing fishing in the site, closing off only two small areas to bottom-towed fishing, while two large areas of sensitive habitat remain exposed.
The inadequacy of this proposal is brought into sharp relief by inconsistencies in Natural England’s (NE) conservation advice in relation to the site. NE has said that areas of certain habitat types in the inshore area of the site should be protected, while in the offshore area the advice is that the very same habitat type does not need to be protected. It is difficult to understand the logic behind this approach. A zoned approach to management is also harder to monitor and enforce.
ClientEarth analysis shows the entire site should be closed to bottom-towed fishing. This is the only way to comply with EU law protecting delicate ecosystems. At the very least, the closures should be extended to include all sensitive habitat types.