|Slow progress towards implementing Natura 2000
The Dogger Bank is an extensive sandbank and commercially important fishing ground in the North Sea, straddling the EEZs of the UK, Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.
Of these, the first three have proposed SACs on the Dogger Bank, creating a jigsaw of sites with centrally shared boundaries. Common to all three SACs is the Annex 1 feature H1110 (sandbanks which are slightly covered with sea water all the time) and the conservation objective to improve its structure and function in relation to the damage caused by bottom trawling.
Germany, however, has an additional conservation objective to conserve harbour porpoise and seals, whereas the focus of the UK and Netherlands is on protecting these at a North Sea-wide spatial scale.
However, it is not only the conservation objectives which differ between Member States’ approach. Germany is seeking 50% of its SAC to be protected from bottom trawling, much more than the other countries. A further complication is that the UK’s SAC, which took much longer than the others to propose, is still awaiting designation by the Commission.
This lack of a joined-up approach poses real challenges when it comes to agreeing common fisheries management measures for the Dogger Bank. The North Sea Regional Advisory Council (NSRAC), in which BirdLife International is a key stakeholder, recognised as early as 2005 that it would be chaotic for each Member State to set unilateral fisheries measures for its own SAC on the Dogger Bank, and urged the EU and Member States to take a coherent and integrated approach. In January 2011, the Dogger Bank Steering Group (DBSG) of Member States was set up to deliver that goal. The DBSG in turn invited the NSRAC to develop and propose a fisheries management plan for the Dogger Bank to meet the conservation objectives with least possible socio-economic impact on the industry.
The NSRAC made considerable progress towards a zoning proposal but the NGOs and the fishing industry failed to reach consensus by the DBSG’s deadline, the NGOs seeking more habitat protection than the industry. The NSRAC suffered from a number of drawbacks, notably insufficiently clear Terms of Reference from the DBSG and lack of time and resources (although this would have been much worse without the support the RAC received from the EU-funded MASPNOSE (Marine Spatial Planning in the North Sea) project led by the Centre for Marine Policy, Wageningen, Netherlands). The DBSG has since submitted its own management proposal to ICES (and ultimately to the Commission by the end of 2012), taking into account the NSRAC contribution.
The Dogger Bank case demonstrates that fisheries management is a challenge when there is major data deficiency on species, habitats, and fisheries impacts, uncertainty about how to achieve the conservation objectives, and when the Member States have no precedent or mandate for cooperation. Lessons need to be learned from the Dogger Bank, as the same challenges face delivery of good environmental status and Maritime Spatial Planning.
In the meantime, fisheries management measures remain to be developed and implemented for the vast majority of offshore Natura 2000 sites, leaving a major hiatus in nature protection for EU waters which is likely to continue well beyond the 2015 deadline of a coherent, well-managed network, especially if – under CFP reform – measures need to be adopted by co-decision.
RSPB (BirdLife partner in the UK)
Euan Dunn, euan.dunn(at)rspb.org.uk