Fisheries, the environment and offshore wind farms: Location, location, location.



The invisible industry

There is a general misconception that mare liberum (the Freedom of the Seas) applies in particular to fishers working in coastal waters. The common view is that access to the sea is homogenously distributed and all fishers can and do work anywhere and everywhere. So when a new structure or restriction is introduced to the coastal environment, people believe that fishermen can simply fish elsewhere. This view is not restricted to those that have a remote and often romantic view of the small boat rural fishing industry either. In a desk-based environmental impact assessment carried out prior to the installation of underground gas storage caverns on the Yorkshire coast the consultant remarked:

“No fishing takes place in this area, though one cannot discount some small scale exploitation” (a consultant cited in Hart & Johnson, 2005).

This observation was made in a region of the coast where there are numerous small inshore fishing boats and one of the biggest crab/lobster fisheries in Europe netting around £4 million a year for a community with few other industries. If the consultant had bothered to look carefully from just about any point along the coast he/she could have counted over 100 buoys, each attached to 20-30 creels on the sea bed. Fishing occurs everywhere along this coast. But it is transient and the degree of activity is not always immediately obvious, so it can be invisible to planners – unlike the physical structure of an oil rig or sewage outfall that can be marked on a chart.

Under-represented and misunderstood

Coastal, or inshore fishers work in a complex environment fraught with hazards, complex regulation, patchy distributions of their target species, exclusion zones and informal territories. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that the distance that an inshore fishing vessel can travel from their home port is limited by the speed, size and capacity of their vessels. The cumulative impacts of these factors on fishers are often poorly understood by those outside the industry. The regulators and proponents of coastal developments are comfortable in the be-suited, jargonistic and bureaucratic worlds of legal negotiation, planning legislation and public relations.

But it’s a world alien to most fishers, who as hunters earn their living by their wits, often at night and in harsh environmental conditions. They are typically highly independent individuals and naturally protective over their way of life. Unused to communicating their opinions and needs to institutions and the public, they do not always represent themselves very well in board rooms, and historically there has been no fishing equivalent of the “landed gentry” to argue their case in the upper circles of UK society. This is not an excuse to view them as “poor, backward, marginal and problematic, but as important contributors to the rural economy and potential focal points for market development in areas otherwise remote from the cash economy” (Hart & Johnson, 2005). A study of rural inshore fishers in Ireland demonstrated that one fisher at sea supports about 7 people ashore and that each fisher was worth an aggregated £34 000 per annum to the community (Meredith, 1999).

A rush to renewables

Offshore wind electricity generation is at the forefront of the UK’s drive to source 15% of energy supplies from renewables by 2020 (BERR, 2008). As renewables contributed only 1.5% to the UK’s energy demands in 2006 the scale of the task is substantial, and is leading to the designation of large areas of the sea for wind farm development. There has been a lack of precision with regard to how different stakeholders are involved in the process. The greatest challenge for developers is engaging with fishers at the local level who do not have someone in an office with the expertise, time and inclination to review the substantial documentation associated with marine development/construction projects. This is not helped by the fact that regulators such as DEFRA have generally been much more focussed on biology and economics than the most important area of science relevant to engaging and understanding stakeholders – social science (SAC Secreteriat, 2007). Early decisions on wind farm locations were made using a broad brush approach and with little stakeholder engagement. It was common in the second round of planning to see consultation only lasting 4 weeks (Gray et al, 2005). And yet location is the key issue that determines impact upon fishing communities, so these time restrictions instantly reduce the scope for useful and positive negotiations with fishers. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) undertaken once the sites are allocated become inherently biased towards justifying the location. This is not helped by the fact that EIAs are carried out by consultants under contract to the developer, who in practice may lack fisheries expertise or the necessary investigative resources.


The documentation associated with a single EIA, produced by a team of administrators, consultants and scientists.  This particular EIA was delivered to a fishermen’s association office on a pallet.

Consequently, developers face an uphill struggle trying to convince the stakeholders with local ecological knowledge of the validity of their own reports, often based on desk-studies authored by what the fishers regard as pet scientists. Consultation meetings with fishers can often be little more than last minute box ticking exercises where frustrated and poorly informed fishers vent their fury. This allows the developer to adhere only to minimum statutory requirements, citing unreasonable behaviour on the part of fishers. In fact, fishers are sometimes viewed by developers as little more than obstacles with no real rights of tenure who can be bought off, no matter whether payment of compensation is in the interests of the community and environment or not. In contrast, developers are often viewed by fishers as arrogant, devious and well connected with the institutions and regulators responsible for control of their resource (Hart & Johnson, 2005).

