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Marine Protected Areas

Volume 587: debated on Thursday 30 October 2014

We regularly receive correspondence about marine protected areas, including on the marine charter put forward by Link. I will be attending the marine charter parliamentary reception on 19 November.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, let me say how pleased I am that Dorset was included in the original 27 marine conservation zones. However, does the Minister agree that there is a long way to go before we can achieve a full network of marine protected areas by 2016, as set out in the Act, and can he say what level of commitment the Government are giving to achieve those important objectives?

Earlier this year we announced 37 candidate sites for the second tranche of marine conservation zones and we intend to publish a consultation on the second tranche in the new year. It is our intention to have a third tranche in 2016, so the work to take forward additional marine conservation zones is well under way.

But a lot of the work has already been done. For example, a huge amount of research was done on whether the 127 marine conservation zones were economically viable. When will the Minister actually start designating the zones that are needed if we are to have an ecologically coherent marine conservation network?

We have started designating them. The first 27 were designated a year ago and, as I said, we are consulting on the second tranche. The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science is doing a huge amount of work—it did a lot of work this summer. We spent around £10 million on research to get the best evidence we can so that these decisions are informed by the scientific evidence. That work is going on, and we plan to do this in three tranches, as we have made clear all along.

I am sure the Minister will agree that marine protected areas are only part of the conservation measures we need in our seas. Does he agree that more conservation work needs to be done, for example on bass, stocks of which, so the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea informs us, are absolutely plummeting?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As Minister for the marine environment, he did a huge amount to take forward marine conservation zones. When it comes to bass, I can tell him that we expect to have an important breakthrough in December. We have always said that there should be technical measures. The stock has been fished unsustainably and there is a tentative proposal, which we expect to be raised at the December Council, that will look at both bag limits and catch limits, so that we can preserve this vital stock.

I wonder whether the Minister has ever been to the Isle of Wight, which is of course an island that people can get to only by using a ferry. There is concern on the island that marine protection areas could get in the way of ferries, which are the only regular way to get to the island. What is he going to do about that?

My hon. Friend has extended an invitation to me to visit the Isle of Wight. I look forward to a journey on the hovercraft—I think it is the last one we have operating in the UK—to meet his constituents. He has raised concerns about some of the proposed marine conservation zones around the Isle of Wight. I can assure him that socio-economic factors are taken into account when we assess MCZs, as set out in the 2009 Act. I hope to have the opportunity to visit the Isle of Wight in the months ahead.