Cardigan Bay or Bae Ceredigian Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in Wales stretches from Ceibwr Bay in Pembrokeshire to Aberarth in Ceredigion and streches almost 20 km out from the coast. It is designated to protect 1000 km2 of marine habitats and species including reefs, sandbanks, caves, dolphins, grey seals and lampreys. A second SAC is also present within Cardigan Bay area; the Pen Llyn a’r Sarnau SAC. This SAC protects similar marine habitats and additionally marine sandbanks, estuaries and coastal lagoons.
Cardigan Bay SAC
The Welsh Government is currently proposing to extend the scallop dredging areas within the Cardigan Bay SAC that fisherman can access. If this proposal is allowed to go ahead, the health of the species and habitats within the SAC could be at risk. The proposal by the Welsh Government also questions the fundamental legislation behind our protected areas. How is an environment, marine or terrestrial, truly protected if activities that negatively effect the environment are allowed to continue within it’s boundaries at all?
The creation of SACs is one of the many forms of European Legislation introduced to protect Europe’s important and representative natural environments. Instigated by the EC Habitats Directive, SACs were created to help protect the 189 habitat types and 788 species identified in the directive and are considered the species and habitats in most need of protection within Europe. There are 92 SACs across Wales terrestrial and coastal environments.
Within many SACs and the newer Marine Conservation Zones certain levels of controlled fishing or other activities are allowed, as long as no negative effects on the marine habitats or species occurs. In fact, only three marine protected areas within the UK are true ‘No Take Zones’ where no human disturbance can occur. The Cardigan Bay SAC was set up in late 2004 and from that date a low level of fishing activity has been allowed to take place. Potting for lobster, crab and prawns by small, local fishing vessels is allowed, with restrictions on minimum size and taking of ‘v’ notched lobsters. Seasonal netting for bass, mullet, spider crab occurs and seasonal (winter) scallop dredging also occurs within specific areas of the Cardigan Bay SAC.
Queen Scallop (Aequipecten opercularis)
Scallop trawling is a destructive fishing method. The ‘Newhaven dredgers’ are commonly used around the UK and have a ‘rake’ that is dragged through the surface of the seabed, collecting the scallops in a chain-mail basket. The scallop dredging completely rakes clean the seabed, destroying the species and habitats that are in the way; such as soft corals, sponges, seaweed, sea anemones, biogenic reefs. The dredging can destroy the physical structure of the seabed and community structure within the sediment.
The ‘Newhaven’ dredger
A scallop dredged seabed
The Welsh government is proposing a permit system that would allow scallop dredging in any part of the Cardigan Bay SAC (currently restricted to one area), subject to certain restrictions that would be proposed annually. Their decision is based on a paper by Bangor University conducted during 2014 and 2015 for the industry. This paper draws the conclusion that some extension of the scallop dredging could occur within the Cardigan Bay SAC without negatively effecting the habitats and species within the SAC. However, the issue with this paper raised by many of the environmental charities and marine biologists, is that the study uses an area of seabed that had been previously trawled before 2010 as it’s baseline ‘perfect’ habitat. This habitat is not representative of what an untouched seabed habitat in this area would look like.
This assumption that an already damaged seabed habitat is representative of what a successful SAC should look like, brings into question the point of the UK’s SACs. If they are meant to protect and enhance the short-listed species and habitats on the EC Habitat Directive but actually allows all the destructive practices to continue, is it really a ‘conservation’ area. And is the UK and the Welsh government legally meeting the European requirement to protect our terrestrial and marine habitats?
Creating and maintaining marine protected areas is a contentious issue, as particularly in coastal waters, there are many stake holders who do not want their way of life and / or business to change. However, it is important to remember that if we continue to negatively effect our oceans and coastal environments, most of these livelihoods will be completely gone rather than just adapted to a sustainable future. If, as in Cardigan Bay, we overfish and wreck what is meant to be protected environment, then the larger mammals (dolphins), that attract tourists will move away from the area, taking a large proportion of tourism and money away from coastal areas, as well as negatively effecting the fishing industry.
If you feel that Cardigan Bay should be protected from extended scallop dredging then you can tell the Welsh government either online, by email or post here: http://gov.wales/consultations/environmentandcountryside/proposed-new-management-measures-for-the-scallop-fishery-in-cardigan-bay/?lang=en
Cardigan Bay SAC: http://www.cardiganbaysac.org.uk/
Welsh Wildlife Trust: http://welshwildlife.org/marine-2/time-for-action-save-our-seabed/
JNCC SAC: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-23
The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2015/nov/09/allowing-scallop-dredging-in-strictly-protected-dolphin-reserves-is-madness
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