IFCAs: Stakeholder Perceptions of Roles, and Legal Impact

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Keywords: IFCAs, fisheries, sustainable development, stakeholders, regulation, Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

Abstract: Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) established pursuant to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 became operational in April 2011. IFCAs change the face of English fisheries' management: they retain local authority and industry representation, but a broader base of expertise in marine conservation and other marine stakeholder interests is provided for. Ultimately it is hoped that this will enable a true ecosystems approach to marine management to flourish in UK inshore waters. As a sector beset with considerable and competing interests, a broadening of the interest groups involved in regulatory decision making has been the preferred solution to promote such an approach and to move towards the ultimate goal of sustainable fisheries-using that term in its broadest sense. The aim is for IFCAs to overcome the more limited scope of the predecessor structures, the Sea Fisheries Committees, and to contribute to a contemporary, open and inclusive governance model. The researchers approached IFCA members and sought to establish how they envisaged their role in relation to a number of criteria as they embarked upon their management role. The article is intended to provide a snapshot of aspirations and initial perceptions of the IFCA as a more functional marine management model. A mix of views was discovered with an overall cautiously positive sense coming out of the respondents, who nonetheless were very aware of the challenges presented to improving inshore fisheries' sustainability in the context of regional, European Union driven policy imperatives and regulation.

INTRODUCTION

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (MCAA) was enacted to address the lack of a coordinated regulatory scheme for the management of marine functions and activities. As with most contemporary marine legislation with a discernible environmental component, the MCAA is a reaction to a raft of observed problems. A regulator has been created, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which takes on a broad remit ranging from marine licensing to fisheries. It has been granted a range of enforcement powers.1 The MCAA approach is to create better opportunities for stakeholder engagement and more expansive obligations for planning and assessments of environmental effects in respect of others.2 The latter aspect is rooted in policy imperatives and environmental principles which have developed incrementally since the early 1970s. They consist of a complex matrix of international, regional and domestic legal obligations.3 Key to the rationale of the MCAA is the application of the principles of precaution and sustainable development: both tested to the limits by their application in an environment which has so many competing demands placed upon it. This article contextualises the development of a new regulatory model for inshore fisheries in English waters,4 seeks views from those tasked with its operation and offers a view of the prospects of a more fruitful regulatory relationship.

Within fisheries management, maximising yield efficiency, whilst ensuring adequate marine conservation or biodiversity has often appeared to represent one of the most difficult of Gordian knots. A less than perfect fit has long been apparent and the effect of the EUs Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) precludes unilateral action by states, where the impact might affect the functioning of the EUs general market-harmonisation imperatives, outside of inshore waters5 where Member States retain absolute jurisdiction. UK inshore fisheries management has been recast by the MCAA, with a new model which explicitly recognises conservation as a key imperative. The former regulatory arrangement was constituted through the Sea Fisheries Committees (SFCs). With a heritage dating back to the late 1880s, SFCs applied in English and Welsh inshore waters only and were constituted on a local authority basis.6 The SFCs were granted the power to make bylaws to fulfil their functions. Their constitution was broadly made up of local councillors for the relevant coastal region and Secretary of State appointees, the majority of whom were aligned with commercial fishing interests. Over time, SFCs gained environmental and conservation obligations;7 their membership altered to reflect this (e.g. representatives from the Environment Agency and other inshore stakeholders were involved). SFCs were replaced by inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) in April 2011.8 These have a greater remit and broader constituency9 and are made up of local councillors and a statutory seat for representatives from the MMO, Natural England, the Environment Agency and a number of MMO appointees.10 This article seeks to capture a snapshot of the perceptions and foresight of those appointed to them as they undertake their new role.

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