1. Create an “ecologically coherent” network of significantly large marine reserves for all species inhabiting our seas. Many marine species move around day by day, season by season or year by year, for food, to reproduce, and for other reasons. Therefore it’s not enough to protect only one area when they might spend much of their lives elsewhere. A network of marine reserves that is ecologically coherent is one that considers the entire marine environment – not just isolated pockets – as well as the species (including all their life stages) and habitats most needing needing protection. This ensures that they are protected wherever and whenever they are at their most vulnerable. Developing this requires considerable research 4 and complex mapping to identify where our species live, when they are there, how they behave, and what threatens them. Currently, only 0.001% of UK seas are no-take zones and only 4% has some kind of designation. 5 Not only that, the current set of designations are not ecologically coherent, protecting only specific species or habitats in isolation. The huge risk that that, without proper ecological coherence, our marine protected areas will be nothing more than ‘paper parks’.

2. Make 30% of our seas off-limits to commercial fishing and other damaging activities. Why 30%? 144 scientific studies 6 modelling how much ocean needs protecting to achieve conservation goals, such as conserving biodiversity, avoiding collapse of populations, and providing value to fisheries, was reviewed. More than half of the studies calculated that at least 30% of waters need protecting to achieve such conservation goals. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has also adopted this target by 2030 after 129 member states voted for it 7 . This is the minimum amount of protection we should be seeking to ensure we can continue to fish and use the sea sustainably, and this 30% needs to be ecologically coherent. Trawling takes huge numbers of species out of the water and bottom-fishing, such as dredging and bottom-trawling, damages large areas of seabed, which can take up to 6 years to recover from a single pass. 8 Marine protected areas need to be more than lines on a map, they need real management that restricts activity to maintain habitats. * Currently there are only three no-take-zones in the UK which receive complete protection from destructive fishing activities. These are Lundy (4 Km 2 ), Lamlash (2.6 Km 2 ) and Flamborough Head (1 Km 2 ). The entire British exclusive economic zone (EEZ) i s 756,639 km 2 , which means that only 0.001% of the EEZ is fully protected.

3. Ensure greater transparency and accountability into the way we fish including mandatory on-board cameras to monitor what boats catch. At present the UK fishing fleet and fish processing industry are monitored by Seafish. 9 The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is required to collect data relating to fishing effort and quotas . Inshore fisheries, which are not under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, are monitored by the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCA) who have the power to set local bye-laws. Monitoring fishing activity serves two purposes. First, it enables collection of valuable data that informs fisheries scientists and marine ecologists about the health of identifiable areas of the sea. Second, the fishing industry is subject to many regulations that stipulate what can be caught, how much and where, and what can be thrown back. To enforce these rules, authorities need evidence that will hold up in court. The gaps in the current system relate to the activity of fishers at sea. Modern technology can hugely improve monitoring of fishing at sea. A vessel monitoring system (VMS) is a ‘black box’ that records the location of a fishing vessel and the speed it is travelling. This gives evidence of potential fishing activity in closed or restricted areas. To give more weight to this circumstantial evidence, images of fishing gear being used that are time-stamped provide definite evidence of illegal fishing that will hold up in court. This is a low-cost way of enforcing fishing regulations at sea.

4. Reform the system by which the total allowable catches for each stock are set each year, to make sure that they are based on the best and most recent available science, prioritising evidence over politics for the good of stocks and the fishing industry. Every year, in December, fisheries ministers across Europe have to agree on total allowable catches (TACs) for commercial fish stocks, which fix the level of fish quotas that can be caught by EU member states for the following 12 months (and for shared stocks with non-EU countries, e.g. Norway) . Scientific bodies, predominantly the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), provide information about the state of most stocks and recommend maximum catch levels. However, for many years, this scientific advice has been mostly disregarded. Historical analysis of agreed TACs for all EU waters between 2001 and 2017 shows that, on average, seven out of every 10 TACs were set above scientific advice. 10 The fact that the negotiations over TACs are held behind closed doors doesn’t help either, and it means that ministers are off the hook when they ignore scientific advice and give priority to short-term interests that risk the health of fish stocks. Sadly, The UK and Ireland come top on the list as worst offenders in terms of the total tonnage of TACs set above advice 10 . In the December 2017 negotiations, of the 124 TAC decisions made, 57 were set above advice, amounting to over 206,000 tonnes of excess TAC, continuing the trend of permitting overfishing in EU waters. If the fishing industry was properly managed, following scientific advice, damaged fish stocks could rebuild, and we could enjoy their full potential within a generation, providing food for an additional 89 million EU citizens and an extra €1.6 billion in annual revenue. 10

