European Marine Sites (EMS)

European Marine Sites are areas of the marine environment that have been designated for protection under European legislation and are either classed as Special Protection Areas (SPAs for bird species) or Special Areas of Conservation (SACs for habitats). These areas protect some of the UK’s (and Europe’s) most valuable wildlife and habitats and it is part of the NWIFCA’s conservation duties to manage fishing activity within the EMS in our District to ensure no adverse effect on the sites.

SPAs are designated under the Birds Directive to protect bird species of European importance that are listed in Annex I of the Directive and/or regularly occurring migratory birds in the EU – e.g. overwintering birds such as oystercatcher and knot in the Bays and estuaries along our coast.

SACs are designated under the Habitats Directive to protect habitats and species of European Importance that are listed in Annex I and II of the Directive – e.g. reefs and seagrass.

European Marine Sites in the North West

The North West has 5 SACs and 6 SPAs covering a large proportion of the District.

Special Protection Areas
Solway Firth SPA
Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuary SPA
Liverpool Bay SPA
Ribble & Alt Estuaries
Mersey Narrows & North Wirral Foreshore
Dee Estuary

Special Areas of Conservation
Solway Firth
Drigg Coast
Morecambe Bay
Shell Flat & Lune Deep – Natural England Evidence Report
Dee Estuary

Defra Revised approach to Management of Fisheries in EMS

The Government have revised their approach to the management of fisheries in EMS in order to bring it in line with other activities and protect important habitats and species as part of our obligations under the Habitats and Birds Directives. The revised approach means that fishing activities are now to be assessed in the same way that other activities taking place in EMS currently are (such as construction, dredging & scientific projects).

This work began in 2012-13, where fisheries regulators who had not previously assessed fishing under their remit (IFCAs and MMO) were given a December 2016 deadline to have brought in management where it had been assessed to be needed.

As a result, the NWIFCA has been engaged in a large amount of work to assess all fishing activity in the NW District. This has to date resulted in one new byelaw – NWIFCA Byelaw 6 – Protection for European Marine Site Features, where bottom towed gear has been prohibited from areas of reef, and seagrass beds in Morecambe Bay, and bait collection and hand gathering has been prohibited from the seagrass beds.

The Science team work closely with Natural England throughout the process of assessing potential risk from fishing to conservation features. The majority of fisheries in the District EMS have been assessed and you can view the individual Habitats Regulations Assessments (HRAs) here.

Although not all HRAs have been fully completed, Natural England have agreed that it is not anticipated that any further measures will be required.
Due to the nature and high variability of cockle and mussel fisheries it is problematic to include them within the same process, and therefore HRAs are carried out on these fisheries on an individual basis as and when they are likely to occur. In 2016, five HRAs have been carried out for seed mussel and cockle fisheries in Morecambe Bay alone.

These assessment can be downloaded here (PDFs):

More information on the revised approach can be found on the Marine Management Organisation’s website. The overarching policy statement can be viewed here.