Environmental arguments

In an arena increasingly peppered with constraints and tensions, the development of wind farms will unavoidably result in displacement of fishing activity in different ways depending on location. At worst, livelihoods and fishing communities are at stake if fishing opportunities are removed or additional costs are incurred to divert to alternative fishing grounds that undermine the viability of fishing businesses. Developers sometimes cite declining fish stocks and the potential conservation benefits of exclosures as additional reasons to press ahead with wind farms, whether or not the local community objects. It is easy for developers and those that support wind farms to cite claims by environmental NGOs that all fished stocks are in decline. In reality, there is a recognised lack of data at appropriate scales for inshore fisheries to fully determine impact, and to be effective, restrictions on fishing activity for conservation purposes need to be set within the context of a coherent conservation strategy. Presently there is no such integration between wind farm and conservation planning processes. The initial disturbance of an area during the construction phase and ensuing noise pollution caused by pile driving are of concern with regard to fish and marine mammal populations (Hart & Johnson, 2005). The possibility that shark species may be adversely affected by electromagnetic interference is something that scientists have also been investigating. There are, nevertheless, ways that good wind farm design could mitigate impact upon fisheries. Construction activities can be planned to avoid sensitive migratory or reproductive periods and cables can be buried or shielded to limit exposure to electromagnetic fields. In the right location and with careful design, wind farms may be able to act as artificial reefs or fish aggregation devices.

Fisher safety
A wind farm array inevitably poses an increased safety risk to mariners. Fishing among turbines may seem more practical if working a limited number of lobster pots from a small boat, when compared to towing a trawl from a larger one. But there are no hard and fast conclusions on the types of fishing activity that would be compatible from a safety point of view. Sensible safety criteria must, therefore, be agreed on a case by case basis. Outside of any safety exclusion zone that is designated, it is down to skippers to assess their exposure to risk according to the local circumstances, weather conditions and fishing method employed. Some developers prefer to automatically excluding fishers from wind farms completely on safety grounds. That is understandably not something that fishers favour! However, even when fishing activity is not possible, consideration should be given to assess whether it is safe to allow passage to access fishing grounds that would otherwise be blocked. Lessons can be learned from the interactions of the fishing and oil and gas industries. Decommissioning (or recommissioning) in particular needs to be carefully considered now rather than in 20 years time. The stakes for the environment and fishing industry are likely to be higher as the ecological and spatial footprint of wind farms is so much larger. The key issues for all concerned with wind farms, which were less significant with the oil and gas industry, are location and access, and it is these that require real stakeholder involvement and proactive decision-making which takes effective account of the sensitivities and needs of fishing communities.

Originally published: Johnson, ML & Rodmell, DP (2009). Fisheries, the environment and offshore wind farms: Location, location, location. Food Ethics, 4(1): 23-24

Magnus L Johnson (Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology, Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull)

Dale P Rodmell (Assistant Chief Executive, National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations)


BERR (2008) UK Renewable Energy Strategy: Consultation Document. Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

Bratton S, Hinz S (2002) Ethical responses to commercial fisheries decline in the Republic of Ireland. Ethics and the Environment 7: 54-91

Gray T, Haggett C, Bell E (2005) Offshore wind farms and commercial fisheries in the UK: A study in stakeholder consultation. Ethics, Place & Environment 8: 127-140

Hart PJB, Johnson ML (2005) Who Owns the Sea? Workshop Proceedings., University of Hull

Meredith D (1999) The strategic importance of the fishing sector to rural communities and Ireland: a case study of the Rossaveal Region, Co. Galway. Irish Fisheries Investigations (New Series), No. 4

SAC Secreteriat (2007) Social Research in DEFRA. Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, SAC (07) 33

Advertisement or scientific article?

Co-authored with John Volpe, University of Victoria, Canada

The quick guide to Aquaculture by Lucas [1] recently published in the international journal Current Biology provides a decidedly positive and one-sided view where the myriad of negative impacts associated with the industry are ignored. Introduction of exotic species or genotypes [2-9], amplification and transmission of diseases [10-13] and parasites [14-18]. Indeed the very nature of industrial-scale aquaculture serves to not only accelerate and intensify these impacts [19] but generates whole new problems when mitigation is attempted [20, 21]. For instance the drug teflbenzuron targets sea lice, a crustacean farm pest, but teflbenzuron is an indiscriminate killer of all crustaceans, equally effective against crab and lobster too. Teflbenzuron levels in the few surviving crustaceans around salmon cages are high enough to trigger human health concerns [22]. The benthic environments around net pens are typically anoxic reflecting the vast biological load of faeces and uneaten feed from farms leading to bioaccumulation of mercury in few wild species left to feed on the deposits [23].

The commodification of farmed seafood products like salmon and shrimp have created a race to the bottom among producers. Those generating the most product for the least investment gain the market advantage in the modern aquaculture world where consumers base purchasing decisions on price alone. Therefore maximizing economies of scale and offloading costs are fundamental to remaining competitive. Thus, overlooked corollary is that environmental issues such as those above in addition to carcinogenic product [24-26], predator control, feed sustainability, and ecosystem alteration among others are the physical manifestation of “cheap” seafood – the magnitude of these issues being directly related to the scale of ever increasing production [27, 28]. Consider the proposed Marine Harvest farm that was being considered for Galway Bay (Ireland) with a capacity of 15 000 tonnes (~3 million 4-5 kg fish). The native Galway Bay salmon number in the 10s of thousands. A single significant escape event, which is all but guaranteed [29], could eliminate this native population both demographically and genetically. All this appears to matter little, as industrial aquaculture is so prosperous that it now buys the support of former critics like the WWF [30].

