A recent issue of Fishing News reports that on 1 April 2011, a formal agreement was signed between Spanish ecological group Ecologists in Action and Conil de Frontera’s static gear fisherman to create a “Marine Reservation of Fishing Interest” (MFRI). The ethos of the MRFI embraces local fishing and promotes the inclusion of low-impact gears in coastal zones. It excludes trawling within the 12-mile limit and includes 3 zones designated as nursery grounds where only scientific activity is allowed. All fishing vessels operating within the MRFI must carry a transponder which allows the areas in which fishing effort is concentrated to be monitored by an Andalusian government authority, and the information used to improve fisheries management in the area.
Ecologists in Action distinguish this reserve from the concept of an artisanal fishing reserve “because the MRFI approach combines conservation with fishing interests. The aim is to preserve resources, the environment, ecosystems and local social and economic interests – unlike a marine protected area (MPA) as is being proposed in the UK, where fishing is pushed into the background.” While this comment accurately portrays the fishing industry’s perspective of MPAs in the UK, it does not accurately reflect the different kinds of zoning that can occur within MPAs/marine reserves, in contrast to a “No-Take Zone” which is a particular type of MPA which excludes fishing. The Spanish MRFI actually includes 3 such no-take zones within it – ie the 3 zones designated as nursery grounds where only scientific activity is allowed.
I think what is important to learn from the MRFI is that ecologists and fishermen have aligned their perceptions of this particular reserve so that both see it as a tool which combines conservation with fisheries interests. This is a distinct shift from presenting a marine reserve/MPA as a tool which can provide fisheries benefits such as spillover, as well as conservation benefits, as presenting MPAs in this way can appear dishonest to fishermen who would often rather conservation be clearly stated as the primary purpose of an MPA rather than an MPA being “sugar-coated” as a tool which is favourable to fishermen. The point here is not to get embroiled in the potential benefits of MPAs/marine reserves for fishermen. The point is to notice that the Spanish MRFI seems to have transcended the usual polarisation of views between the fishing industry and ecologists as to marine reserves. The next step could be to build on this shift in perception by recognising that, increasingly, local fishing interests may not be the only local human interests in a marine reserve – perhaps the future will see Marine Reserves of Community Interests where local fishermen engage not only with ecologists to manage the marine environment in a sustainable manner, but also with other local users of that environment (eg those involved in aquaculture, renewable energy and tourism to name a few).