Declaring small areas of the North Sea as 'no-fishing' zones would not save flagging fish stocks, suggests a new report.
Research from Newcastle University for the British Government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) indicates that such proposals by environmentalists are misguided.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) would need to be tens of thousands of square miles in size – at least as big as the size of Wales – and be established for decades to restore levels of cod and haddock, says the report.
Moreover, creating large MPAs would be likely to intensify fishing in the waters left open for business, so further measures to reduce activity would have to be brought in.
However, the report's authors suggest that these 'drastic' measures are unlikely to be feasible and would require a significant policy shift for them to be implemented.
They also acknowledge that there is an 'information deficit' regarding the costs and benefits of MPAs, particularly in the case of the North Sea, and call for more research.
Environmentalists and public bodies such as the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution are lobbying the British Government to introduce MPAs in parts of the North Sea to conserve marine life and restore fish stocks.
A team of marine ecologists from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne were asked by DEFRA to assess likely effects of MPAs in UK waters.
The report highlights that many MPA advocates are basing their opinions on scientific evidence garnered from small, conservation-oriented MPAs largely in tropical waters.
Although the Newcastle team acknowledges that MPAs have brought many benefits to the tropics and elsewhere, it stresses this experience can not be applied to the North Sea, which possesses very different habitats and species.
According to the report, small MPAs have conservation and localised fishery benefits in the UK, which is good news for shellfish and finfish (e.g. scallops and lobsters).
The MPAs will have to be very large to achieve recovery of North Sea cod stocks, though.
"Evidence suggests closing off small areas of the ocean won't deliver results with regard to highly mobile species like cod and haddock," said Professor Nicholas Polunin of Newcastle University's School of Marine Science and Technology.
"You need to create bigger protected areas and enforce them for several decades if you are to see a significant, lasting effect on stocks, which are massively depleted to historically low levels.
"However, this would raise the problem of intensive fishing activity in areas that are left open and further fishing restrictions would have to be brought in to address this."
This article brings up valid points. Much of the MPAs in place today are located in tropical waters, especially around reefs and the like. These fish are often not highly migratory, and therefore, MPAs work. But for larger, coldwater migratory species, small no take zones may or may not help. I am not suggesting they shouldn't try, because something needs to be done. Cod is afterall the fish that changed the world, and needs to be saved. Speaking of which, youu should read the book called "Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World" by Kurlansky, good read.