5. Just as land managers can be rewarded for farming in a way that benefits wildlife, review and reinforce the MCS to ensure grants to fisheries only encourage exploitation of marine resources in a sustainable way. The Marine Stewardship Council has, for twenty years, practiced a certification of sustainably fished products. The MSC Fisheries Standard allows a blue label accreditation on products which fulfil the criteria of being fished from sustainable stocks with minimal environmental impact, and good fisheries management. The MSC Chain of Custody Standard applies to the processing of fish, and requires assurance that fish with the Fisheries Standard blue label must be traceable and identifiable, and separated from fish without the label. The ASC-MSC Seaweed Standard accredits sustainably harvested seaweed. These standards empower consumers to make sustainable choices in their seafood purchasing. Grants for the fishing industry, currently come from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund . To be eligible for these grants, a UK project must meet the following eligibility requirements :

  • make the fisheries and aquaculture sectors more sustainable
  • conservation of the marine environment
  • support growth and jobs in coastal communities

In the event of a Brexit deal which removes access to this fund from the EU, it is imperative that the UK government replaces it with a grant scheme that likewise encourages  sustainability. Any new scheme would have the freedom to go much further in promoting research and practice that will improve fishing sustainability. The recently closed consultation on the UK government fisheries white paper includes a range of proposals around improving the sustainability of the UK fishing industry.

6. Severely limit destructive fishing practices such as scallop-dredging and bottom-trawling. Dredging and bottom-trawling are fishing techniques which catch bottom-dwelling fish such as flatfish and cod, and shellfish such as scallops and oysters. A dredge net is dragged along the seabed, scouring it with metal teeth, to dislodge the shellfish and catch them in the net. Bottom trawl nets vary, some having a metal or wooden frame to hold the net open, others having panels at the sides of the mouth and a weighted rope in contact with the seabed. The amount of damage they cause therefore depends on the design of the fishing gear, but all bottom gear is in contact with the seabed and will scour it and struggle with by-catch. 11 Recovery of the seabed varies, ranging from a few hours in turbulent sandy sediment, 12 to decades in the deep sea. 13 , 14 , 15 The techniques disturb seabed habitats, expose bottom dwelling animals (making them more vulnerable to predation), and release trapped chemicals 16 from the sediment into the water. As well as incorporating selective panels or release nets to reduce by-catch, bottom-trawls and dredge-nets should not be used on areas of the seabed where there are vulnerable or protected species or habitats, and any use should be proportional to the recovery time of the seabed. Some areas are already closed to bottom trawling to protect soft corals, for example. But, as things currently stand, there is a negligible amount of UK seabed which is not vulnerable to this damaging fishing practice.

