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Inclusion of natural disturbance in fisheries management advice for UK mobile sediment MPAs - ME6011

There are over 250 marine protected areas (MPAs) designated in English waters including special areas of conservation (SACs1) with marine components, special protection areas (SPAs2) with marine components, and marine conservation zones (MCZs). Every MPA has conservation objectives associated with it, describing the desired state of designated features in relation to the extent, quality, and supporting processes and associated diversity, community structure, and typical species. The conservation objectives explicitly state whether a feature should be maintained or restored to favourable condition. A designated feature is considered to be in favourable condition when it is being adequately conserved and all the site-specific monitoring targets are being met.

For MPAs in English waters, conservation objectives are set subject to natural change/processes. This means that components of natural change (natural variability and natural shifts), can be incorporated into MPA management and provide context for managing anthropogenic activities, such as demersal fishing.

Demersal fishing with beam trawls, otter trawls and toothed dredges occurs in marine areas that are designated MPAs. Many of the MPAs are designated for mobile sediment features such as subtidal sandbanks. All fisheries regulators are required by Defra to assess the impacts of fisheries on designated features of SACs, SPAs and MCZs and put in place any required management to achieve favourable condition. The statutory nature conservation bodies (SNCBs) advise fishery regulators on whether a fishing activity is acceptable or may cause deterioration of the MPA features. An understanding of fishing activity, natural disturbance and natural variability is essential to advising on appropriate management measures.

In dynamic marine environments, it can be difficult to decouple natural change from anthropogenic change, and so this introduces a challenge to developing appropriate management. There is a body of published literature on the interactions between natural disturbance / natural variability and demersal fishing in mobile sediments. This forms an important part of the evidence base underpinning SNCB advice and management; therefore, it is advantageous to be able to easily refer to and incorporate published literature into the MPA management process.
This project follows on from project phases I and II commissioned by Defra and the Marine Biodiversity Impacts Evidence Group. The project is commissioned by Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Natural England (NE) and is funded by Defra. The project aim is to produce useable guidance, incorporating relevant published literature, to assist the SNCBs in providing management advice for MPAs with mobile sediment features exposed to demersal fishing.

The direction of the work is informed by a project steering group (PSG) comprising Defra, JNCC and NE.

The project is split into the following objectives from the project specification:

1) Provide an overview of the process used to deliver MPA management advice by JNCC and NE
2) Provide a synopsis of the conclusions, limitations and caveats of reports from the Natural Variability Project Phase I (Goodchild et al., 2015) and Phase II (Johnson et al., 2017), including literature in the respective project reports
3) Provide a synopsis of relevant academic literature published since the Phase I and II reports and applicability of these reports in assessing impacts of trawling on sediment features of MPAs
4) Utilising published literature and the Phase I and II reports, provide guidance that will allow consideration of natural change when delivering fisheries management advice for mobile sediment MPA features in English waters

The project scope is limited to demersal fishing where trawls and dredges are in seabed contact, and where fishing gear is used to fish areas of seabed characterised by mobile sediments. The project scope is also limited to SNCB advice for MPAs in English waters only (inshore and offshore), however the final recommendations could be equally applicable to other UK waters.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : Natural Variability Phase 3   (449k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2017

To: 2018

Cost: £8,165
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Marine Space Ltd
Environmental Impact              
Marine Sediments