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A NEW UK-wide fishing industry coalition to ensure its protection during the introduction of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) was launched yesterday in London.

The MPA Fishing Coalition which has been set up to ensure that the interests of fishermen are fully taken into account during the consultation and designation process for MPAs was launched at the House of Commons.

In a presentation before MPs, fishermen and other marine stakeholders, representatives of the MPA Fishing Coalition underlined the importance of ensuring that Marine Protected Areas are introduced in a way that minimises the impact on the traditional and sustainable activities of the fishing industry.

Many fishermen believe that the establishment of MPAs represents the biggest potential threat of loss of access to their fishing grounds that they have ever faced. There are now legal obligations for the UK and devolved governments, both at European and domestic levels (through the new Marine Acts), to introduce MPAs in UK waters.

Representatives of the Coalition, which is supported by the UK’s two national fishing industry Federations, the NFFO and SFF, as well as other fishermen’s organisations, told the launch event there is a real danger that the interests of fishermen could be swept under the carpet during the designation process.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “There is a diverse range of interests and activities in the marine environment and the process for planning and protection is incredibly complex, given that as well as various European habitat directives we also have two new Marine Acts.

“There is real concern that the fishing industry will end up in its normal default position of being the first to suffer. The aim of this Coalition is to ensure that fishing takes its rightful place at the heart of marine planning. It is vital that a sensible balance is achieved between marine protection and ensuring that fishermen can continue to sustainably harvest a wonderful and renewable food resource.”

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: “Our intention in establishing this group is to provide the fishing industry with a powerful negotiating platform.

“In many instances the only way fishermen are going to avoid being swept off their grounds is by presenting a strong, coherent case backed by supportive evidence. The Coalition has been formed as an instrument of mutual support so that individual fishermen or groups of fishermen will have strong backing in putting the strongest case possible forward in defence of their grounds.”

The new Coalition is particularly concerned at the breakneck speed that the UK and devolved Governments intend to introduce the new MPAs. The Coalition intends to operate at the highest strategic level to ensure that they are introduced in a logical, coherent and fair manner.

The launch of the coalition was welcomed by Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)

John Goold, JNCC’s Marine Director said: “This is an extremely active time for marine conservation with many important and far reaching decisions to be taken over the next few years. We welcome the establishment of the MPA Coalition, which will provide a unified voice from the fishing industry across the UK, and we look forward to close collaboration across all of our offshore MPA work. MPAs should allow society to reap the benefits from our seas while at the same time protecting them for future generations. We want to ensure that our approach is fully inclusive and it is vital to include the views of people that value and make a living from the sea."

James Marsden, Natural England’s Director Marine, said: “Natural England welcomes the creation of the MPA Coalition and we look forward to working together to discuss how the MPA network can achieve better marine protection alongside a more vibrant fishing industry in England’s inshore waters.  We understand the concerns of the fishing industry and it is vital that there is always clarity, transparency and trust between us. Ongoing dialogue with the MPA Coalition will be an important way in which we can achieve this.”

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