Sparing the Dogger Bank

This blog brings together information and ideas from several previous blogs.

A long time ago, in another life, I wrote this blog about data loggers and kittiwakes heading from Bempton cliffs to the Dogger Bank.  It’s a long way to go if you are a little kittiwake – 150km of sea to cross to get to the Dogger Bank and then 150km back again.  It must be some sort of a place – at least as far as the needs and desires of kittiwakes are concerned.

And last week I spent a bit of time tracking down what the protection of the Dogger Bank actually is now it has been put forward as a cSAC – and the answer is ‘none at the moment, but we’re working on it’ from Defra.

And then on Monday I discussed that interesting paper about whether to share or spare.  Is it better to protect some sites completely and exclude most economic development and to let economic activity rip in between those sites or make everywhere a little bit better.  Well, the answer is, it depends.

All these things come together in the Dogger Bank.  It’s good that it is a cSAC but there must be a good case for complete protection of this important area for feeding seabirds, fish populations and other wildlife such as cetaceans that use the area.

Here is an extract from the JNCC Draft Conservation Objectives and Advice on Operations:

The Dogger Bank sandbank is currently moderately or highly vulnerable to the following pressures. Therefore, to fulfil the conservation objectives for the Annex I sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time, the competent authorities for this area are advised to manage human activities within their remit such that they do not result in deterioration or disturbance of this feature through any of the following: i) Physical loss by obstruction (installation of petroleum and renewable energy industry infrastructure and cables); ii) Physical damage by physical disturbance or abrasion (demersal trawling); iii) Biological disturbance by selective extraction of species (demersal trawling).

Table 1 of the JNCC document is very revealing.  It shows that the most important human action to control, starting from the current position, is demersal fishing.  this is because the amount of fishing at the moment is high and the biological interest of the site is moderately sensitive to this activity.  In other words, there’s lots of fishing and that harms the biodiversity.

Now do we share or do we spare?  Should the damaging activity be banned or reduced?

Let’s not take too much notice of what the fishermen want as they don’t seem to do ecology, at least as far as they are quoted in the Yorkshire Post:

I can absolutely see the need to protect areas of marine biodiversity, but can I see the need to protect a giant sandbank? If I’m perfectly honest, the answer would be no, but we are where we are,” says Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations.

Jean-Luc Solandt, biodiversity policy officer for the Marine Conservation Society said: “The designation of large protected areas such as the Dogger Bank, can really regenerate all marine life, from delicate shrimps, crabs and sand eels, to large fish, but only if bottom-trawling is excluded. We need to ensure these are not just paper parks, and receive the necessary protection to really recover.”

The MCS insisted that “Certain regions should be off-limits in order to allow the seabed to recover, and fish to return in large size and numbers.”

A Defra spokeswoman said “There won’t necessarily be bans on fishing.”

Well, there you are.  Fishermen don’t want restrictions, conservationists want bans and Defra is keeping its council for now.

While Defra is thinking about these things, perhaps they might like to read the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s 2004 report, Turning the Tide.  But in case Ministers don’t have the time, here are a few quotes:

areas of conservation importance are offered only very limited protection from the effects of fishing

Fisheries managers have so far failed to fully apply the precautionary approach and, at
present, fisheries management does not take sufficient account of the large uncertainties
that exist in scientific advice, whether on fish population assessments, or the effects of
fishing on the wider marine environment. We therefore recommend that:
` human impacts on the marine environment should be managed in a fully
precautionary manner. Fishing should only be permitted where it can be shown
to be compatible with the framework of protection set out in this report (7.54);
and
` the above principle would reverse the current presumption in favour of fishing.
In future, applicants for fishing rights (or aquaculture operations in the marine
environment) should have to demonstrate that the effects of their activity would
not harm the sea’s long-term environmental sustainability’

There is a strong case for establishing large-scale protected areas and we
recommend that the UK government should:
` develop selection criteria for establishing a network of marine protected areas
so that, within the next five years, a large-scale, ecologically coherent network
of marine protected areas is implemented within the UK. This should lead to
30% of the UK’s exclusive economic zone being established as no-take reserves
closed to commercial fishing

These are just three selections from the RCEP’s excellent and authoritative report.

The Dogger Bank is the ideal place for this government to make a bold, scientifically justified and much-needed no-take zone in order to help fisheries to recover and to give secure protection to a marine area of European importance.

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6 Replies to “Sparing the Dogger Bank”

  1. Absolutely agree Mark, the Dogger Bank would be an ideal area for this Government to give no-take marine protection to one of the most major areas of importance for marine wildlife in the North Sea. I understand that all the evidence is that such action would mean the the Dogger Bank would then act as a source for wildlife for other ares of the Noth Sea.

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  2. "Let’s not take too much notice of what the fishermen want as they don’t seem to do ecology"

    Hear hear. My personal favourite is when I hear fishermen describe stocks disappearing from an area as "the fish have gone away" -- not that they've mercilessly hounded them to collapse. I wonder where they think they've gone . . .

    Bottom trawling is simply unacceptable and hugely destructive method and should be banned outright.

    I will never understand how these people seem to have no grasp of how their activities are negatively impacting their own communities and compounding the inevitable collapse of their industry.

    I would split fishermen into 2 camps; local traditional fleets fishing local waters vs the factory fishing vessels. The former I would work with to educate and turn them into ecology-aware stewards of their fishing grounds and help them to work sustainably with EU assistance from the CFP to provide some form of useful service toward protecting these areas. The latter would be banned and put out of business for their reckless and irresponsible practices.

    The Dogger Bank is an incredibly important area for biodiversity and should be afforded maximum protection sooner rather than later.

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  3. Agreed that bottom trawling is highly destructive. There is a campaign here
    http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_ocean_clear_cutting/?sbc
    to get it banned as I believe has already happened in the US and Australia

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  4. So DEFRA have told you today that the protection that they are giving this cSAC is ‘none at the moment, but we’re working on it’; but two days ago you reported that they told you that "Candidate SAC status means that the site must be protected from damaging activities to ensure its features are conserved". Putting these two facts together seems proof that they are wilfully disregarding the law?

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  5. You don't mention the fact that the Dogger Bank is the largest of the "Round 3" wind farm sites that is currently undergoing environmental impact surveys for wind farm development. I have to declare an interest in that I make a living doing offshore seabird surveying though not on this site. The only thing I have seen that is guaranteed to stop demersal trawling is an offshore wind farm site. Fishing boats are banned from turbine fields because trawling and other nets can potentially damage electric cables on the seabed. The pilons that the turbines are built on also act as reefs in the water column attracting reef communities of plants, invertebrates and fish. A wind farm can therefore act as a kind of ersatz conservation zone for benthic marine life. The jury is still out on what damage turbines do to offshore bird and cetacean populations. I guess that will be part of the environmental impact assessment when the consortium of developers put in their planning application. From the political point of view the Dogger Bank is a gift as no one can see the turbines from land so who is going to complain about them? Its a multi billion pound project so if it is going to be stopped it would require helluva campaign. If we are going to do anything to head off global warming which in my view along with human population growth, is the greatest threat to wildlife, there will have to be trade offs. Looks more like sharing than sparing to me in this particular instance though at nearly 9000 km2 perhaps the Dogger Bank is big enough to accommodate a wind farm and a totally spared area too.

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