Let me lay my cards, face up on the table.  I spent my formative years in Shetland in the 1970-80’s in a fishing village where skippers were kings and life pretty much revolved around fishing, the sea, the weather and Shetland culture.  It was the experience of helping out on my father’s fishing boat that made me want to be a marine biologist – all those weird creatures that came up in the old fashioned and inefficient box dredge – starfish, sea cucumbers, algae, “scabby man’s heids” (echinoderms) and of course scallops and queenies.  In the days before GPS we used to watch out for rafts of gulls that would indicate shoals of mackerel just below the surface feeding on baitfish. Like many brought up by the sea and involved in the fishing industry, I love it.  I work with fishers and have had a few contracts around developing fisheries management plans, avoiding catching cod and helping ensure fair payment for gear displacement by offshore developments.  There are some rogues and there have been some bad practices by fishers in the past but I think that the fishing industry gets an unfairly bad press.  I often disagree with fishers but I also have a lot of time for what are an interesting, brave and entrepreneurial group of people.

The movie Seaspiracy sets out to tell the world how fishing is not sustainable, eating fish is bad for you and whale populations are declining because of plastics.  As @Taotaotasi illustrates it a disjointed affair with the storyline zipping from whales and plastics, whaling, tuna fishing, shark finning, ineffective institutions, coral reefs, overfishing, salmon farming, mangroves, slavery and MPAs.  It’s a mix of discussion highlighting issues that are of concern and mis-interpretation of or wild exaggeration of the science.

Early in the film he highlights the importance of whales in the Carbon Dioxide cycle.  They dive deep to feed, bring the food to the surface where they defecate thus fertilizing the upper regions of the ocean where you find tiny plants (phytoplankton).  More wales = more fertilization, possibly.  Krill, along with many other pelagic animals, also take part in this regular dance from the deep to the shallows, collectively in temperate regions it is referred to as diurnal vertical migration.  According to the International Whaling commission the numbers of whales around the world look to be increasing, recovering from the decimation since the end of the 2nd world war.  The narrator makes a link between plastic debris and deaths of whales through ingestion of plastic, however according to the IWC, “clear cases of ingested marine debris causing deaths remain few and scattered”.

There is a lot of focus on people driving cetaceans ashore to butcher them in Taigi (Japan) and the Faeroe Isles.  The former has only being going on since 1969 and is said to be driven by the sale of dolphins to ocean life centres and the sale of dolphin meat.  He also claims that in Japan it’s driven by the desires of fishers to reduce competition for fish.  The Faeoese whale drive is a much older and ingrained traditional affair and the meat is eaten (there is a good documentary here that explores the issues in the fishery in Faeroe).  It’s not a particularly pleasant spectacle but the animals are quickly dispatched and the folk that eat them are the folk that kill them.  These are pilot whales which are not thought to be endangered. Ironically these animals, along with large tuna are going to be less attractive as food because they have significant amounts of mercury in them.  There are ongoing investigations relating to the health effects of consuming too much whale meat in the Faeroes.   The truth is, as he points out later, that these events are pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things – maybe a 1000 dolphins a year in Japan.  More cetaceans are killed as bycatch in other fisheries.

He states that Pacific Bluefin tuna are at 3% of their original stock levels and that they are endangered.  They are neither.  Current stock levels are 4.5% of the biomass you would expect if fishing effort was zero and it is rebuilding so that the stock has improved to vulnerable status.  Still not fantastic but it illustrates that the relatively young science of fisheries management is having a positive impact (the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission was only established in 2004).  Many stocks of tuna are in relatively good condition and international management measures are improving all the time.  Satellite based monitoring systems are likely to improve management further.

He states that shark populations have dropped to 1% of their origin.  Again, this is needless exaggeration. It is true that Oceanic sharks are thought to have declined by ~70%.  For many shark populations we just don’t know, others such as the Blue shark appear to be at equilibrium or in decent condition. He suggests that 90% of large fish have disappeared.  This is just wrong. The figure is based on a paper that used catch data (which are not a good measure of population size) from a Japanese longline fishery.  He made a statement about a 99% decline in cod.  I can’t work out exactly where that came from (there have been numerous nonsensical stories about cod over the last 20 years including one about there only being 100 cod left in the North Sea) but it is patently not true, overall Atlantic cod are increasing in number. Stocks are doing poorly in the south of their range and in the Western Atlantic – this is likely to do with warming water impacting on reproduction and survival.  Shark finning gets a mention too – I find this practice abhorrent, it is wasteful.  Shark fisheries require particularly careful management due to long generation time and low reproductive rates.

He repeats the completely discredited assertion from 2006 that suggested that by 2048 there would be no fish left in the sea and we would be eating jellyfish.  The original authors of the paper no longer stand by that assertion.  It’s nonsense.  There is a suggestion that large scale extraction of fish isn’t sustainable.  This is just rubbish.  The best managed fisheries, with robust data collection, good science and observer coverage are the large scale fisheries.  These also happen to be the best fisheries when you consider CO2.  Large and efficient purse seiners use less CO2 per kg landed than those romantic wee boats that you find in rural villages.

We can’t catch fish because we don’t know where to draw the line

This made me laugh out loud.  There is uncertainty in fisheries management (along with most other aspects of life) and I’d argue we do know where to draw the line.  There are instances where we don’t get it right but these are becoming fewer.  In the face of an exponentially increasing human population, fisheries management has done pretty well to stabilize fishing effort in most fisheries.  According to the FAO, 67% of fisheries worldwide are now thought to be managed sustainably.

I agreed with much of the section on aquaculture although I think salmon farmers have got a bit better at not feeding fish to fish.  Open pen salmon farming is an awful practice and I try to avoid eating farmed salmon.  Open pen marine aquaculture is not the answer.  Wild fish are a much healthier food choice and are a renewable resource.

If people can’t eat fish they will turn to other sources of protein.  This is discussed in relation to the exploitation of seas around Africa where legal EU boats and illegal fishery pirates are overfishing stocks that local artisanal fishers depend on.  He claims that in the absence of fish people turn to bush meat and then links that to Ebola.  I’d like to see evidence linking these but it is true that if people cant eat fish they will eat other animal protein.  People will not turn vegan because they can’t access fish. If they did that would bring its own environmental concerns. I’d argue that fish are a healthier source of protein and their consumption is less damaging to the planet.  The environmental costs of many terrestrial sources of protein in terms of CO2 and Biodiversity loss are much higher than most fisheries. George Monbiot suggested that the only way to save life in the oceans is to stop eating fish. He suggests that fishing is the main issue threatening the integrity of the oceans. This is patently nonsense. The proportion of threatened fish species is the lowest of any group or animals.

Fisheries management has generally been an overwhelming success. In the face of an exponentially growing population landings from marine stocks have plateaued. They have plateaued because of stronger fisheries management and we continue to improve. Obviously there are issues, as there are with agriculture, big pharma, transport and social inequality.

To me the biggest problem in fisheries (well everything really) is inequality.  Rich nations develop robust management systems but still want to eat cheap fish.  They therefore import fish from countries with weaker management systems – for example Australia with its robust spatial management imports 60-70% of its fish from human consumption from Thailand, Vietnam (and New Zealand).  The rich nations export or offshore their environmental issues elsewhere – this isn’t just a problem in fisheries.

Inequality rears its most ugly head in relation to poor labour practices in some fisheries.  There are parts of the world where this is an issue and it is important to keep up pressure on government and supermarkets to end this practice.  Twenty years ago I was an observer on a longliner around South Georgia in the South Atlantic.  The Namibian crew on the boat were paid US$25 a week for a 7-day week.  The sister ship to mine sank with many crew losing their lives – the observer on that boat was a hero and wrote a book about the experience. I have been picking away at the issue since then.  It was an example of marine aprtheid where all the white officers were from the wealthy north and the black crew were from poverty backgrounds in rural Namibia. Poor labour practices mostly happen in Asia and around Africa but we also have a two tier system in the UK and Europe with some boats hiring migrant labour at 50% of the cost of local workers.  But while these are issues of concern and grab headlines, they are not in every fishery by any stretch of the imagination.

This is a disappointing documentary, it’s more about the narcissism of a privileged young white boy talking about things that anyone with a smidgeon of interest in marine conservation can tell you are problematic – Japanese whalers, shark finning, plastic pollution, open pen salmon farming, inequality, tied together with a tissue if falsehoods, exaggeration and nonsense. There is no “big reveal” here.  By breaking the law in Thailand and interviewing without a permit he may have put some poor guy at risk – someone who could very well be dead or imprisoned now.  He interviewed a social scientist who really is trying to help make changes – without informing her of the direction he was taking or what the film was for.  These are worryingly unethical behaviours and I’d be surprised if @netflix were happy with it. He picked on soft targets, folk trying to make a difference in a complex world and I think probably selectively edited the interviews to try and show the interviewees in a bad light.  This guy isn’t an environmental hero.

If you want to keep up with the real science around fisheries and people who really are trying to make a difference, I recommend bookmarking @TrevorABranch pages of all time must read and annual must read papers. In putting this article together, I’ve leaned heavily on the library (@SustainFishUW). The site has an interesting article about how misinformation gets into the public understanding of fisheries.

If you have read this article and are concerned about the environment, it should just be a starting point. Read more, inform yourself, take nothing at face value, listen carefully to opposing viewpoints, be ready to change your mind when faced with good evidence. You won’t learn much living in an echo-chamber.

If there are any errors in this piece – please let me know, give me evidence and I’ll correct them.

If you are a twitterer see comments by @BlahaFrancisco, @Taotaotasi, @Jack_IM9, @BD_Stew, @JamesBellOcean and @SeafloorScience

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.

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.


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