Benyon looks forward to recommendations –

Benyon looks forward to recommendations Published:  30 July, 2010

THE new Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, Richard Benyon, has met sea users from the Irish Sea to talk about the process to recommend Marine Conservation Zones in the Irish Sea project area.

The minister said he wanted to meet people whose lives may be affected by the new conservations zones and any possible restrictions on activities within them.

He talked to a commercial fisherman, a sea angler and a scuba diver, as well as several conservationists.

Benyon said: “It was good to meet the people who are involved in the Irish Sea marine conservation zone project and I look forward to seeing their recommendations on what areas should be given greater protection.

“I encourage everyone with an interest in protecting the marine environment in the Irish Sea to get involved in this project. Our seas are home to some of the most diverse species on Earth and need just the same protection as our land.

“Creating marine conservation zones will protect marine species and habitats, from the rare and threatened, to the more common.”

Marine Conservation Zones are a new type of marine protection aimed at protecting important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology. For the first time in the UK, the size and location of the zones will be recommended by people with a real interest in the Irish Sea project area.

A Regional Stakeholder Group of 40 people with a wide range of interests, from fishing to wind farms, will present its recommendations to the government by June 2011.

Several of the people who met the minister are members of the stakeholder group for the Irish Sea Conservation Zones project.

Rowan Byrne, Irish Sea Conservation Zones project manager, said: “The meeting was very positive and informative. It was nice to see so many like-minded sea users from different backgrounds and sectors understanding each other and working productively together.

“The minister’s full understanding of the project, willingness to discuss the issues openly with sea users and continued good will is a very encouraging step in the right direction.”

Chris Woods, who fishes for cockles and mussels on the Dee Estuary, said: “It was invaluable to be able to air my concerns to the minister. I think Marine Conservation Zones can work hand-in-hand with inshore fisheries provided some key issues are taken into account. One of the key issues is the ability to enforce the zones. At the moment there just isn’t the ability to enforce existing regulations and it’s making a mockery of the fishermen. Fishermen’s livelihoods must be taken into consideration in equal measure to conservation.”

Kay Foster, who represents the Marine Conservation Society on the Irish Sea Conservation Zones project, said: “Marine Protected Areas are urgently needed in UK waters and we are convinced that not only will they serve to protect our precious marine wildlife, but they will also benefit the fishing families dependent on healthy and productive seas.”

John Amery, chair of the Angling Trust’s national marine group, said: “I was very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the new minister and encouraged that he is open to hearing directly about the opinions of sea anglers. I told him that I am concerned that judgments about Marine Conservation Zones need to be based on good quality scientific evidence if they are going to be recommended with confidence.”

Anyone with an interest in the Irish Sea can get involved with the project by filling out special maps and questionnaires that show how they use it. Staff at the project have already gathered almost 150 questionnaires after meeting more than 2,400 people around the North West.