Conservation plan to boost fish stocks

Emily Baxter
Emily Baxter
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The public are being asked to back proposals to create new marine wildlife havens off the Fylde coast.

The Wildlife Trust has called on Government to improve protection for threatened marine species by increasing the number of Marine Conservation Zones around he UK.

A list of 48 sites around the UK has been put forward by the Trust including three off Lancashire which would help improve conditions in spawning grounds in the Wyre, Ribble and Lune estuaries.

The trust hopes that if all 48 zones it will complete a network of special places where habitats and wildlife can flourish to safeguard healthy and productive seas for the future.

The proposals would limit some trawler activity – a move which may not be popular with fishing industry bosses already concerned by the encroachment of wind farms on fishing grounds.

Dr Emily Baxter, senior marine conservation officer for the North West Wildlife Trusts says: “Mud habitats in the Irish Sea are home to diverse communities of marine life.

“You may think deep muddy plains would look like deserts but they have the potential to be as diverse as rainforests on land. These undersea landscapes have already been damaged, fish stocks have declined and species are at risk.

“Three deep water mud sites were put forward to Government in 2012, as recommended Marine Conservation Zones, but have not yet been designated. These sites are needed to complete the network of protected areas in the Irish Sea.”

The proposed zones are a food source for species as diverse as Manx shearwaters, guillemots, puffins, razorbills, and gannets are attracted by the fish.

Basking sharks, whales and dolphins also travel to this hotspot to feed. The deep muddy habitats are vital in helping to drive this system.

Last year a humpback whale was sighted in the Irish Sea, along with pods of more than 100 bottle-nose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, basking sharks and leatherback turtles.

The Trust’s report has been published in advance of the Government’s plans to announce a third and final phase of Marine Conservation Zones – the Government plans to consult the public in 2017 and designate the chosen zones in 2018.

It says the 48 areas proposed by The Wildlife Trusts nationally will be the final gap-fillers in a ‘blue belt’ of marine protection,

Dr Baxter said: “We will be working hard to ensure the third and final phase of sites is ambitious enough to give our seas the protection they deserve.

For more information visit www.irishsea.org/muddyMCZfriends.