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.


Can we have a randomly appointed house of parliament please?

Parliament today better reflects the gender balance and is more ethnically diverse, but in terms of educational and vocational background the new political elite look remarkably like the old establishment. It is surprising how many of our MPs were privately educated, went to Oxbridge and worked in the professions, particularly Conservatives and Lib Dems. It seems that our Parliament is becoming less representative in terms of education and occupation, and continues to attract similar types of people from a rather narrow professional base”. The Smith Institute

We are told in the UK that we should be proud of the fact that we are in one of the oldest democracies in the world.  However, the UK political system is not really a democracy.  Those in power mostly come from privileged families and attended private schools and attended universities that have an admissions system that is biased towards the wealthy, privileged upper classes. 

 “Just over 7% of British children are privately educated, yet over 40% of those at Oxford and Cambridge were.”

The Economist points out how Cambridge has an explicit target of 60% from state schools and that good students will do well whatever university they go to.  They seem to miss the point (twice).  Aiming for a tawdry 60% when 93% of excellent students will be from state schools indicates that there is something very wrong with the Oxbridge admissions system.  Applicants that get to Oxbridge are (at the extremes perhaps) a combination of elite intellectuals from state schools who want to learn and public school kids who have been force fed education and feel it is their right to hold positions of power.

Those that stand for parliament are generally those that can afford it by dint of inheritance or good fortune.  We have been caught up in an arms race between parties when it comes to election time that requires more and more money generally making party finances more important than their policies.  At the top of the pile, the pretence of democracy vanishes and we find that large areas of the UK are owned and ruled by the landed gentry.  It’s a bit more subtle than it was when lords had the right of  jus primae noctis of virgins, took a share of their tenants earnings and could call them up to go to war but it’s still there. 

I read a great paper recently – a recent re-incarnation of the “Peter Principle”.  This is the fact that people generally get promoted to a point where they are less competent than they were when they were doing a lesser job.  Take for example Universities.  Here an academic will be promoted to the higher ranks on the basis of research.  A good researcher isn’t necessarily and good manager but that is often the basis upon which they are promoted.  The paper by Pulchino et al suggests that random promotion is more effective for organisational performance than performance by ability at a lower level.

The peter principle;  ‘Every new member in a hierarchical organization climbs the hierarchy until he/she reaches his/her level of maximum incompetence’.

Similarly, politicians are elected on the basis of their performance in the polls – depending on how slick a campaign they can run, how much money they can raise to  promote themselves, how charming they are in front of a crowd.  While some of these skills are transferable to positions of high office, they are not features that give the voter a complete picture of the character and competence of the politician. There is a big difference between getting yourself elected and working in parliament.  It is quite easy to think of democratically elected mistakes on both sides of the house and we know that there are many “safe seats” in the UK where if a monkey wore blue or red they would get elected to parliament.

Our current political system requires MPs to tow the party line, to adhere to a particular set of standards and avoid thinking for themselves.  This is quite obvious when you see an MP closely questioned by a skilled interviewer.  Here when faced with a difficult question where the audience is screaming at the telly/radio “Tell us what you think!”, we are often frustrated by bland, bland responses or skilful evasions of questions.

The solution, to me is obvious.  Parliament should consist of 500-600 folk randomly selected from the population, associated with regions, and they should, by law be required to represent their fellow citizens for 5 years.  There should be very few exceptions to who could be selected (children, criminals, the insane, terminally ill who do not wish to end their lives in parliament) and there should be no evading the requirement.  I suggest that the “election” should replace half of the house every 2.5 years so that a certain amount of experience remains in place.  Every member of parliament should be adequately recompensed and should have access to training and neutral advisors (civil servants).

There would be nutters, there would be folk that struggled to deal with the issues of the day, there would be bigots and racists, there would be folk that would seek to gain personal advantage, there would be incompetence, there would be those that just turned up for pay and there would be narcissistic, publicity seeking individuals.

No change there then.

Out of 600 randomly selected folk, there would also be highly motivated and intelligent folk, people that had a wide experience of a range of issues outside of the “public schoolboy goes to oxford and then Westminster” bubble.  Just over half of the folk represented would be women, many would be young, 10 percent would be LGB and truly representative proportions would be black, Muslim, atheist, disabled etc.

Big change there.

