MPAs conserve biodiversity, enhance resilience, boost fisheries and act as an insurance policy for coastal communities when other types of fisheries management alone do not work.

Many fisheries stocks in Ireland are depleted or under pressure.

Oceana’s 2022 report ‘On The Brink, the most depleted fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic’ highlights, the list of Northeast Atlantic depleted stocks covering pelagic, demersal, and benthic species such as anchovy, eel, herring, horse mackerel, Norway lobster (Dublin Bay Prawn as we call it), sardine, and whiting, among others. These species have one or more stocks that are considered to be depleted.

The most extreme case is that of cod, with the highest number of depleted stocks. The depletion of these stocks causes extra alarm due to the possibility that their abundance may have fallen below tipping points. This will bring negative biological and ecological implications, as well as adverse economic and social consequences for the fishing industry since the stocks can no longer sustain direct exploitation.

The reproductive capacity of these over-exploited and depleted stocks is impaired and there is an increased risk of stock collapse. This situation also makes these stocks more vulnerable to man-made pressures (such as habitat degradation and loss) and to unprecedented environmental conditions brought on by climate change.

The situation for many stocks is dire with devastating knock-on effects for economies and wildlife populations that depend on them. However, Irish waters are still home to many known spawning grounds including two large cod spawning grounds along the South and East coasts and herring spawning grounds along our North and West Coasts. Spawning grounds of commercially caught species are a qualifying factor for many of the ‘Areas of Interest’ that Fair Seas have identified as potential Marine Protected Areas in Irish waters. If proper protection and management plans can be developed alongside local community needs then we can give these species a chance to spawn and reproduce. We have a chance to turn the tide and to allow species to bounce back.

Two maps of Ireland showing the locations of cod and herring spawning grounds
Cod and herring spawning grounds in Ireland from the Fair Seas Revitalising Our Seas Report 2022

Fair Seas aims to build a movement of ocean stewardship in Ireland, and collaboration with the fishing communities along the coast is vital in the development of an effective network of Marine Protected Areas in our waters.

Incorporating the fishing community’s perspectives, addressing their concerns, and involving them in the decision-making process is key to building a trusting relationship among stakeholders and making MPAs relevant to their livelihoods and the future prosperity of their communities.

1. Fisheries Enhancement

Well-designed MPAs can lead to increased fish populations outside the protected areas known as ‘the spillover effect’. By allowing fish to grow and reproduce within MPAs, there will be more fish available for sustainable fishing in surrounding waters. In most cases, the larger fish and invertebrates like crab and lobster grow, the more eggs and offspring they produce. Eggs and larvae if produced in high numbers within an MPA naturally spread into the waters outside the MPA and help to increase populations in the wider area.

Example: Cabo Pulmo National Park (Mexico) – The local community understood that their waters were overfished and through the creation of a non-take MPA, after 14 years a 463 per cent increase in fish biomass was seen in comparison with neighbouring waters lacking management plans. The recovery of the ecosystem securing fish stocks and providing eco-tourism opportunities greatly benefited the economies of the local region.

2. Sustainable Fishing Future

MPAs are a proactive approach to ensuring a consistent and reliable fish supply for the long term. By protecting breeding and nursery grounds, MPAs contribute to the overall health and resilience of fish populations.

Iarfhlaith Connellan is a marine biologist and shellfish producer in Galway who has been involved in the recovery of oyster and scallop populations within Irish bays. As Iarfhlaith says, one of the bays recovered in half the time it was predicted to once a management plan was implemented, much to the surprise of the local fishermen and himself.

3. Improved Catch Quality

MPAs can lead to healthier, more abundant fish populations, resulting in larger, better-quality catches. This can lead to higher market value for the fish caught within and adjacent to the protected area if caught in compliance with management plans.

Example; An aim of the Lyme Bay Reserve on the South coast of England is to help local fishers achieve the best quality and price for their low-impact, sustainable catch.

The ‘Reserve Seafood’ brand was created to help market sustainably caught fish from the reserve, and investment in facilities such as chiller units, ice boxes and ice machines ensured the fish remained high quality. By committing to low-impact fishing methods local fishing ports received investment under the European Maritime Fisheries Fund to install this new infrastructure.
This new infrastructure means that the local fishing community can ensure the best quality and price for their fish while local biodiversity recovers.

Areas within the Lyme Bay Reserve have seen a 52 per cent increase in the number of species since 2008, and a 370 per cent increase in the abundance of commercial species inside the MPA compared to non-protected areas. Local static gear fishermen reported increased catches, better routes to market and higher job satisfaction. Read more about the Lyme Bay Reserve here.

