Chair of the Select Committee Andrew Miller MP, said:
“Properly managed Marine Conservation Zones will protect marine life the UK’s coastal waters and ensure the fishing industry has a sustainable long- term future.
“The Government is currently letting the project flounder while sensitive environments are further degraded and the industry is subjected to further uncertainty.
“The Minister should not let his priorities be dictated by fear of judicial review, he must end the uncertainty and set out a clear timetable to designate the zones with a firm commitment to an end date by which the protected areas will be established.”
It has been over three years since the Marine and Coastal Access Act was passed, with cross-party consensus that Marine Conservation Zones were necessary and widespread public support. Despite this, the designation process has been repeatedly delayed and Marine Conservation Zones have become increasingly controversial.
The project seems to be in danger of losing sight of its original vision for marine conservation in the UK, according to the MPs.
Andrew Miller MP added:
“127 Marine Conservation Zones have been proposed, but Defra has consulted on only 31 of these, without setting out when these would be implemented or exactly how they would be managed. It is not clear why some areas have been selected and others not. It seems the Government has shifted the goalposts regarding the level of scientific evidence needed to support Marine Conservation Zone designation.
“Site selection should be based on the best available evidence - the selection process should not be stalled by an unattainable threshold for certainty.”
The report also considers Government and research council support for marine science. The Committee welcomes the publication of the Marine Science Strategy and establishment of the Marine Science Coordination Committee.
However, it notes concerns about the effectiveness of these measures and highlights the risk that changes to funding mechanisms could undermine support for long-term strategic marine science.
Andrew Miller MP added:
“A step change in activity is needed for the Government to start seeing the benefits of the UK Marine Science Strategy and Marine Science Coordination Committee. We need to see both start delivering results.
“We recognise that the Natural Environment Research Council is currently operating with inadequate resources, but it should consider the impact that restructuring its research funding has had on its support for strategic marine science.”
The Committee recommended there should be a duty on commercial operations to share the data they collect, such as seabed or wind surveys and habitat maps, to help improve understanding of the UK marine environment.
Andrew Miller MP concluded:
“Collecting scientific evidence about our marine environment is fundamentally important to the Government’s marine policy agenda, including Marine Conservation Zones and marine planning. It is concerning that funding for important long-term monitoring programmes remains opportunistic and piecemeal.
“Further work by the Marine Science Coordination Committee is necessary here. Developments in technologies such as autonomous underwater vehicles could dramatically alter the way in which marine data is collected. The UK should be at the forefront of these developments.”