As demonstrably poor as the international salmon farming industry is, its environmental performance is superior to all other major marine finfish aquaculture products globally [27]. In other words, as bad as it is, it’s as good as it gets. As we turn from fish to tropical shrimp farms the story becomes even darker. Irresponsible development in mangrove areas have eradicated large areas of irreplaceable coastal ecosystems which act as repositories for biodiversity, resources for local indigenous populations, natural coastal defences and sovereignty of local populations [31, 32]. Absence of regulatory oversight dramatically threatens both ecological viability [33] and human health [34, 35].

The underlying business model of all industrial scale fish and crustacean aquaculture is to convert inexpensive inputs to higher value outputs. This means converting vast quantities of edible but low value fish such as sardines, and anchovies into much reduced volumes of salmon, shrimp, grouper and sea bass etc. – a net global loss of edible protein but big profits for producers. Profits peak when regulations (or lack thereof) facilitate maximum consumption of “natural subsidies” such as permitting factory farm waste products to be “washed away” by tides free of charge, penalty-free escape events and transmission of pathogens to wild fauna or wholesale conversion of biophysical parameters in and around the production zone. We contend that such farms should pay the state fair market value for the natural capital their operations consume. The alternative is to internalize these costs through transition to self-contained recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) that can be placed anywhere on land greatly reducing the impact on the environment[36].

Magnus Johnson is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology based at the University of Hull.  His views presented here are his own, not his employers.

