Fishing and marine protection: What’s the catch?


“Our seas are undergoing ecological meltdown. Fishing is undermining itself by purging the oceans of the species on which it depends. But its influence is far more menacing that simply the regrettable self-destruction of an industry. The wholesale removal of marine life and obliteration of their habitats is stripping resilience from ocean ecosystems. Moreover, it is undermining the ability of the oceans to support human needs. Every fish and meat eaters responsibility for the losses and only by working together can we restore the seas’ bounty” (Professor Callum Roberts, The Unnatural History of the Sea).

The issue:

Our global demand on the ocean is rocketing. The world’s population is becoming increasingly dependent on the ocean for livelihoods, food and many other services. By 2030, annual fish consumption is likely to rise from 65 million tonnes to 150-160 million tonnes (19-20kg per person).  However, global overfishing has resulted in diminishing stocks and widespread environmental damage. Over years to come, how are our seas going to fare? Extensive evidence already suggests that our oceans have suffered significant damage, with loss of habitats, biodiversity and productivity.

On 23rd June 2015, the British Library organised a panel debate to discuss fishing and marine protection. The event was entitled: ‘TalkScience- Fishing and marine protection: What’s the catch?’ and brought together a panel of experts including: Professor Callum Roberts (Marine Conservation Scientist); Barrie Deas, Chief Executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) and Dr. Alasdair Harris, Executive Director of Blue Ventures. The event was chaired by biologist, writer and broadcaster Dr Helen Scales. Here, we present the key messages from the debate.

With this knowledge, how are we going to balance fishing demand with our need to conserve the marine and coastal environment?’

(1) “By working together, we can achieve sustainability of our oceans”.

Increased communication and working between ‘multiple stakeholders’ (fishermen, scientists, managers and policy-makers) will help to improve sustainability of our oceans.

(2) We need Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

The panellists agreed on the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in our global oceans. There was also a large consensus that while implementing MPAs is all well and good- we need to improve our management of them. Effective management measures will be key to their success. Without management measures, many MPAs are “paper parks”.  


However,  our panellists didn’t disagree on the type of MPA we should use to achieve sustainability of our oceans.

Professor Callum Roberts:

Professor Callum Roberts is a strong believer of implementing MPAs with full protection. He believes that “fisheries management alone won’t bring back our endangered species, instead we need MPAs with full protection”.

In the case of the UK, Professor Roberts believes that Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), a type of MPA, should be protected in full from damaging fishing practices. He has recently commented that the UK needs more areas with protection from mobile fishing gears and that currently these areas are “far too small to have any meaningful conservation benefit and will be impossible to enforce”.    He then presented the example of the Arran Coast MPA in Scotland, which has “inadequate management measures in place to meet conservation aims”.

Mr Barrie Dees: Whilst Barrie Dees presented his case for the use of other conservation measures and tools, instead of “closed (fully protected MPAs)”.

 (3) We need to grow our MPA evidence base:   


#1: We need to ensure that MPA development and implementation is based on sound scientific evidence.

 #2: We need to improve our understanding of the socio-economic benefits of MPAs.

Specifically, that there needs to be a greater understand of the benefits of MPAs- beyond that of ecological effects. Panellists discussed the need for human dimensions within scientific research. Assessments of ecological effects need to be coupled with studies focusing on social and economic benefits of MPAs and management measures.

(4) “We need to conserve the oceans, whilst maintaining food security”  

Dr  Alisdair Harris and Mr Barrie Dees both highlighted the importance of the oceans to the livelihoods of global communities. Furthermore, that food security needs to be increasingly taken into account in MPA and fisheries management.



(5) “Overcome misconceptions- fishermen are not barriers to marine conservation”.

Dr Alasdair Harris discussed the common misconception that ‘fishermen are barriers to marine conservation’. Instead, “fishermen are the solution to our fisheries and oceans challenges” and has been reflected by their work with Blue Ventures.

According to Dr Alisdair Harris: “fishermen have been fundamental in deciding appropriate management measures, enabling the plans to be targeted and specific to a marine and coastal region”.  Furthermore, that collaborative working has resulted in economic benefits for local communities, for example in Madagascar (see report for more information).

Key conclusions:

There is hope that we can successfully balance fishing demand with our need to conserve the marine and coastal environment:

However it will be one of the greatest challenges for marine conservation (and ecologists!)

Find out more about the event and watch the debate here