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Marine Conservation Zones and Marine Planning

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2013

Today the Government are publishing a summary of responses to the consultation on creating a series of marine conservation zones (MCZs) around our coast and the Marine Management Organisation is launching a consultation on the first draft marine plans for the eastern inshore and offshore areas.

A total of 40,632 responses to the MCZs consultation were received, ranging from support for the designation of all 127 MCZs recommended by regional projects to objections to many sites and concerns from most marine industries about management of MCZs. A final decision on which sites will be designated will be made over the summer with the aim of making designations in the autumn. At the same time we will indicate our proposed approach to the next stage of work on MCZs.

We are doing more than ever to protect our marine environment and a wide range of marine protected areas already exist. Nearly a quarter of English inshore waters are already established as marine protected areas. In total the UK has 214 marine protected areas covering 73,890 sq km designated under the EU habitats and wild birds directives. Together, these protect important European marine habitats and species and seabirds, their habitats and foraging areas. New MCZs will supplement this network, as will further marine special protection areas on which consultations are planned for the autumn.

We are also improving the way we manage fisheries in European marine protected areas. This will ensure that key habitats are protected from damaging activities, delivering benefits both in terms of conservation and the associated wider ecosystem services. Any restrictions in fisheries must be proportionate, fair and not discriminatory. Outside 12 miles, co-operation with other member states is necessary to ensure there is effective management. That is why I am pleased that, with the Netherlands and Germany, we are working to submit to the European Commission joint proposals, designed in co-operation with the fisheries and NGO sectors, for managing fishing activities on the Dogger Bank special area of conservation, one of Europe’s largest marine protected areas.

The first draft marine plans for the eastern inshore and offshore areas will enable transparent and streamlined decision making, reduce regulatory burden and provide certainty for developers, while safeguarding our environment. In short, marine plans will enable us to manage competing uses of our seas and identify opportunities for sharing space in busy areas so that as many industries as possible can benefit.

Our ambitious marine agenda also includes reform of the common fisheries policy, on which I made a statement to the House of Commons on 17 June, Official Report, column 637. We have secured significant reform of the current, broken CFP. We stood firm during these lengthy negotiations to agree reforms that will make fishing more sustainable, decentralise decision making and eliminate the discarding of dead fish.

We are making good progress on implementing the shark, skate and ray conservation plan, which aims to allow depleted stocks to recover and those faring better to be fished sustainably. Finally, to protect cetaceans we have implemented measures to reduce by-catch, which we will continue to monitor through the UK’s cetacean by-catch monitoring scheme, recognised as one of the best in Europe.

Together, all these measures will contribute to achieving good environmental status in our seas by 2020, as required under the EU marine strategy framework directive. The Government remain committed to taking concrete action to protect our marine environment to safeguard sustainable, productive and healthy seas.