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NWWAC responds to the Ecological sensitivity analysis of the western Irish Sea to inform future designation of MPA Report

Irish Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority 2023

North Western Waters Advisory Council Raises Concerns and Offers Recommendations on Marine Protected Areas Report

In a letter addressed to Minister Darragh O’Brien, TD, dated 09 November 2023, the North Western Waters Advisory Council (NWWAC), expressed both appreciation and concerns regarding the recently published “Ecological sensitivity analysis of the western Irish Sea to inform future designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) Report.”

The NWWAC, a legitimate EU fisheries stakeholder body under the Common Fisheries Policy, represents member organisations from Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Spain. Committed to providing strategic stakeholder advice for sustainable fisheries management, the council raised specific concerns and outlined recommendations in its letter.

Concerns Raised by NWWAC:
  1. Data Availability: The NWWAC members highlighted that the majority of data used in conservation prioritisation analyses were fisheries dependent, primarily based on VMS and logbook data. They emphasised the need for a more comprehensive and synoptic sampling approach to obtain an accurate representation of species distribution and population status in the Irish Sea.
  2. Exclusion of Habitats and Species: The exclusion of habitats and species listed in the EU Birds and Habitats Directives from the study led to a significant data gap. NWWAC members pointed out the deficiency in the analysis, especially in the interpretation of areas, such as sandbanks, which were not deemed potentially sensitive.
  3. Peer Review: The NWWAC expressed concerns about the apparent lack of an official review and analysis of the published report. They emphasised the importance of a robust review, particularly in light of Ireland’s ambitious aims regarding Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) development.

 

Recommendations by NWWAC:
  1. Full Peer Review: The council recommended a full peer review of the published report to enhance transparency.
  2. Stakeholder Involvement: Increased involvement of key stakeholders from the outset, specifically in relation to data availability.
  3. Inclusion of Ecosystem Services: Future analyses should include ecosystem services other than carbon sequestration, such as seafood supply and its contribution to food security.
  4. Evaluation of ORE Impact: Consideration of impacts from monopile wind turbine development on local hydrodynamics and potential disturbance and resuspension of carbon stores.
  5. Underwater Archaeology Features: Evaluation of underwater archaeology features, like shipwrecks, as supporting features for localised biodiversity support.

The NWWAC also recommended removing the main commercial species of rays from the list of structures analysed in the document, citing ongoing developments in the management of skates and rays fisheries.

In conclusion, the NWWAC strongly advised against using the report in the ongoing ORE planning process or for identifying potential future MPAs unless additional work has been carried out as identified in the key outcomes of the report.

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