The Northern Ireland Marine Task Force (NIMTF) is encouraging everyone to take part in a new government consultation that will help restore our seas and the important marine life found within them.

A better future for our seas:

The seas around Northern Ireland are very special. They provide a home for over 50 % of our total biodiversity, including important fish, seabirds, plant life and marine mammals. Sadly, much of our marine wildlife is in decline as the legacy of past activities such as overfishing, combined with climate change and habitat loss, has severely threatened our sea life and their homes. One of the most powerful and effective methods of protecting marine wildlife is by designating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – carefully selected sites which aim to conserve our unique and most vulnerable marine habitats and species. Over recent years Northern Ireland has designated a range of MPAs, and this network now covers 38 % of our sea area. But worryingly, current assessments show that only 4.5 % of these sites are adequately managed.

Black guillemot. Photo credit – Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

Addressing pressures from fishing:

But there is hope. By reviewing how our MPAs are managed and considering which activities will be allowed and which must be removed, we have a chance to turn this around. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is currently asking organisations and members of the public to give their views on a range of new fisheries measures, including the restriction of mobile and static fishing practices in our MPAs. Commercial fishing methods such as trawling and dredging can damage sensitive habitats and marine life such as reefs, seagrass, sandbanks and maerl beds – the very features for which many of these sites are designated for. But we believe that well-managed MPAs are able to support sustainable fisheries and mitigate against the impact of climate change while also working to recover and revive our marine environment. Bold and ambitious measures are required to achieve this, and that’s why we’re asking for your help.

Your voice matters:

The consultation is live until 31st March and we’re asking as many people as possible to respond and support better management of our most important marine sites and for more sustainable fisheries to restore our seas.

The NIMTF are submitting a response in support of proposals to remove mobile gear fishing in each of the nine sites under consideration in the consultation. We also support the introduction of new measures to manage how pot fishing is regulated in these areas.

How to respond to the public consultation:

Click on this link and you will be taken to the public consultation page. Here you will be asked a series of questions on the development of fisheries management measures for MPAs and the establishment of scallop enhancement sites. 

There are nine sites being considered for better MPA management: Skerries and Causeway Coast, Rathlin Island, Waterfoot, Red Bay, Maidens, Outer Belfast Lough, Strangford Lough, Murlough and Carlingford Lough. You can give your views on all of the sites or to a select few areas that are locally important to you.

To support the NIMTF’s response, we would ask you to respond to the questions as follows:

YES – in support of the preferred option 2: to prohibit demersal mobile gear fishing.

YES – in support of the recommended option to prohibit static gear fishing.

YES – in support of the proposed measures to manage pot fishing, such as following best practice on biosecurity, mandatory vessel position monitoring, pot tagging, recording of bycatch and entanglements of protected species and the continued use of more selective gear.

Common seals on Rathlin Island. Photo credit – Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

Enhancing scallop fisheries:

The second part of the consultation proposes closing four sites to mobile fishing gear. The NI fishing industry proposed these sites in response to their own concerns about the sustainability of local king scallop stocks. The four areas have been endorsed by the Northern Ireland Scallop Fishermen’s Association and the industry worked with scientists at AFBI, funded by Seafish, to identify these particular sites where there can be natural recovery of scallops which will then spill-over to supplement stocks on nearby commercial grounds. The sites will be a type of Marine Protected Area, feeding into the wider NI MPA network and they will have a range of benefits to local biodiversity in addition to scallop stocks. The NIMTF fully supports the recommended option to remove mobile fishing gear throughout these sites and asks that you respond YES in support of this option.

Birds, Puffin, close up with sandeels

Thank you for your help!

Ambitious and effective management is one way we can help restore our seas. We believe both marine wildlife and commercial fishing can thrive in seas that are well-managed and we urge you to join our cause to support healthier, productive and more resilient seas for us all.  

Dr. Kenneth Bodles, Marine Policy Officer, RSPB Northern Ireland.

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