But the critical difference would be that each person would be there for a limited term, they could choose, but not be forced, to align to a particular set of beliefs.  After 5 years, no matter how good or poor they were, they would be returned to the general populace, a mite richer and a mite wiser.  This would be a true democracy where the PEOPLE represented the PEOPLE, rather than the people being “represented” by the elite.  We trust the public to adjudicate in sometimes complex legal cases, why not in every day life too?

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 evolved 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
Sutherland WJ, Pullin AS, Dolman PM, Knight TM (2004) The need for evidence based conservation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 19:305–308
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

Oxbridge should take applicants with the most potential, not the most appropriate backgrounds.

A few years ago I had a summer scholarship at St Johns College, Oxford University. It allowed me to concentrate on research and use the fantastic shrimp collection at the Oxford University Natural History museum. It was probably a once in a lifetime experience and something I treasure – 6 weeks of working in the dreaming spires of Oxford rather than the rather less dreamy bungalows of Scarborough Campus, Hull University. St John’s is a world apart from my day to day experience of teaching and researching in University for the last 10 years. Even though some college tutors at Oxbridge can have fairly heavy teaching loads they are working with very good students.

Many of my students in the Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, are also very good, but they tend not to be from public school, some of them even have regional accents! It is fairly unusual for us to have straight A students, but I have learned over the years that often A level results are not an infallible indication of potential or ability. Many of our students are, as I was, the first in their family to go to university. For many the simple aspiration was just to get to university, any university. Many had, for one reason or another, a disaster in their final A-level year caused by poor schooling, lack of support, illness, the need to work or just hormones. Also of course you have to remember that they are generally not at fee paying schools where kids come from an atmosphere where reading a book is the norm and families discuss current affairs around the breakfast table.

Even if you are an able student your peers are likely to be a mixed bag, some with the normal sorts of social problems non-privileged kids might have. Teachers at their school may have to invest as much in crowd control as teaching. In this atmosphere being even just a capable student can be social suicide and aspirations are likely to be more immediate than long term life goals. Expectations at schools with challenging catchments may just be to get students through in one piece and give them some sort of education. If you are a fairly smart parent, with some energy and time, you can play the system to try and give your child the advantage of a better school or move house so that you fall into the right catchment. I know parents who have bought a tumbledown second house in a good area just so that their kids can go to a better school. But many parents don’t have the desire, ability, finance or energy to help their kids get into higher education.

If by some miracle a child or young person manages to be the 1 in 10 or 20 that makes it to university from their challenged school, they are special. They have demonstrated determination, drive, an ability to challenge the social norms of their local culture to succeed and intelligence. Unfortunately I think many of those characteristics don’t translate directly into A* A-levels. These folk have also not had the advantage of coaching in getting through entrance examinations or interviews. They will not be comfortable in the atmosphere of an upper class establishment with oak panels, hundreds of years of history and received pronunciation. They will not be practiced in vocalising their thoughts. They are not expected to go to a particular college to study a particular topic. When they are interviewed by Oxbridge dons they are likely to falter, mumble, look away. They will, while being put through a completely alien process, wonder why they are putting themselves through it when everything around them is telling them they would be more comfortable at a red-brick establishment, probably studying something “practical”.

I asked some of the academics in St Johns about the poor levels of entrance of non-public school kids to Oxbridge generally and got the response that “we do try they just don’t seem to do well in our entrance system, they don’t have the confidence and can’t show us their ability. It’s a terrible shame”. At the time, I just thought “Oh well, such is life” but over the last few years I have changed my mind. These are publicly sponsored institutions that have a duty to find the best people and give them the best possible education. They should not be taking the best prepared people who naturally feel it is their right to go to Oxbridge, those who come from the correct background.

Over the years I have noticed that as you progress through the ranks of academia, at least in red-brick institutions, there is a form of natural selection and the proportion of private school educated people around you drops precipitously. This could be of course because I work in science rather than art and posh people generally don’t do science. But I like to think it is a reflection of ability, eventually, trouncing background. It makes me think though that the Oxbridge type institutions are missing the very best students. Ben Goldacre (author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma) recently wrote a report for Michael Gove that suggests ways in which policy in education could be driven by research rather than whim. Entrance to university, the mechanisms of selection used and subsequent progress of students from a variety of backgrounds would to me seem to be one area ripe for investigation.

