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Farming the sea: Leading marine ecologists call for national debate over marine management
Published:  25 April, 2012

The majority of UK coastal seas could be given over to the marine equivalent of ‘commercial farming’ in order to more fully protect defined areas of ecologically sensitive habitat, say two leading names in the marine sector.

Professor Martin Attrill, Director of the Marine Institute at Plymouth University, and BBC broadcaster and marine biologist Monty Halls, have called for a national debate on whether management of the seas should mirror that of agriculture, where farming dominates large swathes of land and national parks are created to redress the balance.

The pair have called on the UK to adopt a US-style Community Supported Fisheries model, where local fishermen act as stewards for their coastal seas. They also say that the risk of damage being done to seabeds in areas of intense trawling may be the price that has to be paid for sustainable food production and the preservation of biodiversity in marine protected areas.

Attrill and Halls say: “As a society we accept that, within the boundaries of good farming practice, land has to be given over to food production even if it does come with a large impact on the natural state.

“Provision of large protected areas, such as national parks, compensates for this and provides the balance, whilst farmed areas are managed in as sensitive a way as possible without compromising economic food production. Why not take the same view with our coastal seas?

“There will remain, of course, a strong need to fish the stocks themselves sustainably, but we would need to accept that economic methods of fishing for these stocks can cause some damage to the seabed in these areas. As is the case for agriculture, this is the price we pay to produce food and, like farmers, fishing communities will have the responsibility to minimise their impact as much as possible.”

Earlier this year Prince Charles, through his International Sustainability Unit, joined the debate on the urgent need for sustainable fishing in order to protect future fish stocks, and thus the future fishing industry itself.

Attrill and Halls say this is only part of the picture and that society will have to decide what it wants from its oceans – balancing the needs of the maritime industries, marine renewable energy, food production and marine conservation in such a way that populations can be fed from a comparatively healthy, biodiverse sea.

The authors say attitudes towards the sea must change, and in many cases will be forced to change, because of the growing demand on coastal waters from renewable energy developments and the impacts of marine conservation zones and, potentially, aquaculture, restricting the activities of the fishing industry. They also urge UK consumers to play their part, by changing their habits and to start eating fish caught locally, to address the current situation where the UK imports huge quantities of other species, often fished unsustainably.

They write: "A positive way forward could be a successful management policy of local control over local waters, including those protected areas, which brings back the small fishermen to centre stage as the primary stewards of our coastal seas.

“In the US there are a number of communities who have rekindled their historic links with their local fishing fleets – particularly the smaller boats using sustainable, static gear. These Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) have proved very successful, with an injection of funds from local people directly to the fishermen in return for immediate access to their seasonal catch."

The joint article by Attrill and Halls comes as Plymouth prepares to host the 'Oceans of Potential' conference in September - the centrepiece of the Plymouth Marine City Festival - which will see leading experts from around the world discussing how mankind can most effectively protect and utilise the resources offered by the planet’s seas.

In their opening contribution to the debate, Attrill and Halls conclude: "We therefore can have analogues in the sea for our use of the land, can produce the food we need but need to have in place true Protected Areas which will also be key to this food production. We need to make a brave leap if we are to have healthy seas, sustainable fish populations and a sustainable UK fishing industry. It is time to take on this challenge.”

The full article by Professor Martin Attrill and Monty Halls is available at: http://www.marinecityfestival.co.uk/index.php/news/article/is_it_time_to_change_the_way_we_view_the_use_of_our_seas




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