Posted: Sunday 4th May 2014 by Joan
Undersea habitats, South Devon (photo: Paul Naylor)
A guest blog by Tim Robbins, Chief Officer, Devon and Severn IFCA
Since the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 brought the ten new Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) into being, there have been some huge changes in the management of the coastal waters around England. In this guest blog Tim Robbins of the Devon & Severn IFCA explains their role and how they are working with Wildlife Trusts on protection of the marine habitats and species.
With the change of approach by Defra to the management of European Marine Sites (EMS - sites at sea designated for their conservation value under European law) in late 2012 and the announcement by the Minister of the new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ) in November 2013, protection of the marine environment has never been so prominent. The IFCA districts cover 28,607km2 of the coastal waters around England out to 6 nautical miles and into the tidal limits of estuaries. There are 83 EMS and 22 MCZ within IFCA districts.
In the past eighteen months the IFCAs have been working hard to deliver the management options for the most damaging fishing activities identified through a nationally agreed matrix of sensitivity for the EMS. These 'red risk' activities were given priority and a commitment was given by the IFCAs to have byelaws in place by December 2013 to prevent further damage to the sites identified as the most vulnerable. In total the IFCAs introduced 13 new byelaws which closed 5680 km2 to towed gear fishing inside six miles of the coast.
Using this matrix, the work of the IFCAs has now shifted to assessment of the 'amber risks' to the features of the sites. This equates to 13,600 fishing gear interactions with features that will need to have a Habitats Regulation Assessment undertaken on them. Following this, management options will be explored to provide the best protection for these sites.
The first tranche of Marine Conservation Zones are also being assessed to look at the management required to protect and in some cases to improve the features of these sites. The MCZs within IFCA districts have 167 features that will require some degree of protection. A further sensitivity matrix has been developed to help with decision making. This will provide a national context to any management measures being decided upon in each IFCA district.
the IFCAs have been working hard to deliver the management options for the most damaging fishing activities
The work for the IFCAs includes the gathering of data on the features of sites. Accurate mapping of the features is vital to the management of the sites as well as information on the condition of the sites. This work is often undertaken by IFCA officers working from survey platforms owned by their Authority, but joint working with Natural England and occasionally The Wildlife Trusts is becoming more prevalent. The ability to spread the cost of expensive survey vessel time is more important than ever these days with reduced budgets and increased work load. The policy of gather data once and use many times is being adopted.
The important role the Wildlife Trusts play in the protection of the inshore coastal waters is gaining greater recognition, with many IFCAs working very closely with their local Trust. Some Wildlife Trust officers sit on their local IFCA and this helps to develop an even closer working relationship as well as an understanding of the constraints under which organisations have to work.
The work of the Wildlife Trusts is well suited to increasing public perception of the local marine environment and its value. If this work and the protection of marine sites is to be valued and appreciated, then more members of the public need to be aware of just what is out there that is being protected. Only through increasing this awareness can the coastal waters be properly valued and protected.
A productive and protected marine environment will be able to provide increased food security as well as employment for local fishermen, increased use of the coastal waters for recreational enjoyment such as angling and diving as well as a thriving marine ecosystem for decades to come.
Devon & Severn IFCA