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Marine-Life Protection Zones need to be speeded up

21 June 2014

MPs have cast doubt on the Government’s commitment to protect sea life in Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) after less than a quarter of the recommended sites were designated and inadequate enforcement provisions put in place.

Committee Chair

Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said:

"Marine Conservation Zones can protect our seas from over-fishing and give species and habitats space to recover, ultimately benefiting people whose livelihoods depend on healthy seas. But the Government has been too slow in creating these Zones, and it has failed to get coastal communities and fishermen on board.

It is now well over four years since the launch of the programme, yet only 27 of the 127 sites recommended by independent project groups have been designated. The Government must stop trying to water down its pledge to protect our seas and move much more quickly to establish further protection zones and ensure they can be enforced."

Funding for managing the MCZs

Budget reductions at DEFRA mean the Government is currently unable to demonstrate that the Marine Management Organisation - the public body charged with managing the zones - will have the resources needed to manage and enforce the MCZs. The Environmental Audit Committee says the Government must set out a strategy for the management of the 27 MCZs and management plans for individual Zones to demonstrate that they can be enforced.

Gathering the evidence

The MPs are calling on the Government to bring forward the MCZ programme, so that more Zones are designated in the next phase, due in 2015. Ministers should follow a precautionary principle approach to designating new Zones, according to the Committee, and use the ‘best available’ data rather than applying the more stringent evidence standards recently introduced by the Government – which require data that is much harder and more expensive to obtain.

Joan Walley concluded:

"When a rare species or bio-diverse stretch of seabed is destroyed, it may be lost for ever. The Government must therefore act on the best available evidence and base its decisions on new MCZs on the precautionary principle, rather than demanding unobtainable evidence.

It is not acceptable that the Marine Management Organisation will have management and control plans in place for existing MCZs only in 2016 — over two years after they were designated. The failure to move more quickly and decisively raises questions about whether the Government and its agencies are really committed to Marine Conservation Zones. The Government needs to show that a falling MMO budget will not jeopardise this essential programme."

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