4. Conservation of Traditional Knowledge

Early and prolonged local stakeholder engagement throughout the MPA process can integrate local fishing knowledge and traditions, ensuring that sustainable fishing practices are respected and valued within the conservation efforts.

Involving local and fishing stakeholders, and encompassing traditional knowledge within the MPA process is a key aspect for gaining support, compliance and local species recovery (Francolini, et al. 2023).

Lohainmneacha agus iascaireacht (Places names and fishing) – Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry
Tim Kirby a South Kerry Fisherman points to the traditional place names along the coast used by local fishermen for generations

5. Involvement in MPA Design and Management

Involving the fishing community in the decision-making process of designing and managing MPAs is crucial. Their input can help shape regulations that balance conservation with fishing needs and access to sites. Some MPAs are designed to help a fished species recover.

Example. In Northern Spain, local small-scale fishers and fishing organisations work together with local and regional governments to ensure the recovery and sustainable use of the local waters (Piñeiro-Corbeira et al. 2022).

6. Diverse Economic Activities

Well-managed MPAs attract tourists interested in marine life and fishing culture. This can open up new economic opportunities, such as offering fishing-related experiences or guided coastal, heritage and wildlife tours. Active research, public outreach and engagement within an MPA allows for new jobs and skill sets to become available to support diverse local employment opportunities.

Example: On Jersey in the UK a snorkeling trail was established to engage people with local marine life. Initiatives such as this open up opportunities for new nature businesses and rentals of required equipment within coastal communities.

7. Long-Term Job Security

MPAs contribute to a more stable and resilient marine ecosystem, which can ultimately lead to more reliable fishing opportunities and job security for the fishing community. By studying the species in a local area and working with the local fishing communities MPAs acts as an insurance policy. By putting management plans in place for key spawning grounds communities can ensure that a high level of juveniles and large reproductive adults continue to spawn in their local area.

The lobster v-notching scheme that is in place in many parts of Ireland is already showing the positive effects of a management plan for many local stocks. On the 2022 v-notching effort Ian Lawler, BIM Development Manager said, “The 40,339 lobsters released in 2022 represent over 302 million larvae that will be released each time the lobsters spawn. It is a great collective effort that is enhancing the sustainability of a fishery that is the cornerstone of the Irish inshore sector.

8. Access to Research and Technology

MPAs support scientific research and study, which can lead to improved fishing techniques, a better understanding of fish behaviour and increased catch efficiency. Using new types of gear and technology to avoid bycatch not only benefits the non-target species but increases the efficiency of fishing effort. Further scientific study of an area can directly add to the local economy via the need for accommodation and charting local fishing boats on which to conduct surveys. Through a local commitment to fish using low-impact methods, funding can be accessed to develop infrastructure and purchase new gear for the community, such as via the European Maritime Fisheries Fund.

9. Support for Sustainable Fishing Practices

MPAs can serve as models for sustainable fishing practices. By demonstrating the benefits of responsible fishing, MPAs can encourage the adoption of similar practices elsewhere.

Example. On Jersey in the UK a new brand was established and promoted selling hand-dived scallops. Hand diving for scallops hugely reduces the damage related to harvesting scallops with a bottom trawler. Local divers and fishmongers were involved in the creation of the logo and featured in the promotional content which proudly represented their community’s initiatives. Read more about this initiative here.

10. Collective Responsibility for Resource Management

MPAs are part of a collaborative effort to ensure the long-term viability of fisheries and the health of local ecosystems. By working together, the fishing community can be part of a solution that benefits everyone involved. “Small-scale fishers’ knowledge of seasonal variations in marine fish behaviour and movements, marine habitat composition changes, and stock assessment (Brown et al., 2018; Johannes et al., 2000; Teixeira et al., 2013) can potentially improve marine governance and monitoring in the face of environmental uncertainty.” – (Piñeiro-Corbeira et al. 2022).

We all rely on a healthy ocean and with collaboration throughout Ireland’s Marine Protected Area process we can ensure that Ireland’s waters continue to support our coastal communities, remain a safe place for wildlife and store carbon. All in all, if we look after the ocean, it will continue to look after us.

Actions you can take and other resources:

Please sign our petition to ensure that strong Marine Protected Area legislation is enacted without delay.

You can see our ‘Ten Key Asks’ of the legislation here, which includes the incorporation of mandatory meaningful stakeholder engagement.

Through our engagement with fishing communities in collaboration with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group we have a series of interviews with fishermen from around Ireland that you can find on the Fair Seas YouTube channel.

Please see more Fair Seas publications and resources for further reading below:

Revitalising Our Seas, identifying areas of interest for Marine Protected Area designation in Irish Waters.

Sustainably Financing Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network.

Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Areas – A Legal Handbook

White Paper on forthcoming MPA Legislation

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