One slide/phrase from the Slow Fish Manifesto presented at UNESCO in Bergen

1. Lucas, J. (2015). Aquaculture. Current biology : CB 25, R1064-1065.
2. Volpe, J.P., Taylor, E.B., Rimmer, D.W., and Glickman, B.W. (2000). Evidence of natural reproduction of aquaculture-escaped Atlantic salmon in a coastal British Columbia river. Conservation Biology 14, 899-903.
3. Naylor, R., Hindar, K., Fleming, I.A., Goldburg, R., Williams, S., Volpe, J., Whoriskey, F., Eagle, J., Kelso, D., and Mangel, M. (2005). Fugitive salmon: Assessing the risks of escaped fish from net-pen aquaculture. Bioscience 55, 427-437.
4. WWF (2005). On the run- Escaped farmed fish in Norwegian waters. 44.
5. Fisher, A.C., Volpe, J.P., and Fisher, J.T. (2014). Occupancy dynamics of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Canadian Pacific coastal salmon streams: implications for sustained invasions. Biological Invasions 16, 2137-2146.
6. Sepulveda, M., Arismendi, I., Soto, D., Jara, F., and Farias, F. (2013). Escaped farmed salmon and trout in Chile: incidence, impacts, and the need for an ecosystem view. Aquaculture Environment Interactions 4, 273-283.
7. McKindsey, C.W., Landry, T., O’Beirn, F.X., and Davies, I.N. (2007). Bivalve aquaculture and exotic species: A review of ecological considerations and management issues. Journal of Shellfish Research 26, 281-294.
8. Xiong, W., Sui, X.Y., Liang, S.H., and Chen, Y.F. (2015). Non-native freshwater fish species in China. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 25, 651-687.
9. van der Veer, G., and Nentwig, W. (2015). Environmental and economic impact assessment of alien and invasive fish species in Europe using the generic impact scoring system. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 24, 646-656.
10. Marshall, S.H., Ramirez, R., Labra, A., Carmona, M., and Munoz, C. (2014). Bona Fide Evidence for Natural Vertical Transmission of Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus in Freshwater Brood Stocks of Farmed Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) in Southern Chile. Journal of Virology 88, 6012-6018.
11. Peeler, E.J., Oidtmann, B.C., Midtlyng, P.J., Miossec, L., and Gozlan, R.E. (2011). Non-native aquatic animals introductions have driven disease emergence in Europe. Biological Invasions 13, 1291-1303.
12. Price, M.H.H., Morton, A., Eriksson, J.G., and Volpe, J.P. (2013). Fish Processing Facilities: New Challenge to Marine Biosecurity in Canada. J. Aquat. Anim. Health 25, 290-294.
13. Walker, P.J., and Winton, J.R. (2010). Emerging viral diseases of fish and shrimp. Veterinary Research 41, 24.
14. Krkosek, M., Lewis, M.A., and Volpe, J.P. (2005). Transmission dynamics of parasitic sea lice from farm to wild salmon. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 272, 689-696.
15. Krkosek, M., Gottesfeld, A., Proctor, B., Rolston, D., Carr-Harris, C., and Lewis, M.A. (2007). Effects of host migration, diversity and aquaculture on sea lice threats to Pacific salmon populations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 274, 3141-3149.
16. Costello, M.J. (2009). The global economic cost of sea lice to the salmonid farming industry. Journal of Fish Diseases 32, 115-118.
17. Krkosek, M., Morton, A., Volpe, J.P., and Lewis, M.A. (2009). Sea lice and salmon population dynamics: effects of exposure time for migratory fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 276, 2819-2828.
18. Liu, Y.J., Sumaila, U.R., and Volpe, J.P. (2011). Potential ecological and economic impacts of sea lice from farmed salmon on wild salmon fisheries. Ecol Econ 70, 1746-1755.
19. Pulkkinen, K., Suomalainen, L.R., Read, A.F., Ebert, D., Rintamaki, P., and Valtonen, E.T. (2010). Intensive fish farming and the evolution of pathogen virulence: the case of columnaris disease in Finland. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 277, 593-600.
20. Burridge, L., Weis, J.S., Cabello, F., Pizarro, J., and Bostick, K. (2010). Chemical use in salmon aquaculture: A review of current practices and possible environmental effects. Aquaculture 306, 7-23.
21. Cabello, F.C. (2006). Heavy use of prophylactic antibiotics in aquaculture: a growing problem for human and animal health and for the environment. Environmental Microbiology 8, 1137-1144.
22. Samuelsen, O.B., Lunestad, B.T., Hannisdal, R., Bannister, R., Olsen, S., Tjensvoll, T., Farestveit, E., and Ervik, A. (2015). Distribution and persistence of the anti sea-lice drug teflubenzuron in wild fauna and sediments around a salmon farm, following a standard treatment. Science of the Total Environment 508, 115-121.
23. Kalantzi, I., Papageorgiou, N., Sevastou, K., Black, K.D., Pergantis, S.A., and Karakassis, I. (2014). Metals in benthic macrofauna and biogeochemical factors affecting their trophic transfer to wild fish around fish farm cages. Science of the Total Environment 470, 742-753.
24. Huang, X.Y., Hites, R.A., Foran, J.A., Hamilton, C., Knuth, B.A., Schwager, S.J., and Carpenter, D.O. (2006). Consumption advisories for salmon based on risk of cancer and noncancer health effects. Environmental Research 101, 263-274.
25. Foran, J.A., Carpenter, D.O., Hamilton, M.C., Knuth, B.A., and Schwager, S.J. (2005). Risk-based consumption advice for farmed Atlantic and wild Pacific salmon contaminated with dioxins and dioxin-like compounds. Environmental Health Perspectives 113, 552-556.
26. Hites, R.A., Foran, J.A., Carpenter, D.O., Hamilton, M.C., Knuth, B.A., and Schwager, S.J. (2004). Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon. Science 303, 226-229.
27. Volpe, J.P., Gee, J.L.M., Ethier, V.A., Beck, M., Wilson, A.J., and Stoner, J.M.S. (2013). Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI): The First Global Environmental Assessment of Marine Fish Farming. Sustainability 5, 3976-3991.
28. Deutsch, L., Graslund, S., Folke, C., Troell, M., Huitric, M., Kautsky, N., and Lebel, L. (2007). Feeding aquaculture growth through globalization: Exploitation of marine ecosystems for fishmeal. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 17, 238-249.
29. FAO (1996). Precautionary Approach to Capture Fisheries and Species Introductions. 1-60.
30. Wilfried Huismann, D.O., Ellen Wagner (2014). Pandaleaks: The Dark Side of the WWF, (Breman, Germany: Nordbook UG).
31. Primavera, J.H. (2006). Overcoming the impacts of aquaculture on the coastal zone. Ocean & Coastal Management 49, 531-545.
32. Bournazel, J., Kumara, M.P., Jayatissa, L.P., Viergever, K., Morel, V., and Huxham, M. (2015). The impacts of shrimp farming on land-use and carbon storage around Puttalam lagoon, Sri Lanka. Ocean & Coastal Management 113, 18-28.
33. Paez-Osuna, F. (2001). The environmental impact of shrimp aquaculture: a global perspective. Environmental Pollution 112, 229-231.
34. Holmstrom, K., Graslund, S., Wahlstrom, A., Poungshompoo, S., Bengtsson, B.E., and Kautsky, N. (2003). Antibiotic use in shrimp farming and implications for environmental impacts and human health. International Journal of Food Science and Technology 38, 255-266.
35. Le, T.X., Munekage, Y., and Kato, S. (2005). Antibiotic resistance in bacteria from shrimp farming in mangrove areas. Science of the Total Environment 349, 95-105.
36. Tal, Y., Schreier, H.J., Sowers, K.R., Stubblefield, J.D., Place, A.R., and Zohar, Y. (2009). Environmentally sustainable land-based marine aquaculture. Aquaculture 286, 28-35.

Taking the P out of Marine Protected Areas?

The Scottish government has recently announced plans to double the areas of Marine Protected Areas in its waters with plans including 11 new MPAs and 9 Special Areas of Conservation. Somewhat predictably perhaps various conservation groups have been supportive of the measures announced although continue to seek further designations. Also somewhat predictably perhaps fishing organisations such as the Scottish Fishermens’ Federation (SFF) have accused the Scottish Fisheries minister of making irrational and damaging decisions.

