Marine Conservation Zone Project Wales consultation: Gwynedd fishermen unhappy

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Media captionFishermen in Gwynedd say they fear catastrophic damage if the Welsh government designates Marine Conservation Zones in the area

Consultation has begun on plans to protect marine habitats around Wales by closing them off to activity by people.

The Welsh government will create three or four marine conservation zones (MCZs) by 2014, from a list of 10 potential sites identified by experts.

But some Gwynedd fishermen are unhappy that it would keep them away from areas they say they fish sustainably.

The Welsh government says it is a long way from a decision and wants to hear all views so they can be considered.

The list of 10 potential sites identified by Marine Conservation Zone Project Wales was revealed by Environment Minister John Griffiths as the consultation process , the first of three on the subject, began on 19 April.

The Countryside Council for Wales, which has helped advise the Welsh government on the choice of the potential sites, said introducing the zones would boost marine biodiversity and support the wider environment.

The council said the zones to be chosen would be given a high level of protection from activities that could change, damage or disturb what is naturally found there.

In practical terms, it said, that meant that nothing would be extracted from or deposited into them.

Potential sites had been identified because they supported a wide variety of habitats and wildlife, and caused the least impact on people using them, the council said.

"Evidence suggests that highly protected sites have a key role to play in terms of supporting the recovery of ecosystems and their ability to adapt to pressure and change," said Dr David Parker, the council's chief scientist.

"They will also improve our understanding of the marine environment.

"It's vital that our seas are healthy and managed in a sustainable way so that we can continue to enjoy and benefit from their goods and services for many generations to come.

"Highly protected MCZs have a role to play in achieving this."

However, Sion Williams, secretary of the Lleyn Pot Fisherman's Association, said members of both the fishing and tourist industry were "up in arms" over the plans.

Mr Williams, 38, who began fishing in 1987 while he was still at school and launches from Porth Colmon, near Pwllheli, said closing off areas of the sea would not work, as fishermen would simply be displaced onto other areas which would then be over-fished.

"They are closing a sustainable fishing operation," he said.

"We had quite a shock when the list was revealed. Six of the 10 sites are off north Wales, and four of those are around the Lleyn. And these are big sites."

Image caption Map of the potential sites for conservation zones

Mr Williams said one of the potential zones constituted 50% of the patch he fished - a 7m x 3m (11.2km x 4.8km) stretch of coastline.

"I'm really annoyed that this has come from the Welsh government," he said. "We are a deprived area here, with low income. They are going to cause more poverty and hardship."

Mr Williams said the MCZ plans threatened the livelihood of about 40 crab and lobster boats working around the coast of the Lleyn peninsula, and also that of people working in associated industries, such as seafood processors, mechanics and gear suppliers.

With the current consultation period due to end on 31 July, Mr Williams said his association was working to get as many people as possible to object to the plans.

"I'm not going to stop fishing," he added. "I have fished this area for 25 years. I'm a third-generation fisherman in this area.

"Many fishermen have said the same."

The Welsh government said it was keen to fully understand and consider the views of interested groups including fishermen, environmentalists and tourism operators.

A spokesperson said: "We are not yet anywhere near the decision-making stage and would encourage anyone with an interest to feed into the process so that their views can be taken into account."

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