By Richard Bell
In the debate over the proposed Eastern Shore Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA), there has been a good deal of confusion about the role of commercial fishing, like lobstering, in a designated MPA. This confusion is in turn a reflection of the federal government’s failure to adopt national standards for MPAs.
The results of a new study of European Marine Protected Areas (MPAs ) co-authored by Dalhouse Professor Boris Worm show that this confusion over the impact of MPAs on commercial fishing is a global problem.
In fact, the study’s authors discovered a profound paradox: far from conserving biodiversity, commercial fishing was heavier in European MPAs than in surrounding non-protected areas.
The study, “Elevated trawling inside protected areas undermines conservation outcomes in a global fishing hot spot,” appeared in the December 21, 2018 issue of Science.
The authors note that according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature guidelines, “MPAs should be managed primarily for biodiversity conservation objectives,” and that MPA’s should “exclude environmentally damaging industrial activities….”
One of most damaging industrial activities is the practice of trawling, which causes severe damage to the ocean floor and results in substantial amounts of waste fish (bycatch).
The report’s authors were surprised to find that the intensity of trawling was actually 1.4 times greater in MPAs than in non-protected areas. And by counting sensitive species like shark, rays, and skates, they found that the abundance of these sensitive species decreased by 69% in heavily trawled areas.
In conclusion, the authors noted that “the lack of transparent international MPA standards” may be partially responsible for the study’s paradoxical findings.
One of the sources of confusion in the case of the Eastern Shore Islands MPA is the lack of national standards for MPAs. The National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards filed its recommendations for national MPA standards in late September, 2018. The panel recommended, “a minimum protection standard be applied in all federal MPAs prohibiting industrial activities such as oil and gas exploration and exploitation, mining, dumping and bottom trawling.”
But DFO minister Jonathan Wilkinson has yet to say which of these recommendations DFO will adopt.
Because Wilkinson has failed to act, the question of what activities will or will not be allowed in a given MPA has to be determined on an MPA-by-MPA basis.
So when Eastern Shore fishermen asked DFO officials earlier this year whether oil and gas development would be prohibited in the proposed MPA, the only answer that DFO officials could offer was that any request for drilling for oil and gas would be subject to an environmental review.
[Note: We have not linked to the full text of the article in Science because the article is unfortunately behind a paywall.]