Scientists: UK Should Set Aside 30% of Waters as No-Take Reserves

MPA News

A total of 30% of UK marine waters should be placed off-limits to commercial fishing to protect ocean habitats and save threatened fish species, according to a report by Britain's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP), an independent body that provides non-binding advice to the UK government. Calling for "radical change" in UK fisheries management, the report also proposes introduction of a marine zoning system, a ban on deep-sea trawling in UK waters, and reduction of UK fishing capacity, as well as payments to fishermen to ease their adjustment to a network of marine reserves.

The report incorporated submissions from 90 organizations and individuals, as well as a review of MPA research from around the world.

Fishing industry reaction to the RCEP report has been negative. Among the complaints is that the closures would apply only to UK fishermen due to the structure of EU common fisheries policy, making the closures essentially meaningless. RCEP Chair Tom Blundell acknowledges that changes in EU law are necessary to require equal application of the closures to all EU fishermen, and notes the report calls for such changes. "Solely excluding UK vessels would be pointless as all UK offshore waters are fished by other European Community nations," he says.

The 420-page report Turning the Tide: Addressing the Impact of Fisheries on the Marine Environment is available online at

For more information:
Diana Wilkins, Assistant Secretary, Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Third Floor, 5-8 The Sanctuary, London SW1P 3JS, UK. Tel: +44 20 7799 8980; E-mail: Diana.Wilkins [at]

BOX: Opinion on percentage-based targets: Tom Blundell, Royal Commission on Environmental Protection

The Royal Commission on Environmental Protection (RCEP) has called for 30% of all UK waters to be set aside as no-take areas. Arguments for and against such percentage-based targets have been made before by others (MPA News 3:11 and 1:8). Below, MPA News speaks with RCEP Chair Tom Blundell about the politics and potential implementation of these targets:

MPA News: Among those who favor establishing more marine reserves, there is disagreement over whether setting percentage-based targets for reserves is a useful strategy politically. Many advocates say it provides a valuable target for planning processes. Others say it needlessly inflames opposition to reserves from fishermen before planning has yet begun, and that the eventual size of no-take zones should be based on local ecological and economic factors, not a broad goal. What was the RCEP's view on this dilemma?

Blundell: Whatever percentage figure is attached to environmental protection measures, it will be an area of some policy debate, as has been the case in previous RCEP recommendations, such as the commission's call for a 60% reduction in UK carbon dioxide emissions. However, if there are to be benefits in terms of protecting marine ecosystems and conserving fisheries, then it is clear that there is sufficient evidence that at least 20% must be protected from fishing as a minimum level. To allow for uncertainty in studies worldwide of the percentage requiring protection - findings of which have ranged from 20-50% - we recommended a precautionary level of 30%. As fishers are only one set of stakeholders involved in the planning process, it would be counterproductive to solely pander to this interest group. The government needs to be clear about its intentions to the wider set of stakeholders - the general public - that their interests are being represented. Hence a percentage figure is required.

MPA News: The report calls for 30% of all UK waters to be set aside as reserves, as opposed to setting aside a uniform percentage of each marine bioregion or habitat type. Why did the RCEP decide on its recommendation, which could result in less than 30% of some bioregions being protected?

Blundell: It is part of the RCEP recommendations that every bioregion should be sufficiently represented within a fully protected ecological coherent network of marine nature reserves. However, although sufficient information is already available for biotypes for the Irish Sea, there is insufficient information for the rest of UK territorial waters. The RCEP set the percentage in the realization that as more data become available, it will be possible to develop a more sophisticated system of spatial planning at the regional sea level, but that it was necessary to have a baseline of 30% of the total Exclusive Economic Zone in terms of policy development and legislation at this stage.