Statement from IFPO Chief Executive, Aodh O Donnell: Irelands Catching Sector and its representatives must take note of Irelands obligation to designate 30% of its waters as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030.  This obligation is due to be met sometime in early 2024.  As a result, EU member states will be required to designate a third of the MPAs as no-take zones for bottom trawling.

Our neighbours in the UK Government announced some new measures on February 1st to protect the UK’s waters. This included a byelaw that will see 13 new English Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) designated as areas safeguarded against bottom trawling. It consists of an additional 4,000 square km closed off from bottom trawling and will come into force on 22 March 2024. So, from now on, the UK is closing off 12% of the English seabed from bottom trawling and 38% of UK waters will be covered by MPAs.

A closer look at the UK measures shows that this action mainly shuts down EU fishing activity, and not their own. This includes an important fishing area of importance to some of the Irish fleet in the area known South of Celtic Deep.

The Fishing Sector and Marine Protected Areas

In the objective of underpinning biodiversity, the fishing and coastal communities that depend upon the sea must be involved centrally in the process of MPA Implementation. Fishers are more attuned to the sea than anyone else and are sensitive to the needs of nature and the implications of the climate crisis.

This sector is already facing a spatial squeeze from new marine users in the Phase 1 developer-led wind farms, some of which are to be located on prime traditional fishing grounds.

The history of consultation with the seafood sector is haphazard and industry is not sitting back. It is critical that member states choose sensible and meaningful design and location for the MPA s.

The Irish catching sector is fully committed to good ocean governance and maintaining healthy sustainable seas. Coastal communities are reliant on the long-term sustainability of fisheries. We are not opposed to Marine Protected Areas (MPA s). However, an effective consultation process is critical, as recommended in a MPA Advisory Group report (2020).

Joint Submission

The Irish Fishing and Aquaculture organisations made a joint submission to our Minister for Dept. of Housing, Local Government & Heritage industries in 2022. The consensus view was summarised as follows:

The MPA proposal is a welcome development and if implemented fairly, effectively and based on scientific evidence would no doubt be welcomed by the industry as it could help for example with the conservation of sensitive ecosystems and habitats including spawning and nursery grounds of many commercially important species.

However, there is need to acknowledge that Ireland’s marine area is also a part of a food production system and fisheries and aquaculture provide a vital source of protein for many people around the world. As stated in the draft EU Action Plan: Protecting and restoring marine ecosystems for sustainable and resilient fisheries, ‘Sustainably, managed and caught fish constitutes a high quality and affordable protein which has a relatively low carbon footprint, is essential to ensure food security and maintain the basis for economic activities and contributes to the protection of biodiversity and the fight against climate change’. Therefore, a balance is needed between existing fishing and aquaculture industry activities, MPA designation and other evolving marine sectors such as the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) industry. The only way to achieve this balance is through open engagement of all stakeholders as recommended in the 2020 MPA Advisory Group report.

The key message is that effective stakeholder participation and engagement rather than mere box ticking consultation is needed. This must be supported by a fit-for-purpose socio economic impact analysis to inform the MPA delineation