Science - December 15, 2011

Better late than never: marine reserves

Text:
Astrid Smit

After nearly three years of negotiations between government, fisheries and nature conservationists, marine reserves are going to be established in the North Sea, and restrictions will be imposed on fishing within them. A good thing, says Imares researcher Han Lindeboom.

‘This is a big step forward towards genuine marine area conservation', says Lindeboom. He is referring to the Vibeg agreement on fishing in protected areas. Two little patches of the North Sea off the Dutch coast - one off the Wadden islands and one off the Westerschelde - will be out of bounds to bottom trawlers and other techniques that disturb the seabed. Next year parts of the Dogger Bank and the Cleaver Bank in the North Sea will follow.
As an Alterra researcher, Lindeboom published a memo in 2005 about marine areas with exceptional ecological value that merits protection. As early as 1990, he suggested that one quarter of the North Sea should be closed to the unselective seabed-disturbing fishing methods which drag nets on chains over the seabed. But the ministry of EL&I, one of the signatories to the agreement, is not going that far now.
‘This year two coastal areas are being protected. Fine. These areas are within the 12 mile zone, so the Dutch government can decide on that unilaterally. Beyond that limit, the agreement of European partners is required. The Netherlands expects to reach an agreement with other fisheries countries next year, on the Cleaver Bank and the Dogger Bank. All these areas put together make up 15 percent of the North Sea. The government has now divided these areas in three: in one section everything is still allowed, in one certain forms of fishing are still allowed, and in a third fishing is reduced to zero. Like this, about ten percent of the area of these reserves is closed to fisheries. That is 1.5 percent of the North Sea. Still, it's a good start.
The next step should be to protect the Frisian Front better. This is a much more interesting area than the other reserves. It has a unique ecosystem with great biodiversity and high productivity, which means a lot of fish - that is why the fishers are keen to hold on to it. The Netherlands will soon be protecting this area because of the Birds Directive. As a result, the fishers will no longer be allowed to use standing nets. But the government is not obliged to protect the seabed, so there is not going to be a ban on trawlers. That's a pity, as it means you miss out on a measure that really would protect a unique ecosystem.'
 

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