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MPA Fisheries Management Toolkit

The aim of the MPA Fisheries Management Toolkit is to provide a resource for those involved in, and affected by, fisheries management decision-making, laying out the key elements to consider in establishing a participatory approach to implementing management in MPAs. The Toolkit addresses the rationale for management as well as providing a framework for effective stakeholder engagement and governance. By creating a discrete information resource for each stage in the process, it aims to support the building of capacity within the fishing industry to contribute to the management process.



Figure: MPA Fisheries Management Toolkit components


A variety of stakeholder experience was drawn on  to identify what would be useful to include in the toolkit. The graphic presents the key components identified which are detailed in the following sections or accessible via the links on the right hand side of the page.

The toolkit is been designed as a guide to help regulators assess the suitability of establishing a participatory approach, including governance structure, stakeholder balance, management objectives, cost and logistics.

The MPA Fisheries Management Toolkit is available to download as a combined PDF from the Resource Hub.

Driving Purpose

Knowledge of trends and patterns of fishing activity and how they change over time can be critical in delivering effective management. However, it is important that a process exists to ensure that fisheries advice and management continues to evolve as our understanding of these factors improves. Adapting fisheries management measures, based on learning, can maximise the opportunity to achieve the site conservation objectives while minimising the impact on the fishing industry. The adaptive management cycle incorporates feedback loops which can increase the rate at which new information can aid management decisions and creates a shared understanding among scientists, policymakers, stakeholders and managers.

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Figure: Adaptive Management Cycle


Adaptive Risk Management – A Review of ARM in the context of Marine Protected Areas

In 2013, Defra introduced the Revised Approach, a structured approach for the assessment and management of fishing activities in European Marine Sites (EMS). Adaptive Risk Management (ARM) builds on structured, evidence-based management approaches in order to enable managers to assess the ongoing suitability and effectiveness of management measures in light of new and changing evidence. From a fisheries perspective, this includes changes in fishing patterns as well as changes in our understanding of how fishing impacts on the marine environment and an improved understanding of the natural processes influencing habitat condition. The end goal of MPA management is delivery of effective, legally compliant measures which meet the conservation objectives set for the site and ensures that the network of MPAs is well managed and achieving their goals and objectives.

As ARM provides an approach for managing evidence in order to inform and justify management decisions, it provides a means for providing confidence to stakeholders that their interests are being appropriately accounted for. Therefore, participation in decision-making associated with ARM is often desirable to help build trust-based relationships with stakeholders, promoting stewardship and a shared understanding among sea users. It also provides a means to enable stakeholders to become more involved in the provision of evidence. Fisheries managers, scientific advisors and stakeholders all have a role in the MPA management process. 

Further information on adaptive risk management in the context of MPAs is available in the Driving Purpose component of the Toolkit.


MPA Legislation Summary

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are one of the tools that can help us to protect the marine environment, whilst also enabling its sustainable use, ensuring it remains healthy and contributes to our society for generations to come. Multiple legislative instruments have been used to contribute to the UK’s MPA network of over 200 sites. These sites vary in size, location and purpose and different types of MPA can spatially overlap. The following graphic shows the legal mechanism for Government(s) to designated MPAs (at the time of writing – April 2020) are: European legislation (EU Habitats Directive, EU Birds Directive and the Ramsar Convention) and national legislation (Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, Marine Scotland Act 2010, Marine Act Northern Ireland 2013 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981).

Further information on MPA legislation is available in the Driving Purpose component of the Toolkit.

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Figure: Legal mechanisms for Government to designate MPAs in UK


Roles and Responsibilities

MPA Management: Formal Roles and Responsibilities in English waters

Government and Fisheries Regulators are the competent authorities responsible for managing fishing in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The competent authorities are obliged to ensure that activities which could adversely affect the conservation objectives for the MPAs are managed in a manner that ensures compliance with the law. The approach and responsibility for conservation and management in English waters varies depending upon location, driven by differences in legislation and the competent authorities responsible for management.

Further information on formal roles and responsibilities of MPA Management in English waters is available in the Roles and Responsibilities component of the Toolkit.

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Figure: Roles and responsibilities of MPA Management in Secretary of State waters


Guidance on High Level Governance Options

Governance is the process through which decision-making powers and responsibilities are defined and delivered. Governance structures are ways of working which help define roles and responsibilities and support processes to input into management decision making. Although the end decision still remains the legal responsibility of the regulator, participatory governance structures can allow for a more inclusive process in decision making. Participatory governance structures can also help promote better understanding of the purpose of MPAs and their benefits to the wider marine environment as well as to communities and livelihoods.

It is important to appreciate the difference between governance and management. The management process for MPAs is largely legally defined by statutes such as the Habitats Regulations and Marine and Coastal Access Act. However, the options for governance in implementing management are typically discretionary. For effective MPA governance, it is important that the structure created is relevant to each individual MPA to address its specific challenges. Inevitably, the evidence base related to any given MPA and the activities that might affect it will evolve, thus creating the need for management to be reviewed and adapted. To date, the development of offshore (>12nm) MPA fisheries management proposals in Secretary of State waters have taken a community engagement approach, but management has remained state directed (i.e. decision making, and enforcement is set out under a legal framework).

