WWF calls for five North Sea marine reserves

Posted: 19 March 2008

A network of marine reserves, covering at least 30 per cent of the North Sea, to help rebuild populations of many fish species and and protect their habitats, are called for today by WWF-UK.

These are urgently needed to provide refuges for commercially important species such as cod, haddock and plaice, whose populations have fallen by as much as 90 per cent since 1990, it says. Some species, like the common skate, have all but disappeared from the North Sea.

In the report, published today, the conservation organisation calls for a network of five experimental marine reserves that will improve the sustainability of fisheries, protect biodiversity, and help establish a healthy ecosystem.

Giles Bartlett, Fisheries Policy Officer at WWF-UK said: "Under present fisheries management policies, species and habitats will continue to decline. It is vital that we rebuild resilience in North Sea ecosystems."

Marine Bill

Such a network of reserves should be included in the the UK Marine Bill, says WWF, to ensure that vulnerable species and habitats can begin to recover from damage and disturbance caused by human activities, and adapt to the pressures of climate change.

North Sea trawler
North Sea trawler
Emptying a day's catch on a North Sea trawler. Photo © WWF-Canon / Quentin Bates
The report argues that areas closed to fisheries can meet conservation targets without having a substantial negative impact on the fishing industry.

The proposed protected areas include sites close to the Dogger Bank, the North Norfolk Sandbanks, and north of the Shetlands. They are chosen to target nursery and spawning areas, yet prevent fishing effort being redirected towards other 'open' areas that would undermining the benefits of protection in the reserves.

The most intensively fished areas were excluded from the marine reserve network in order to minimise the impact on the fishing industry. If successfully implemented by the Government, these trial reserves will displace less than three per cent of UK demersal trawling and less than 11 per cent of UK beam trawling effort. the report says.

Government pledge

"The reserves and a reduction in fishing effort should make it possible to recover some of the lost productivity of the North Sea, producing sustainability and long-term security for the fishing industry," says Giles Bartlett.

The report recommends that the marine reserves exclude all types of fishing to avoid the problem of bycatch, and are closed off year-roundto prevent a surge in fishing activity before or after the period of closure.

WWF wants the UK Government to establish a UK Marine Bill as soon as possible and fulfil its Fisheries 2027 pledge, in October last year, to set up and run within five years, a controlled trial for a Marine Protected Area.

The WWF-UK report, A Return to Abundance: A Case for Marine Reserves in the North Sea was written by Professor Callum M. Roberts,from the University of York.

The five trial marine reserves proposed by WWF would cover about 10 per cent of the North Sea, although fishing effort would only be restrictedin around half that area (5.8 per cent).

A recent report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) showed that the North Sea is one of the seas most affected by human impacts. Its total biomass of major fishery species has declined over the last century by 50 to 90 per cent and some species have become locally extinct

Related links

UK Marine Bill will set up protected reserves

Ocean experts urge faster action on marine reserves

'Sea parks essential to save fisheries'

Pacific ocean fish stocks heading for collapse

Fish may all be gone before reserves are in place