The onus should be on Oxbridge to develop their entrance systems to actively seek out the best students and traditional entrance exams and interviews may not be the best mechanism. These institutions should be reaching out to communities and going into schools to talk to teachers and students on their own terms, finding the good ones and begging them to come to their university. Peter Wilby in the Guardian suggests that Oxbridge should identify the most able students in each school and give them every possible support. He identifies interesting consequences for the attitudes of middle class parents towards schools in deprived areas. Until the ratio of public:privately educated students entering these Oxbridge type institutions matches that of the general populace they will continue to be assessing applicants on the basis of class rather than potential. To me the use of taxpayers’ money to teach a socially cleansed student population, to artificially enhance the opportunities of those that already have them in abundance is immoral.

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

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

Pêcheurs : les nouveaux réfugiés de la conservation

A translation of the original article “Fisherfolk: Conservation Refugees Reloaded” by Magnus Johnson.

Translation by Danièle Le Sann

Quatorze millions de personnes autochtones ont été chassées de leur terre par des activités de conservation. Les peuples autochtones ont vécu sur leurs terres pendant des générations et leur comportement a généralement été déterminé par des normes plutôt que par des lois, et ce qu’ils avaient à faire pour survivre. Les gestionnaires des aires protégées sont financés par les ONG occidentales dont le comportement est déterminé par l’économie, les lois, l’idéalisme et une science superficielle. Souvent, la pauvreté est utilisée comme un argument pour « améliorer » la vie des peuples primitifs.

Brockington signale :

« Un problème auquel sont confrontés les acteurs de la lutte contre la pauvreté est la façon dont la pauvreté est quantifiée. Le revenu personnel est la référence. Il semble impossible pour les économistes de comprendre que les gens qui vivent dans l’absence totale d’argent peuvent être beaucoup plus riches que leurs proches voisins qui vivent à la lisière de l’économie locale (et mondiale). Les peuples autochtones qui gagnent zéro dollar par jour, mais qui ont un régime alimentaire équilibré, riche en protéines, de l’eau potable, une protection contre les éléments, des médecines traditionnelles et une culture forte, ne devraient pas être placés sous ou même sur un pied d’égalité avec les personnes qui gagnent quelques dollars par semaine à des tâches subalternes, mais qui ont des durées de vie courtes, une mauvaise santé, qui sont sous-alimentés, n’ont pas accès aux médicaments, et ont une culture fruste. »

Les peuples autochtones sont généralement considérés avec dégoût dans leur pays d’origine. Considérons par exemple comment le citoyen moyen au Royaume-Uni considère les gitans, comment les Indonésiens voient les Bajo, la maltraitance des Inuits en Amérique du Nord et le mauvais traitement des Aborigènes par les Australiens. Une grande partie de cela est lié à la façon d’évaluer les biens. Les peuples autochtones qui vivent souvent en petits groupes, survivent grâce à la responsabilité sociale et la réciprocité, un système de valeurs souvent facilité par des liens familiaux étroits.

Les conservationistes aiment le mot SCIENCE. Brockington et Igoe soulignent que, généralement, les organisations revendiquent ce mot quand elles s’efforcent d’acquérir le pouvoir et le prestige, et pour supprimer toute opposition. Le public a du mal à remettre en question les « faits scientifiques » et diverses techniques sont employées par des organisations de conservation : choix sélectif des faits à utiliser, utilisation des faits non pertinents mais qui semblent impressionnants, et ignorance des vérités dérangeantes.

Les pêcheurs sont un peu comme les peuples indigènes. Ils vivent en quelque sorte en marge de la société, ils travaillent à des heures irrégulières, ont leurs propres codes sociaux, peuvent parfois être considérés comme des rustres, faisant des choses que la plupart des gens ne comprennent pas, et sont considérés par beaucoup comme des prédateurs, s’emparant des ressources communes sans payer en retour. La plupart des organismes de conservation semblent trouver commode d’ignorer le fait que les pêcheurs ont travaillé en mer pendant des centaines ou des milliers d’années (sans ajout de tonnes de pesticides, d’engrais ou utilisation d’OGM). En passant, vous pourriez aimer regarder comment un scientifique de la pêche de renommée mondiale (Ray Hilborn) compare les impacts écologiques de la pêche à ceux de l’agriculture. Les différences entre les pêcheurs et un propriétaire foncier sont les suivants :
1) Ils n’ont pas de documents disant qu’ils possèdent quelque chose.
2) Leurs ancêtres n’ont pas volé la terre des paysans par la force.
3) Ils ne sont pas surreprésentés dans la chambre des Lords.
4) Vous ne pouvez pas faire une thèse sur n’importe quoi à Oxford ou Cambridge en « Gestion maritime » parce que vos parents n’appartiennent pas à la bonne classe sociale.
5) Lorsque vous prendrez votre retraite, vous aurez un corps brisé et un bateau qui vaut moins que quand vous avez commencé.