The SFF represent inshore fishermen from rural communities on the West Coast who are particularly vulnerable to exclusion from areas they have fished for generations. These fishing communities, major employers on some areas, are already challenged by the discard ban which will prevent fishermen from throwing unwanted catch back into the sea and a by raft of complex rules and regulations that control when, where and what they can fish for. One of the greatest challenges they are facing now is that fish stocks are bouncing back and it’s difficult to put a net in the water without catching fish

Proponents of MPAs suggest that they are the obvious solution to the challenges that our oceans are facing. They suggest that they are easy to enforce, don’t require evidence and are going to improve the health of our fisheries (Hilborn, 2014). They seem like such an obvious solution and there is no doubt that excluding fishermen can protect vulnerable seabed habitats such as mearl beds and coral reefs from particular types of fishing. However, in most areas around the UK the seabed is soft sediment habitat. There is little evidence that trawling impacts on these habitats or banning it improves fish stocks. In fact for some species such as Nephrops (scampi/langoustine), repeated trawling appears to improve stocks (Ungfors et al., 2013).

Recent studies in Australia, which has some of the most stringent marine protection in the world, showed that when you reduce the area that fishermen can access they catch fewer fish by an amount proportional to the area they are excluded from (Kearney & Farebrother, 2014). Fisherfolk are starting to consider themselves as conservation refugees – marginalised by a society that while happy to take the fruits of their labour see them as cheats and liars, taking something for nothing. In one fisheries textbook the attitude of many to fisherfolk is summed up as:

The greatest doubt cast upon the biblical miracles is the fact that most of the witnesses were fishermen

The truth is that fishermen are businessmen trying to make a living, they have families and communities and a culture as different to that of mainstream society as that of Gypsies.

Society seems to enjoy the fruits of agriculture where we plant monocultures, devastate biodiversity, raise animals in sometimes questionable conditions and heavily subsidise an industry in the name of food security.  In contrast fishermen depend on healthy ecosystems to make a living and capture wild fish that have been reared by nature. They are suffering from a modern version of the clearances in the form of ocean grabbing. With the fishing industry there is a drive to further marginalise them by pushing them out of the areas they have been fishing for generations whether or not there is evidence to support it – an abuse of the precautionary principle (i.e. the idea that we should avoid doing anything that might damage the environment) if ever there was one. A true application of this principle would be to avoid changing management approaches until there was evidence that changes would be of benefit – not something conservation organisations want to hear.

It is an unavoidable fact that fishing involves taking fish out of the sea and will have some impact on their populations and their habitats. There needs to be balance between how much we take and leaving a root stock of fish to ensure there are fish available to take next year. If we protect our own seas too much we, like Australia, will export our environmental damage to countries with weaker enforcement and management, increase food miles and increase our dependency on foodstuffs such as farmed salmon and livestock where the production is potentially more damaging to the environment (Kearney & Farebrother, 2014).

Globally, the development of MPAs can sometimes have nothing or little to do with conservation. In the case of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean the MPA is illegally used as a shield by the UK government to justify exclusion of Chagossians from their islands which are now host to an important US air and naval base  (Dunne et al., 2014). The waters around Chagos were traditionally fished by Mauritians but now only rich yachties are able to ply the waters. Off the Californian coast MPAs have been supported or opposed by big oil money ($266 million over 10 years) depending on the business advantage. Some MPAs developed in this region have infringed on indigenous folks’ rights to fish and gather food but permit industrial aquaculture, oil exploration/extraction, pollution and fracking. In the Seychelles externally funded MPAs have been developed that will exclude local fishermen from traditionally exploited areas while at the same time foreign fleets can exploit tuna stocks through rights purchased by the EU.

I am not anti-conservation and, although I work with them and try to offer support, I’m not a fisheries industry stooge. I just feel very uncomfortable that the prevailing view of marine conservation appears to be to exclude folks that have been working on the sea for generations. I feel this discomfort especially when other forms of usage such as pollution, oil industry, offshore windfarms appear to be less hampered or have the financial might to barge through to their goals. The sea, morally, belongs to fishers as much as land belongs to long established farmers and whatever we do should be done in partnership with the fishing industry – in my view they are the route to a solution and should be encouraged (or even forced) to take responsibility. I also don’t like the oft cited statistic that “only 4%/5%/10% of the sea is protected”. Actually all of the sea comes under some form of legislation. The North Sea has a complex tapestry of fisheries legislation that, if recent surges in fish numbers are anything to go by, is having a positive effect.

We need to think about broader consequences of small actions – if we ban fishing from one area, is the alternative source of food less or more damaging globally? Does more conservation here mean less conservation over there?  When we create a marine “protected” area are we having more impact on “unprotected” areas?

We are living in the Anthropocean and, in my view, we need to accept that and use our ingenuity to make space for nature alongside humanity, not see exclusion of people from resources or ways of making a living as a good thing.

Dr Magnus Johnson is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology at the University of Hull. All comments (critical or not) are welcomed.

Sources Cited

Dunne RP, Polunin NVC, Sand PH, Johnson ML. 2014. The Creation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area : A Fisheries Perspective. In: Johnson M, Sandell J eds. Advances in Marine Biology: Marine Managed Areas and Fisheries. Oxford: Academic Press, 79–127.

Hilborn R. 2014. Introduction to marine managed areas. Advances in Marine Biology: Marine Managed Areas and Fisheries 69:2–13.

