SWEEP research supports byelaw to protect inshore waters in Sussex

kelp-web

Sussex Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority (IFCA) has announced the confirmation of its Nearshore Trawling Byelaw, which drew on SWEEP research to inform its development.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has recently approved a byelaw to protect 117 square miles (304 square kilometres) of coastal seabed to allow for the regeneration of underwater seaweed forests. The ban, first agreed by the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) in January 2021, is the first fisheries byelaw to be based on an impact assessment of the natural capital, an approach adapted by the IFCA from SWEEP research.

The new measures reflect an ecosystem approach toward fisheries management, recognising the importance of healthy marine habitats in supporting long term healthy commercial and recreational fisheries. The natural capital based methodologies used by Sussex IFCA to support the need for the trawling restrictions were first developed as part of SWEEP’s work with the North Devon Marine Pioneer.

The resulting Impact Assessment made multiple references to University of Plymouth’s Lyme Bay research as well as SWEEP reports, which specifically informed the assessment of goods and services from the seabed habitats and what these mean for food provision, climate regulation, flood and sea defence, clean water and sediments and tourism and recreation.

The potential for ecosystems to renew and recover when trawling is removed from the seabed is based firmly on the evidence generated from the University of Plymouth’s research in Lyme Bay that demonstrates that such management measures enables species recovery, and also enables social and economic benefits.

Trawling is now prohibited throughout the year over large areas along the entire Sussex coast closest to the shore. The new measures allow essential habitats, such as kelp forests, to regenerate. It is hoped the protected area will enhance important fish feeding, breeding and nursery grounds, and improvements in biodiversity and carbon storage are expected.

Furthermore, the results of the North Devon Marine Pioneer provided suggestions for assessing the condition of natural capital assets which could be adapted for use in Sussex. These focus on the condition of habitats to produce ecosystem services and the understanding that a reduction in pressures, such as fishing, can increase the ecological and social value they provide. Largely based on SWEEP research, the Sussex IFCA proposed an ecosystem-based management approach to support the sustainable management of marine resources, noting that the provision of ecosystem service benefits is linked to the contribution of the range of habitats present.

Sian Rees, SWEEP Senior Impact Fellow and member of the University of Plymouth Lyme Bay research team spoke about the benefits of employing this type of approach to environmental decision-making :

“The natural capital approach allows us to focus a new lens on why marine ecosystems matter, not just to one sector but to society as a whole. Knowledge and decision support tools that can quantify and describe how our well-being is linked to the natural systems must now be used more widely to promote recovery of marine ecosystems.”

Historically Sussex was an important location for kelp beds – a habitat that supported abundant marine life, including important commercial fish and shellfish species such as bass, sole, black seabream, lobsters and cuttlefish. The kelp is now largely absent, so the ecology of the area is significantly diminished compared with the recent past.

Sir David Attenborough, who has given his support for a campaign to protect the Sussex kelp forests has commented on the byelaw decision, saying:

“Sussex’s remarkable kelp forests will now have a chance to regenerate and provide a home for hundreds of species, creating an oasis of life off the coast, enhancing fisheries, and sequestering carbon in our fight against climate change.”

For further info: https://www.sussex-ifca.gov.uk/nearshore-trawling-byelaw

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