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New marine zones can work for all, MPs told

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 29, 2012

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Conservationists and the fishing industry could both benefit from controversial marine protection reserves, according to Westcountry scientists.

Last week MPs from the Science and Technology Select Committee arrived from Westminster to hear evidence from academics as part of its inquiry into marine science.

The public hearing was held at the Tremough Campus, University College Falmouth & the University of Exeter at Penryn, Cornwall.

Dr Matthew Frost, deputy director at the Policy and Knowledge Exchange and member of the Marine Biological Association gave evidence.

He was joined during the hour-long hearing by Professor Stephen de Mora, chief executive at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

They were questioned on a range of subjects including how the marine scientific community shares data, funding issues and the Marine Conservation Zones organised by Defra. Zones will protect precious sea life, ranging from grey seals and lobsters to pink sea fan corals, and habitats including reefs, sea caves and sandbanks.

Conservationists have welcomed the overall move but fishermen and other marine industries fear the introduction of the zones because they could affect business.

Restrictions would be placed on fishing, dredging and sailing.

Dr Matthew Frost said views on the zones were usually "polarised" but they need not be.

He said: "You are either for or against it, so sometimes it's impassioned debate.

"People see conservation and sustainable use (of the seas) as mutually exclusive – people either working in an area of the sea or people working in a marine conservation zone.

"But I think that's a complete fallacy.

"We need to get fishing and commercial industry to see we all want the same thing: a functioning eco-system giving people livelihoods."

Professor Stephen de Mora said the zones had received "bad press" from those opposed to them and said there was a lot of misunderstanding about them.

He gave the committee an example of a fishing community in Auckland, New Zealand, who in the early 1980s vociferously opposed the introduction of such zones.

Prof de Mora said although the zone restricted the lobster industry and fishermen had to travel to other spots, protecting marine life had brought other benefits.

Prof de Mora: "Now it's a lively, major tourism place attracting all sorts – it's changed the socio-economics of the region."

This month the Government irked conservationists by reducing the original number of zones off the South West coast from 58 to 15.

Lundy – the nation's first oceanic nature reserve – has been joined by the 15 including Padstow Bay, the Tamar Estuary and Torbay.

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