Kearney B, Farebrother G. 2014. Inadequate Evaluation and Management of Threats in Australia’s Marine Parks , Including the Great Barrier Reef , Misdirect Marine Conservation. In: Johnson M, Sandell J eds. Advances in Marine Biology: Marine Managed Areas and Fisheries. Oxford: Academic Press, 254-288

Ungfors A, Bell E, Cowing D, Dobson NC, Bublitz R, Sandell J, Johnson ML, Cowing D, Dobson NC, Bublitz R, Sandell J. 2013. Nephrops fisheries in European waters. In: Johnson ML, Johnson MP eds. The Ecology and Biology of Nephrops Norvegicus. London: Elsevier, 248–306.

The most abhorrent occupation in the world?

Imagine you have a business.

You’re not breaking any laws and its something your family have been doing for hundreds of years. Your whole community has been doing it and whole cultures, traditions, music, stories and clothes have evolve around it. Industries have thrived on your products. Your product is gluten free, contains no additives, has a low carbon cost, doesn’t involve ploughing and transforming the land and gives us beautiful food that kings and commoners alike adore.

Your industry is one where workers can do well just by dint of tenacity and hard work. The aristrocracy and powerbrokers don’t go near it. Your activity is the source of identity for coastal communities. At work you are free.

Now imagine, having been bombarded with insultingly simplistic hyperbole about the impacts of your industry, that the middle classes decide not to like you. They view your job as one for greedy, good for nothing skivers, folk that take something for nothing. These people are more articulate than you, better off, better connected, more numerous and have no economic link to your business. If you fail it has no impact on them. In fact, they earn more money the more despicable they can make you appear. Casting aspersions on your character and industry is a multi-million pound business. Not only that but their success in vilifying you makes them feel smug. These people make such a good job of making you look bad because that is what they are paid to do, they can afford good lawyers and bad politicians.

You, on the other hand, are paid to work. Not to wear a suit and sit in an office wearing a shirt and tie in meeting after meeting, discussing the nuances of situations over canapes.

You find yourself and your industry being eroded. Not by fact-based evidence but by the wild ramblings of people who are ideologically driven to persecute those that make a living from a common resource.

If this is you my friend, you are a fisherman. Be proud. Be strong. Be safe.

Dr Magnus Johnson is a lecturer in Environmental Marine Science at the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull. His views are his own.

My response to the MCZ consultation for the UK

• Implementation/designation of MCZs should be evidence-based.
• There is very little evidence that MCZs work in temperate sediment dominated areas for fisheries management or biodiversity.
• It is not clear what the purpose of the proposed MCZs in temperate sediment areas are and how they will impact on the fishing industry or biodiversity.
• There is a need for better consideration of co-location possibilities.
• Lack of certainty leads to heavy discounting of the future by fishermen and ineffective management/poor cooperation.
• Time should be taken to get our coastal marine management strategy right rather than implementing broad-scale and ineffective measures based on gut-feeling.

Map of MCZs and Windfarms

Fishery exclusion zones off the yorkshire coast

Figure 1: Activities in the Holderness Coast area (From Bridlington to south of Spurn Point). Red areas a current and planned windfarms. Yellow areas represent three of the proposed MCZs in the region. Blue areas represent those left over that fishermen would be able to fish if MCZs evolved to become no take zones. The blue line represents the voluntary separation between trawlers and potters. Prepared by Mike Cohen, CEO, Holderness Fishing Industry Group.

About the author

I am a lecturer in Marine Environmental Science at the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences (CEMS), University of Hull. This unit specialises in field based science has 8 full time academics, about 150 undergraduate students and 12 postgraduates. It currently has research income of around £1 million from a variety of sources including the EU, NERC, Leverhulme and from consultancy work.

I was appointed to the NEIFCA because I have a research background in crustacean biology and ecology and a long-standing voluntary relationship with the Holderness Coast Fishing Industry. Over the last 10 years I have supervised 4 postgraduate students who have worked closely with the industry to better understand their social relationships, the biology of their target species and the interactions between fishers and offshore developers. I have also worked with local fishers to better understand the impacts of fishing on the animals and to gauge population fecundity. I and the HFIG CEO, Mike Cohen, have encouraged the industry to look to the future and to put compensation from the offshore renewable industry towards future proofing themselves against new pressures on their grounds. To that end they have purchased a research vessel (the Huntress) and are looking to establish a lobster hatchery. As a scientist I look for evidence-based approaches to conservation and management and personally I care deeply about coastal fishing communities and the industry. Eventually, I would like to see fishing communities put in charge of managing their own resources inside a sensible legislative framework.

Key points
• Given the lack of adequate evidence in support of most sites, even those that have made it as far as designation in the first round (Brown et al. 2013), I welcome the caution with which the current government has approached this matter and their emphasis on socio-economic factors.
• There is very little evidence to support the use of protected areas on temperate soft sediment fishing grounds for (Bloomfield et al. 2012, Caveen et al. 2012, Coleman et al. 2013).
• The fishing industry has struggled to adequately represent itself in the face of a barrage of slick PR and misinformation from celebrity activists and well-funded and idealistically driven NGOs. Together with the incoherent and devolved approach to the development of the MCZ network (Brown et al. 2013, Oliver 2013) this has resulted in a skewed picture of the industry and the efficacy of MCZs.
• I think that the estimated £8 million spent on the consultation process has unfortunately not resulted in a science or evidence-based set of proposals for the development of MCZs. It has resulted in a rather nebulous cloud of information.

