Conservation charity says no damaging fishing activities should be allowed in Welsh marine protected sites

Welsh government has revealed plans which could result in new parts of a protected site in our seas being opened up to damaging practices

Leading environmental charity, the Marine Conservation Society, is urging decision makers to recognise that over half of Wales’ protected sites are currently degraded and deserve better protection.

Campaigners say that that the prospect of opening up new areas to scallop dredging within the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) will be disastrous for the continued recovery of the protected area, which has been heavily exploited in the past. Cardigan Bay is home to one of the UK’s largest breeding groups of bottlenose dolphins, and important reefs and sandbanks.

A large part of the Bay was made into a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in 2004, and in 2010 scallop dredging was banned there, meaning decades of dragging heavy dredges, with long steel teeth and mesh nets across the seabed was finally at an end. Part of the SAC was later reopened to this activity. As this fishing area has become depleted, plans to open other areas of the protected site are being proposed.

There is some good news in that the announcement on Monday gives new powers to the Cabinet Secretary to develop more sustainable fisheries and to set up a group, including conservationists, to look into any proposed plans. However, this is overshadowed by the damage that allowing scallop dredging into new areas could have if it goes ahead. The Marine Conservation Society argues that the basis of the Welsh Government’s decision is flawed.

Gill Bell, Head of Conservation Wales says “this protected site has been badly affected by damaging activities both before and after it was protected. The existing section which has been open to scallop dredging here has been mismanaged and now the plan is to open others, before they have recovered from previous use. Welsh government must also recognise that they have a duty to restore and enhance these sites. By law, it is required to look at the impacts of activities on the wider marine system, which has not yet been done”.

The decision this week further adds to concerns about the protection of Wales’ unique seas. Wales’ waters are so special that over 35% of Welsh territorial seas are designated as marine protected areas (MPAs).

However, in many of these reserves marine wildlife is still declining as proper management is not taking place.

A 2008 assessment found that over half of Welsh MPAs were not in favourable conservation status which means they’re not protecting the thing they were set up to safeguard.

Sadly, we are also losing those small teams of dedicated managers, funding and resources to really look after these special spaces. With the threat of further damaging activities looming, these unique places are far from safe.

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