7. Ban the production and use of plastics that cannot be recycled, in order to reduce the flow of plastic pollution into our marine environment. Plastics are already the commonest marine pollutants, 17 found floating on the ocean surface, littering the seafloor , and strewn along beaches – yet plastics production is increasing. There are two main sources. First, there are large items such as bottles, drinking straws and bags. In the UK alone, we throw away 38.5 million plastic bottles (about half are recycled), 18 nearly 7 million disposable coffee cups, 19 and 23 million plastic straws every day .20 Second, there are so-called microplastics – ranging from microscopic particles to bits the size of a sesame seed – are formed when larger items break down, or they are manufactured as ‘microbeads’ for use in everything from toothpaste and make-up to detergents and cleaners. Together, they find their way into the ocean through coastal and marine littering, wastewater discharge (improper disposal of plastics down the toilet and microplastics from washing clothes, for example), lost fishing gear, shipping or riverine accidents, and active dumping at sea in countries where municipal waste collection isn’t available. Once in the marine environment, larger items are frequently mistaken for food and eaten, causing turtles, seabirds and many other animals to choke or, ultimately, starve. Microplastics are known to affect reproductive success and growth rates, and are likely to impact other biological functions. Another concern is that chemical toxins attach to microplastic particles and enter the food chain when they are ingested. The ocean is an open system, so the effects of plastic pollution can be felt very far from the source. The UK Government’s 25 year Environmental Plan commits the UK to zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and aims to prevent all kinds of marine plastic pollution, through measures at production, consumption and end of life. 21 There are numerous initiatives to reduce our plastic consumption, such as the 5p bag charge which has seen single use plastic bag use reduce by 83% 21 , and the Surfers Against Sewage plastic-free accreditation . Evidence of efficacy of such initiatives in reducing marine plastics is still lacking. 22 Regulating the use of virgin materials to encourage recyclable plastics would address both plastic production and end of life, reducing the amount of non-recyclable waste and improving recovery rates. 23 Scientists believe this requires global agreement, which might look similar to the Montreal Protocol which led to the reduction of ozone depleting air pollutants and considerable carbon dioxide reduction.

8. Set up an equivalent of the Farmland Bird Index to track the populations of significant species of marine mammals, birds and fish so that we can take conservation action before it is too late. The UK Farmland Bird Indicator was set up in 1999 in response to the decline in farmland birds, and is concerned with 19 key indicator species which are dependent upon farmland. It is calculated through data collected by the Common Bird Census and the Breeding Bird Survey, which are long-standing citizen science projects, with volunteers collecting data in a consistent way year on year. There is a global network of bird censuses which are aggregated to produce the Wild Bird Index . Within the coastal and marine environment, there are a large number of research, voluntary and citizen science census and recording projects. Some examples include the Cornish Seal Survey , cetacean recording charities such as Sea Watch Foundation , ORCA and MARINElife , shark tagging schemes, the national citizen science project examining rocky shore biodiversity called Capturing Our Coast , the Continuous Plankton Recorder , the underwater recording project Seasearch , and many others targeted on certain species or locations. Data is often collated through apps such as iRecord , coordinated by the National Biodiversity Network . Unlike land birds, which tend to return to the same areas to nest and can be counted by anyone trained in bird identification, marine species are much more difficult to monitor. Often it is only the most charismatic species that encourage volunteers to give up their time to recording. Therefore, the disparate nature of recording projects and opportunities makes it difficult to assess population change. A nationally funded and coordinated approach, using modern technology and big data techniques, would enable more consistent data collection, submission, and analysis.

9. Appoint a high profile marine environment ambassador, a ‘Sea Tzar’, to celebrate our marine wildlife and raise awareness of the issues that threaten it.

10. Set up a significant fund to allow children, especially those from disadvantaged or urban backgrounds, to see some of our spectacular marine wildlife for themselves. Research from Keep Britain Tidy 24 found that one third of children have never been on holiday to the British coast, and one in five have never set foot on a British beach. 36% of children under 15 have never rockpooled. Anecdotal evidence 25 from marine projects around the UK coast suggests that - even among children who live in coastal communities - some never visit the sea, often due to lack of accessibility and transport cost. Schools take children on fewer field trips than in the past. 26 Yet research shows that that visiting the marine environment is good for human wellbeing and encourages a keen awareness of the marine environment. 27 , 28 People who are strongly attached to a place are more likely to care about it , and this passion is sparked in childhood . Therefore, this is an important time to provide experience of the marine and coastal environment. A fund for schoolchildren to enjoy and learn about the sea - together with advice on good spots to visit - would break down the barriers caused by distance, deprivation or inaccessibility. It would enable a whole generation to develop an attachment to the sea and grow up to be more responsible towards the marine environment.


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