La pêche est sans doute l’un des derniers métiers où l’on peut réussir uniquement à force de travail acharné et de ténacité.

Récemment, nous avons vu l’application de haut niveau de la pseudo-science au monde de la pêche par un cuisinier. Souhaitez-vous demander à un pêcheur comment couper les légumes ? Hugh-Feelmy-Walletall se fait d’énormes quantités d’argent par sa harangue publique contre la pêche.( Fishfight n’est pas un organisme de bienfaisance). Avec sa première campagne contre les rejets en mer, j’ai juste senti une légère irritation en voyant que quelqu’un qui coupe les légumes et cuit la viande a pu aller plus loin que les scientifiques, des halieutes qui se battent pour résoudre le problème des rejets depuis des années. Plus récemment, cependant, il a sauté dans le train en marche de la création de réserves marines. Quelque chose que les riches organisations de propagande telles que Conservation International et Greenpeace ne sont que trop heureuses de soutenir. Je recommande d’écouter Ray Hilborn pour apporter un peu d’équilibre face à ce déluge d’informations erronées grassement financées.

Le fait qu’il n’y a pratiquement aucune preuve pour étayer l’idée que les réserves fonctionnent dans des zones tempérées, en particulier sur des sédiments mous, semble avoir été complètement ignorée. Le gouvernement et les gens les plus éclairés s’accordent pour dire qu’il y a un manque total de preuves pour soutenir la mise en place de la plupart des réserves proposées et certains travaux qui suggèrent leur prédominance en tant que paradigme de l’écologie de conservation est fonction de l’idéologie plutôt que de la science à l’état pur. Les gens ordinaires aiment croire que si vous laissez faire, les choses iront mieux et le monde retournera à un état mythique d’Eden – « l’illusion du paradigme de l’équilibre ».

La conservation réelle et positive / la gestion de la ressource, nous obligent à examiner les choses plus globalement plutôt que de s’intéresser à des espèces particulières et de tracer des courbes sur des graphiques . Comme Ostrom le disait , les situations complexes exigent des solutions complexes- il n’existe pas de solution unique, pas de solution miracle. Comme Beth Fulton l’a dit lors du dernier Congrès Mondial des Pêches, « nous devons avancer avec prudence et à grand pas ».

Chasser les pêcheurs des zones où ils ont pêché pendant des générations, afin de soulager les consciences de la classe moyenne, de hippies intellectuels en sandales, n’est pas la réponse. Regardez cette carte (fournie par Marc Cohen, de Holderness Fishing Industry Group) et voyez sur quelle étendue cette zone sera interdite aux pêcheurs. En conséquence, on pêchera de plus en plus sur une zone réduite, de manière non durable, étant donné que la pêche est de plus en plus étranglée. Il n’existe aucune preuve d’un effet réserve (spillover effect) susceptible de se produire dans ce secteur. Notez comment les réserves contournent les exigences de l’industrie énergétique (nouveaux acteurs sur le terrain) mais pas celles des pêcheurs « arriérés ». Les pêcheurs sont susceptibles d’être les nouveaux réfugiés de la conservation, et si les extrémistes arrivent à leurs fins, il y aura une plus grande marginalisation, des pertes d’emploi, et la pauvreté dans les villes et les villages côtiers au Royaume Uni. Dans les plus jolies, il y aura les résidences secondaires de la classe moyenne fuyant la ville, envahies l’été, couvertes de plantes sauvages, et dont les magasins seront fermés en hiver.

Bien que mes ancêtres étaient pêcheurs et chasseurs de baleines, je ne suis pas aveuglément pro-pêche, et je ne suis pas anti-écologiste. Je suis juste anti-bêtise.

Dr Magnus Johnson est biologiste marin au « Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences ». Son texte n’engage que lui.