Much of current conservation practice is based upon anecdote and myth rather than upon the systematic appraisal of the evidence . . .” (Sutherland et al. 2004)

• The economic impact data are vague and not evidenced. Some of it I just do not believe, e.g. the suggestion that the impact of the Swallow Sands site on fishers will amount to a mere £9000.
• There is a lack of detail with regards to what each of the proposed MCZs will actually mean in terms of restrictions or conservation objectives. Before implementation each MCZ should have a clear purpose and it should be clear to stakeholders with an economic interest exactly what that could mean for them in terms of restricting their activities.

“ . . it is apparent that much of their [studies of MPAs] raison d’être is advocacy for the establishment of marine reserves rather than real attempts to contribute to the science of the field” (Willis et al. 2003)

• For the Holderness Coast Inshore area I note that there is a novel suggestion that undisturbed benthic sediments are good for combating pollution. There is no evidence given to support this statement.
• In the Holderness Coast area the renewable sector carves obvious chunks out of MCZs (Figure 1). Each windfarm is in effect an exclusion zone where fishing boats will not be able to work because they will not have insurance cover and because, in the event of an incident, air-sea rescue will not be able to work inside turbine areas. Far more sensible would be to compromise and co-locate MCZs and windfarms, thus reducing the impacts of displacement on the fishing community and “unprotected” areas.
• There is a suggestion that there is a need to consider the impact of surrounding areas on MCZs and that there may need to be ancillary action/legislation in non-MCZ areas. However there is no recognition of the potentially negative impacts that designation of MCZs will have on the rest of the environment. If there are restrictions on activities in MCZs, fishermen and developers will likely concentrate their activities elsewhere which will lead to conflict and overexploitation. Rather than a broad footstep, lightly trod, with appropriate measures for each area and fishery, we could end up with unfished and heavily fished areas. This will lead to issues over comparable assessment of MCZs v other areas (Field et al. 2006).

[With the establishment of large reserves ] “considerable increases in fishing effort will be required to catch the same volume of fish, and the larger the reserves, the larger the increases will have to be” (Parrish 1999)

• Trenching activities for pipelines, aggregate extraction, gas cavern development and windfarm surveys and construction have already impacted on traditional fishing grounds in the North Eastern area. The view appears to be that MCZs are not likely to be problematic because the oceans are endless and fishermen can always move somewhere else. This is not the case.
• Each of these impacts increases the discounting rates of fishermen (i.e. increases their insecurity with regard to the likely potential to continue to make a living from fishing in the future) and detracts from the likelihood of successful local management. The likely imposition of MCZs against the will of the fishing community and in an evidence vacuum adds to the perception within the industry that the fishing community continues to be marginalized and that they have no secure rights to commons that they have been exploiting for generations.

The scientific evidence for MPAs is limited and patchy, and many normative assumptions lie below the surface in many of the so-called ‘scientific’ arguments” (Caveen et al. 2013)

• Despite the various challenges facing the industry, fishermen in the North East IFCA region remain staunchly in support of actions that will enhance the sustainability of their industry. They have supported an increase in the minimum landing size of lobsters and a ban on landing “berried hens”, they have voluntarily v-notched tens of thousands of low-value or undersized, soft, damaged or oversized lobsters so that they cannot be landed until they have moulted several times (Rodmell, unpublished manuscript). The Holderness Fishing Industry Group has recently invested in a research vessel that they will use to look at problem areas that developers and the IFCA have not investigated and explore options for diversifying the activities of the fleet. They also plan to build a lobster hatchery in Bridlington to supplement the local population, something they believe has enhanced catches in the past (Bannister et al. 1994).
• There appears to be an irrational rush towards development of further MCZs, championed mainly by NGOs (Caveen et al. 2013). In the stampede the argument has become MCZs v no MCZs rather than “how can we best maintain the ecology and economy of our seas”.
• Our fishing grounds have survived decades of exploitation and there has been a significant decrease in the numbers of inshore boats around the coast of England since the 1980’s. There is surely time to take a scientific approach to such a big change in the management of our oceans, rather than moving towards destroying an industry because there is a gut feeling that one simplistic approach is the right one. There is no single approach to fisheries management that works in all situations – there is no panacea (Ostrom et al. 2007). We need to always bear that in mind – complex problems require complex solutions (Folke et al. 2012).

When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail” (Beth Fulton, WFC 2012)

• The way to encourage sustainability and good governance is to develop certainty amongst the main stakeholders, the fishing communities, that they will still have access to their historic resource rights in the future. There is a need to refocus attention on the knowledge and data that fishermen and communities have (Johannes et al. 2000). Fishing communities and businesses where knowledge of their grounds equates to income will be slow to share their deep understanding of their areas when their local ecological knowledge is ignored/mistrusted and their views are taken as secondary in importance to those of a celebrity cook and well-meaning but misguided NGOs.


