Press Release from Alun Davies, Minister for Natural Resources and Food, Welsh Assembly Government.
In March 2012, I gave an oral statement, as Deputy Minister, in which I committed to updating our strategic approach to fisheries governance. In March this year, after becoming the Minister for Natural Resources and Food, I quickly recognised the importance of developing fisheries and marine policy together and created a single division in the Welsh Government dealing with marine policy and fisheries. The new team is already in place and are working on a comprehensive Marine and Fisheries Strategic Action Plan for Wales. This will be set in the context of my vision for clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas. I plan to present this to you in November. I am also grateful to the environment and sustainability committee for their recommendations following the enquiry on marine policy that has helped shape my approach.
Today, I want to explain some of the key thinking that will shape that Strategic Action Plan. More detail is set out in a supporting document, along with some specific action points for the next six months.
Let me make clear today that I have a positive and dynamic vision for our marine and coastal environment. The challenge is creating the balance between the need to avoid activity that harms our environment while maximising the value of activities that we can undertake sustainably. I want us to recognise the sea as a living resource needing careful management but with significant sustainable economic potential. I want us to learn from our neighbours in Ireland and work with them where useful. I want Wales to be ambitious to deliver sustainable economic growth and jobs around our coasts.
Within the Welsh Government I want to develop an integrated approach to policy-making for our seas and coasts. This will need to include marine management and fisheries, but also marine energy, tourism, transport, social inclusion and more. To achieve this, I intend to have a joint Welsh National Marine Plan for the Inshore and Offshore in place by the end of 2015. This will be a basis for long-term prosperity and sustainability, to respect our environment and allow enjoyment of our marine area. To begin the planning process, I intend to publish the Statement of Public Participation for those Plans later this year.
Our plans must be based on a healthy marine environment. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive provides the fundamental building blocks for an ecosystem approach and commits all member states to achieve Good Environmental Status by 2020. I want this to be a positive process and to balance achieving that Status with facilitating sustainable use.
We have an obligation for Wales to contribute to an ecological coherent network of Marine protected areas in the UK by the end of 2016. 36% of Welsh seas are already protected by 125 different marine protected areas. Over the last year we have been considering possible Marine Conservation Zones in Wales. I thank the Marine Conservation Zone Task and Finish Team for their report which I am considering and will update you on my intentions before the summer recess.
I noted the thoughtful response by the fishing industry to the Marine Conservation Zones consultation – called “Striking the Balance”. I share this vision for the fishing industry and want to work with the fishing industry, over the next few years, to develop co-management arrangements to deliver a healthy and productive marine environment. This is a challenge both to Government and many stakeholders.
My themes for this vision are:
• Better evidence and understanding
• Sustainable, local, shared management
• Increased profitability
We need to understand the ecosystem within which our fisheries operate, as well as their economic, social and cultural importance and potential. We need an agreed, robust method for managing designated sites and move towards protection based on an ecosystem approach. Where appropriate, I want us to recognise responsible fishing as legitimate human activity in that ecosystem, and for the industry to continue to support it. We also need to recognise the importance of our recreational fisheries, both freshwater and marine. Welsh Government will work with those anglers to use their knowledge and to understand better the economic value of this activity.
I want fishermen to fish at sustainable levels, using knowledge and expertise as well as scientific evidence, and, where the science provides for it, to aim for Maximum Sustainable Yield fishing levels. I also want our intertidal fisheries, such as cockle-gathering to be better governed and based on scientific evidence.
I encourage the fishing industry to focus more on improving profitability. I want fishermen to collaborate more with each other and with merchants, processors and retailers to retain more value in the Welsh economy. In addition, where a fisherman identifies a potential new fishery I want us as Government to adopt a fast track process based on a better evidence framework to enable it where possible. I also see the significant potential for developing aquaculture as part of the new EU Common Fisheries Policy, using our expertise and experience from our processes and universities.
That new CFP should come into force in January next year and will provide challenging opportunities for us. It is not perfect but is a positive framework for us to work in. In particular I want Wales to lead on the development of more regionalised regulation in our waters, working with the other administrations around the Irish Sea and other countries fishing there. The new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will be targeted only at projects that deliver our strategic aims for Marine and fisheries governance.
Our ambitious visions should be shared ones. I want stakeholders to work with government to develop actions to achieve our vision. It is a joint project with the fishing industry and other marine users. I want their views to allow us to develop the Strategic Action Plan in the coming months. Once in place I want it to be a living framework that evolves in response to views and as our knowledge and understanding increase. I undertake to update you formally every six months on progress.
I trust you will support me in aiming to deliver this ambitious vision for our marine environment and our fisheries.