Fisherfolk: Conservation Refugees Reloaded

Fourteen Million indigenous people have been displaced on land by conservation activities. Indigenous peoples have lived on their lands for generations and their behaviour has generally been determined by norms rather than written laws and what they have to do to survive. Protected area managers are supported (generally) by western NGOs whose behaviour is determined by economics, written laws, idealism and superficial science. Often poverty is used as a lever to “improve” the lives of primitive peoples. Brockington points out:

“One problem facing antipoverty advocates is the way that poverty is quantified. Personal income is the benchmark. It seems impossible for economists to understand that people living in the complete absence of money can be far wealthier than their neighbours in close proximity who live at the edge of the local (and global) economy. Indigenous people earning zero dollars a day, but with balanced protein-rich diets, clean water, protection from the elements, traditional medicines and strong cultures should not be placed beneath or even on a par with people earning a few dollars a week from menial labour but who have short lifespans, bad health, undernourishment, no medicines and a brutish culture”

Indigenous peoples are generally regarded with distaste in their homelands and the poor have no lawyers. Consider for example how the average UK citizen views gypsies, how Indonesians view the Bajo, the mistreatment of the Inuit in North America and the shoddy treatment of Aboriginies by Australians. Much of this is likely to do with the chasm that there is between the way in which goods are valued. Indigenous peoples, often living in small groups, survive on reciprocity and social responsibility, a value system often oiled by their close family ties.

Conservationists love the word SCIENCE. Brockington and Igoe point out that generally organisations claim this word when they are striving to acquire power and prestige and to suppress opposition. The public find it hard to question “scientific facts” and a variety of techniques are employed by conservation organisations – selective choice of facts to use, using irrelevant but impressive sounding facts, ignoring inconvenient truths and what Seth Macinko calls “Strategically benign rhetoric”.

Fishermen are a bit like indigenous folk. They live, quite literally, at the margins of society, they work irregular hours, have their own social codes, can occasionally be viewed as uncouth, do something most people don’t understand and they are viewed by many as taking something for nothing from a public resource. Most conservation organisations appear to find it convenient to ignore the fact that fisherfolk have been working the sea for hundreds or thousands of years (without adding tonnes of pesticide, fertilizer or resorting to GM crops). In passing you might like to watch a world-renowned fisheries scientist (Ray Hilborn) comparing the ecological impacts of fishing v farming. The differences between them and a landowner are:

1) they don’t have a piece of paper that says they own anything,
2) their ancestors didn’t steal land from peasants by force,
3) they are not over-represented in the house of lords,
4) you can’t do a mickey mouse degree at Oxford or Cambridge in “Marine management” because your parents come from the right social class
5) when you retire you leave with a broken body and a boat that is worth less than when you started.

Fishing has been perhaps one of the last occupations where you can succeed purely by dint of hard work and tenacity.

Recently we have seen the high profile application of pseudo-science to the world of fisheries by a cook. Would you ask a fisherman how to chop vegetables? Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is making enormous amounts of money out of his public haranguing of the fishing industry (Fishfight isn’t a charity by the way). With his initial campaign against discards I just felt a mild irritation that someone who chops vegetables and heats meat was able to get further than many many marine scientists who have wrestled with the problem of discards for years. More recently however he has jumped on the Marine “Conservation” Zone bandwagon. Something that rich propaganda organisations such as Conservation International and Greenpeace are only too happy to support. I recommend listening to Ray Hilborn for a bit of balance in the face of this well-financed barrage of misinformation.

The fact that there is virtually no evidence to support the idea that MCZs work in temperate areas, especially over soft sediments, seems to have been completely ignored. The government and most sensible people agree that there is a complete vacuum of evidence to support the establishment of many of the proposed MCZs and some work that suggests their dominance as a paradigm in marine conservation ecology is a function of ideology rather than hard science. Simple folk like to believe that if you leave things alone things will get better and the world will return to some halcyon state – the “Erroneous equilibrium paradigm”. Real and positive conservation/resource management requires us to look more broadly than single species or drawing lines on charts. As Ostrom said, complex situations require complex solutions – there is no single solution, no magic bullet. As Beth Fulton said at the last World Fisheries Congress, “We need to tread lightly and with a broad footstep”