Bannister RCA, Addison JT, Lovewell SRJ (1994) Growth, movement, recapture rate and survival of hatchery reared lobsters (Homarus gammarus (Linnaeus, 1758)) released into the wild on the English east coast (EJ Brill, Ed.). Crustaceana 67:156–172
Bloomfield HJ, Sweeting CJ, Mill AC, Stead SM, Polunin NVC (2012) No-trawl area impacts: perceptions, compliance and fish abundances. Environmental Conservation 39:237–247
Brown C, Hull S, Frost N, Miller F (2013) In-depth review of evidence supporting the recommended Marine Conservation Zones Project Report Version ( Final Report ) March 2013.
Caveen AJ, Gray TS, Stead SM, Polunin NVC (2013) MPA policy: What lies behind the science? Marine Policy 37:3–10
Caveen AJ, Sweeting CJ, Willis TJ, Polunin NVC (2012) Are the scientific foundations of temperate marine reserves too warm and hard? Environmental Conservation 39:199–203
Coleman R a., Hoskin MG, Carlshausen E von, Davis CM (2013) Using a no-take zone to assess the impacts of fishing: Sessile epifauna appear insensitive to environmental disturbances from commercial potting. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 440:100–107
Field JC, Punt AE, Methot RD, Thomson CJ (2006) Does MPA mean “Major Problem for Assessments”? Considering the consequences of place based management. Fish and Fisheries 7:284–302
Folke C, Anderies JM, Gunderson L, Janssen MA (2012) An Uncommon Scholar of the Commons. Ecology and Society 17:1–3
Johannes RE, Freeman MMR, Hamilton RJ (2000) Ignore fishers’ knowledge and miss the boat. Fish and Fisheries 1:257–271
Oliver T (2013) MPAC Chief Slams Poor MPAs Science. Fishing News:9
Ostrom E, Janssen MA, Anderies JM (2007) Going beyond panaceas. PNAS 104:15176–15178
Parrish R (1999) Marine reserves for fisheries management: why not. California Cooperative Oceanic and Fisheries Investigations 40:77–86
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Willis TJ, Millar RB, Babcock RC, Tolimieri N (2003) Burdens of evidence and the benefits of marine reserves: putting Descartes before des horse? Environmental Conservation 30:97–103

Are discards such a bad thing?

A few years ago I remember being challenged by a motorcycle mechanic in a pub about discards. I remember feeling quite indignant that while a mechanic could see the evils of throwing good fish back into the sea again the fisheries community couldn’t do anything about it. It seems blindingly obvious that discards are a bad thing. However, I’m a born cynic and when something is too good to be true I generally think it cant be true. Same with blindingly obvious. To many it seems blindingly obvious that MCZs are THE solution to the perceived problem of overfishing. Actually that is an example of a solution that is too good to be true. To easy.

But surely discards are different? Surely the fact that they are a bad thing is an example of something that is actually true?

Maybe not.

Consider first, what are we going to do with the fish that would have been discarded. As far as I understand it at the moment, ports and markets are not geared up to deal with tonnes of poorly treated, low value fish.

Consider second – what will we use it for? Maybe we can use it as fertilizer? Is that a good use of fish? Maybe we can feed it to Salmon? Feeding fish to fish seems wrong to me. Both of these options may induce high carbon costs. If it ends up as landfill that would be more illogical than continuing to put up with bycatch where at least the waste usefully feeds back into the system. It could be used as bait by static gear fisheries which could be good for that sector as this has become an increasingly expensive aspect for them.

Consider third. What has been happening to discarded fish in the past? It is either snapped up by eager sea birds, such as gannets, snapped up by predators or sinks to the bottom where it forms part of the food chain for other wild fish and benthic organisms. In some parts of the world it has been estimated that 40% of the diets of lobster and crab comes from discarded fish. I have a feeling that a lot of birds are going to starve when discards are banned. We could also see some declines in fished species that need discards.

Consider fourth. How will the discard ban impact on the behaviour or fishermen? If technical measures such as Trawl Exclusion Devices (TEDs) don’t work in their favour, they will perhaps target species that have low levels of bycatch. Perhaps everyone will target species with low levels of bycatch – what will the knock on effects of that be?

Consider fifth. Just because something doesn’t make it onto the deck doesn’t mean it has not been impacted by fishing gear. You could design gear that was more selective but not necessarily less harmful but it would reduce “bycatch”. In order to survive the vagaries of EU management, fishermen have become adept at working around regulations and this seems like me to be an area ripe for exploitation. From a management point of view just trying to estimate bycatch has been tricky enough and that is at least visible. How will we estimate the impacts of injury to animals that are not landed?

Consider sixth. What about the effects of differential survival rates of different species? The grand banks cod fishery was a victim of this because discarded dogfish survived quite well. Eventually dogfish replaced cod. It seems likely from what the fisheries minister has said that there will be investigations into which species survive discarding and I assume fishermen will not be forced to keep these. It would be, for example, extremely daft if potters had to keep all crabs and lobsters that ended up in their creels.

I don’t know the precise answers to some of the above, but my point is that we need to think hard about what the effects of the discard ban might be and find sensible solutions.

Dr Magnus Johnson is a lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology at the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull