by Grace Carr March 30th 2023
New fisheries management measures were enacted this year in Northern Ireland which will prohibit bottom trawling in nine inshore Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). There will also be measures put in place in these MPAs for static gear such as pot fishing. This is in stark contrast to the overturned ban on boats over 18m trawling inshore waters in the Republic.
The Northern Ireland Marine Task Force (NIMTF) along with other stakeholders including members of the fishing industry, have formed a new coalition called ‘Co-Fish: NI Fisheries and Conservation Partnership’. They will work on ensuring that these management measures will deliver benefits for the marine environment through restoration and conservation while ensuring livelihoods of the fishing industry are also protected. A press release on the new welcomed measures can be viewed here. They also plan to ensure communication between government departments and stakeholders so their MPA network can be improved and managed as effectively as possible. Ensuring engagement from stakeholders such as the fishing community is essential in achieving and managing a strong effective network of MPAs. This is something many eNGOSs including the Irish Wildlife Trust and Fair Seas have called for in the new Irish MPA bill.
The nine areas where bottom trawling is banned will include Marine Conservation Zones, Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA). Unfortunately things aren’t looking so optimistic in the waters around the rest of the island of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is currently being taken to the EU Court of Justice over its failure to implement site specific management plans to protect their SACs. For some sites the deadline for enacting management measures expired well over a decade ago..
Another devastating blow for marine ecosystems in the Republic is the overturn of the bottom trawling ban within six nautical miles of the coast by vessels over 18 metres. Two Munster based fishermen appealed this ban which came into effect in January 2020. It was overturned in October 2020 although an appeal was lodged by Minister Charlie McConalogue and the ban was reinstated in 2021. After more legal action was taken, it has now been overturned again on a technicality that Ireland had failed to notify the UK and EU of these conservation and management measures as they would affect non-Irish vessels.
The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (IS&WFPO) welcomes the lift of the trawling ban and has also called for no policy directives to be set until greater scientific evidence on the status of the fish stocks within the six nautical mile zone is gathered. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) has 11 indicators which must achieve Good Environmental Status (GES). Two of the indicators are: Commercial Fish and Shellfish, and Sea-floor Integrity which Ireland has failed to fully achieve GES for. 22% of commercial fish stocks have failed to achieve GES and 60% are unknown. In the face of these unknowns the precautionary principle needs to be applied and measures should be taken to protect and prevent further damage to marine ecosystems. With the overturn of the trawling ban, this doesn’t appear to be Ireland’s plan.
We are delighted to see these measures put in place in MPAs in the North of Ireland and hope that the Irish government will see that this is the level of management needed to restore and protect biodiversity in Irish waters.
See here Irish Wildlife Trusts recent press release and call for urgent action on the issue.