Excluding fisherfolk from areas that they have fished for generations in order to salve the consciences of middle-class, sandle-shod, cord-wearing pseudo-intellectual hippies is not the answer. Look at the chart here (provided by the Holderness Fishing Industry Group) and look at how much area could be off limits to fishermen. This area will be fished harder and unsustainably as the fishing industry is more and more squeezed. There is no evidence of any sort of spillover effect likely to occur in this region. Note how MCZs work around the requirements of the Energy Industry (new kids on the block) but not the unfashionable fish folk. Fisherfolk are likely to be the new conservation refugees and if the extremists get their way there will be further marginalisation, job losses and poverty in rural coastal towns and villages in the UK. The pretty ones will be sources of 2nd homes to the middle classes escaping from the city – packed in summer, tumbleweed and closed shops in the winter. The ugly ones will be left to rot.

Map of MCZs and Windfarms

Proposed and current fishery exclusion zones off the yorkshire coast

Although my ancestors were fishermen and whalers, I am not blindly pro-fishing and I am not anti-conservationist. I’m just anti-stupidity.

Dr Magnus Johnson is a Marine Biologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Hull. His views are his own.

Do crabs feel pain?

I was recently asked to comment of an paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology that purported to have discovered that crabs feel pain. The paper by Magee and Elwood demonstrates that if you apply a shock to a crab in a shelter it moves away and avoids returning to that location again. I’m not that impressed with the paper as you could just read it as “if you apply a potentially damaging stimulus to a crab it will move away”.

When I commented, I started with, “I’m not an expert in this area but from a brief cursory examination it looks to me that the authors have demonstrated that crabs move away from a potentially damaging stimulus, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they feel pain”

I was reported in the Guardian as saying exactly that. Fair enough you might think. However this is a classic example of a trainee journalist trying to re-write a story. He didn’t report that I went on to say:

“It’s a complicated and emotive area and personally I am less bothered by whether animals feel pain than by the intentions of the human being inflicting some sort of unpleasant stimulus on any animal. A small boy pulling the legs off a spider is something I find distasteful and as an adult consider unethical, whether the spider feels pain or not is irrelevant. What bothers me is the intent of the individual to enjoy the discomfort of another living thing – the young boy shares certain similarities to fox hunters and anglers. These ‘hunters’ enjoy watching an animal suffer – e.g. by fleeing for its life or struggling to escape from a hook. Compare and contrast this with a hunter targeting deer in the highlands with a rifle. These folk generally take pride in a quick clean kill and are devastated by the thought, if they miss, that they may have inflicted suffering on their target.”

Not quite what was reported.

I am in effect parroting a previous piece of work Eugene Balon who really made me think a few years ago about how we treat fish. I was also informed by another very recent, excellent and thoughtful paper by Rose et al which suggests that we have not yet proved that fish can feel pain. I grew up in the Shetland Isles, a place that at the time was dominated by fishing. I saw millions of fish being casually tossed onto the quayside and in my head they were like vegetables. Whether they feel pain or not just never occurred to me, they were just fish. When I went Aberdeen University to study for a Masters in Marine and Fisheries Biology, I worked in a lab where blood samples were routinely extracted from fish – the research group was primarily interested in the immune system of fish. In order to take just a small blood sample from a fish the lab needed several home office licences and people had to attend training courses where they were acquainted with the law and allowed procedures. Quite the opposite approach to fish that a fisherman might take. I considered the extremes to which labs had to go quite excessive. These fish were treated very well and minimal amounts of pain or stress were imposed on them whatever procedures were being carried out.

A few years later, I got involved in the UK Shark Tagging programme. In the field of angling and and science the law in Britain becomes completely bizarre. It is perfectly legal for a fisherman to catch a shark and leave it to asphyxiate on the deck of a boat. He or she can gut it live if they want. If you are an angler or a scientist involved in a tagging programme, where the angler (or scientist) treats the fish with extreme care, gently brings it alongside the boat, tags it with a streamer tag, gives the fish time to recover and then lets it go, technically they are breaking the law.

I stand by my feeling that whether animals feel pain or not is irrelevant. To damage or stress a living organisms for no reason other than to enjoy their struggling and suffering is like taking a hammer to a Ferrari or slashing the Mona Lisa. It is an act of pure mindless vandalism.

Magnus Johnson is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Marine Science at the Department of Marine and Biological Sciences at the University of Hull