Will marine net gain make waves for fisheries and aquaculture?

Our Marine Environment Regulation Advisor highlights a Defra consultation on marine net gain and explains what it is and why it’s important.

In 2018, the UK government consulted on making biodiversity net gain mandatory for new developments on land. Many respondents suggested that net gain principles should be extended to marine developments. As a result Defra has launched a consultation on the principles of marine net gain. It is open for responses until the end of this month.

While the consultation is live we want to take the opportunity to raise awareness of marine net gain with industry. This is important because it links into other marine squeeze issues which are currently gaining attention. It’s also an area of work within the marine environmental world that is becoming embedded in policy.

Before I talk about the Defra consultation, it’s probably worth going explaining what net gain is and what it could mean for fisheries and aquaculture.

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So, what is net gain and why is it important?

Net gain is an approach to development that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than it was before. This means protecting, restoring, or creating environmental features that are of greater ecological value to wildlife, habitats and people than any losses associated with a development project.

UK Government has committed to leaving the environment in a better state, delivering sustainable development and levelling up local communities. This commitment includes addressing the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, whilst recognising the many uses of the marine environment. That’s where marine net gain fits in.

Net gain is also considered an essential tool for enabling the UK to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target of net zero by 2050. Net zero means that our total greenhouse gas emissions are equal to or less than the emissions we remove from the environment.

Why is marine net gain important for fisheries and aquaculture?

The need for large-scale habitat and species restoration in marine and coastal environments has been well publicised. The dynamic nature of the marine environment and the mobility of many marine species means this isn’t simple. Any biodiversity losses associated with development, or benefits that could arise from compensatory measures, will often occur outside a development area.

Every effort to improve the marine environment and, in turn, the stocks of commercially important species, is incredibly important. Industry is already facing significant displacement issues associated with renewable energy development. 

Widespread marine net gain cannot occur independently of fisheries management. Extensive stakeholder engagement and co-production will be required in order to develop collaborative and effective solutions.

In summary, marine net gain has the potential to be beneficial for fisheries and aquaculture alike. There is however a very long and complex path ahead in order to achieve this.

What is being proposed by Defra and what will happen next?

In the short-term Defra is proposing to introduce a market-based scheme. This will allow developers to purchase credits that can be used to fund recovery projects.

Recovery projects are likely to include active reinstatement of lost habitats and/or reintroduction of species. Examples could be the restoration of native oysters or important habitats such as nursery grounds for commercial fish species. There is also an opportunity to trial novel interventions which offer alternatives ways to manage ecosystem recovery. This could include efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of fishing activity on habitats and species.

The consultation is the start of a complex process, with many challenges ahead. Consideration of the cumulative effects of development on fisheries will be essential. The general lack of data that can be used to measure environmental improvements will also be an issue. Monitoring and evaluation will be essential in determining how net gain approaches contribute to future improvements and provide wider benefits for society including fisheries and aquaculture.

Find out more or get in touch

The consultation is open until Tuesday 30 August. Further information on it is available from the link below:

If you have any queries about marine net gain or our wider environmental work please contact me on eunice.pinn@seafish.co.uk.

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