Integrating marine management

A new national champion for the marine and coastal area brings previously separate functions under one roof

The MMO has taken over the responsibilities of the former Marine and Fisheries Agency

Rear Admiral Christopher Parry CBE, Chairman of the Marine Management Organisation, introduces the work of the new statutory body

Photo: MMO

Everyone who has an interest in the sea would recognise that there are, and will continue to be, increasing pressures on its use and on the exploitation of its finite resources – but also a proliferating number of opportunities, especially around the United Kingdom. The effects of climate change, the competition for developmental space offshore, resource extraction and the sheer complexity of existing and emerging human activity, coupled with the need to conserve fragile marine ecosystems and fish stocks, have highlighted the pressing need for an integrated approach to the management of our seas.

Since April 2010, the integrated management of the use of the seas around England has been the responsibility of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), an independent but grant-aided delivery body established as part of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. With authority in the waters around England and in the UK offshore area (for matters that are not devolved), the MMO is the national champion of sustainable development in the marine and coastal areas, working on behalf of – and with – all those who have an interest in the use of the sea.

Maintaining the balance

The MMO is the principal regulator in the marine area and is charged with establishing and maintaining a suitable balance of commercial, economic, social, recreational and environmental requirements in order to enable integrated implementation of government policy for the marine area. This policy is primarily concerned with the delivery of ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas’ and safeguarding the use of the sea for future generations. Specifically, the MMO has responsibility for regulation and enforcement of a wide range of marine legislation through a combination of planning, licensing, fisheries management, conservation and emergency response functions. As well as making a major contribution to promoting sustainable development, the organisation also has to consider the need to adapt to the effects of continuing climate change.

It has long been recognised that the seas around the UK have been used and developed in a largely uncoordinated way, especially when compared to terrestrial planning, and that the demands and benefits of sustainability have been underestimated. For the first time, the Marine and Coastal Access Act introduced the idea of producing comprehensive Marine Plans which can be used, with scientifically derived evidence, to prioritise, coordinate and de-conflict investments, activities and impacts in the marine area.

Dynamic planning

From April 2012, the MMO will compile a complete set of marine plans for waters around England and for the offshore zone. These will establish a common datum, include an unprecedented amount of detail, and incorporate existing work by a wide range of governmental, commercial and voluntary-sector bodies. The MMO will be responsible for publishing each draft marine plan for full public consultation, as well as coordinating responses, publishing a summary of those responses, considering the responses received, and making any necessary amendments to the plans. These comprehensive, dynamic plans will be applied with the detail available at local level to allow a high degree of discrimination and sensitivity to decision making and risk assessment when considering proposals and future developments.

As a result, the MMO will make decisions consistent with the government’s Marine Policy Statement and its own Marine Plans for most marine developments, except for ‘nationally significant’ developments, for which it will be a statutory consultee to the successor body to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. These plans not only allow coherent decision making in spatial terms; they also allow temporal issues to be taken into consideration, indicating when and where investment or activity can best be harmonised with sustainability and future-proofing imperatives. Much of this future-proofing needs to be risk-based and relates to the long-term impacts of decisions that are taken today. They take into account important future physical and economic trends, such as the scale and character of offshore development and economic activity, rising sea levels, coastal erosion and the effects of climate change and acidification of our seas over time. Critical to its decisions will be consideration of detailed sustainability appraisals and environmental impact assessments, to ensure that effects over time are understood and integrated within a coherent strategic and sustainable approach.

Marine licensing

In parallel with the MMO’s planning functions is a range of marine licensing responsibilities, including licensing fishing activity under the European Common Fisheries Policy, marine works, aggregate extraction, offshore installations and the laying of submarine cables. Licences and consents are vital in establishing the precise conditions under which activities or developments might take place in the marine area, in order to reduce impacts on other activities, as well as on complex ecosystems and busy commercial, navigational and recreational use. The MMO’s role in licensing is to ensure that what has until now been an uncoordinated marine licensing and consents regime, requiring consents from a range of departments, agencies and authorities, is brought together within a simplified, streamlined process that reflects the needs of sustainable development. The new ‘one-stop shop’ is designed to be fully mature by April 2011, building on an array of existing legislation, such as the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, the Coast Protection Act 1949 and the Telecommunications Act 1984.

The MMO has also taken over the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and routine management of responsibilities of the former Marine and Fisheries Agency (MFA). Where the CFP requires the UK to have a single competent authority, the MMO fulfils that role and, with its partners, notably the Sea Fisheries Committees and the Royal Navy, has a crucial role in enforcement. As well as administering and enforcing common legislation, the MMO issues licenses for English inshore and offshore vessels, manages fleet capacity, issues entitlements to fish in restricted areas and processes transfers between vessels of entitlements to days at sea. The CFP is likely to change significantly over the course of the next few years, and the MMO, with its extensive experience and expertise, will be fully involved in the shaping of new arrangements and will play a leading role in the management of the subsequent reformed regime. The existing Sea Fisheries Committees, operating out to 6 nautical miles from the coast, are being replaced by more enabled Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities.

Environmental stewardship

The MMO has a wide range of functions that contribute to nature conservation and environmental stewardship. Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee ( JNCC) are the government’s statutory nature conservation advisers in the English and UK offshore marine area. The Countryside Council for Wales exercises a similar role for Wales. With advice from the MMO, Natural England and the JNCC are in the process of recommending sites suitable for designation by ministers as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). MCZs are designed to be large enough, and close enough together, to support functioning communities of marine wildlife and balanced ecosystems, and to conserve the diversity of rare, threatened and representative habitats and species. The MMO contributes to MCZ objectives through its planning, licensing and domestic fisheries management, and has the power to make byelaws, where they are needed to protect MCZs (or potential MCZs). The MMO also exercises similar functions for European marine sites – Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) – and in the enforcement of other European conservation, wildlife and habitats directives.

Emergency response

In its emergency response role, the MMO provides support within a multi-agency framework that is normally coordinated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the relevant secretary of state’s representative (SOSREP). The MMO typically supports action taken to contain, mitigate and control emergency situations by advising on the likely environmental impacts of emergencies and responses, especially in relation to pollutants and with regard to the use of dispersants and detergents.

New challenges

The formation and commissioning of the MMO represent a significant change in the way in which our seas and oceans are managed, allowing coherent, informed decisions to be made about its current use and future development. With both national and local presence, the MMO has a headquarters in Newcastle upon Tyne and a network of district and local offices around the coast, as well as close relationships with its sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and a host of stakeholders and partners.

The MMO’s greatest challenge is to engage the attention and excite the imagination of the public, so that the sea’s physical features, habitats and diverse uses become as familiar, as relevant and as precious to an island people as our terrestrial awareness, leading to a shared sense of responsibility for the future of our marine assets.

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