Further information, including factors to consider when selecting a governance structure, is available in the Roles and Responsibilities component of the Toolkit.

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Figure: Participation ladder showing potential governance structures of participatory approaches to management


Stakeholder Engagement

Developing active stakeholder participation in MPA Management

Participatory management is the practice of empowering key stakeholders to take part in analysing problems and discussing solutions to support the development of management strategies. While competent authorities still retain final decision-making responsibility, participatory management aims to achieve a collaborative consensus as a group, with communication, inclusion and transparency all playing key roles. Engaging stakeholders in the development of MPA management is crucial because MPA management measures have consequences for a wide range of stakeholders, impacting their social, economic and ecological environment. Issues differ across stakeholder groups and the need to understand both the issues themselves and approaches to stakeholder engagement from multiple perspectives is important. The following graphic described the principles of effective stakeholder engagement; communication, shared understanding, respect, participation boundaries and future proofing.

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Figure: Principles of effective stakeholder engagement


Effective stakeholder engagement can include multiple stages through which participants contribute to the procedure and its outputs and is achieved through a process of reflection, exploration and discussion. These stages can apply on a range of scales from dealing with focussed issues within a management process through to wider issues such as implementing and monitoring management measures. Any of these stages may need to be visited more than once in order to achieve the desired outcomes.

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Figure: Problem solving using participation


Stakeholder audit and mapping exercises are a useful way to identify individuals and/or groups that are likely to influence and be affected by MPA management. It is not always possible, appropriate or necessary to engage every stakeholder to the same degree and using the same methods, but the final group of stakeholders should be well balanced, reflecting the social/cultural, economic and ecological interests of the MPA.

Good communication is key in breaking barriers to effective engagement and is linked to all aspects of a participatory process. When developing a participatory approach it is important to remember that one size does not fit all. Developing a participatory approach cannot be prescribed. There are a variety of important elements which need to be considered and which will be specific to the issue under consideration.

Further information, including stakeholder engagement strategies, is available in the Stakeholder Engagement component of the Toolkit.



Logistics of a participatory approach

A pragmatic approach needs to be considered when planning an effective participatory process. Constraints on finances, time and level of understanding might all impact effective and sustained stakeholder participation. Face to face meetings, whether they are open to all stakeholders or held in focus groups with agendas, minutes and materials circulated to the wider group are useful but not the only option. Workshops, community displays, events and drop-in surgeries may also be relevant. The use of external facilitators has proved extremely effective in ensuring a balanced approach to discussions within stakeholder groups. External facilitators / project coordinators have a defined commitment to the project to ensure the smooth running of communication and associated engagement such as chairing meetings and collating minutes for circulation.

Further information on the key elements to consider when developing a participatory approach is available in the Logistics component of the Toolkit.


Figure: Considerations for logistics 



Data and Evidence

Data and Evidence Recommendations

Gathering information and ensuring evidence is robust is crucial for an effective management process, however the purpose and use of data collection must be transparent and agreed within the process. Working in partnership benefits both industry and science as co-creation of data builds trust in the process.

When reviewing management in an MPA, there is a need to consider long-term data, trends and patterns in order to build a coherent picture of the site and increase our understanding of the response to management. Knowledge, information, evidence and data in relation to MPA management can come in many forms, including ecological, activity and socio-economic. Although the quality of data available may vary, all sources of information have the potential to enhance management decision making.

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Figure: Use of evidence within the adaptive management cycle


Understanding the risks associated with data is fundamental in pulling evidence together and informing discussions with stakeholders. When there is high confidence in the underlying data, greater certainty over the conclusions from the assembled evidence may be drawn. As the data used to inform management decisions can have varying levels of associated confidence, it is generally not possible to quantify with mathematical precision the degree of risk to achieving the conservation objectives posed by the different management options. It is, however, possible to identify where risks may exist and where they could be minimised through the introduction of management measures.

More information on the types of data used in fisheries management decision making is provided in the Data and Evidence component of the Toolkit. Guidance is provided on data suitability and processes outlined to encourage greater stakeholder participation in data collection for management.


Decision Making

Triggers and Thresholds as Indicators for Management Review

The Government is committed to delivering a ‘Blue Belt’ of well-managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around our coasts. The MMO and IFCAs support this by assessing the impacts of fishing in each MPA and identifying, implementing, and enforcing management measures to support achievement of conservation objectives in MPAs. Both the MMO and IFCAs review all MPA assessments and management measures at least every five years. However, a review may also be initiated at any time if significant new information is received, which may lead to a revised assessment of the risks posed to MPAs. Factors which may trigger a review of management include new information on feature location, sensitivity or condition, changes in conservation objectives or changes in fishing activity. More information on factors which may trigger a review of management along with the two approaches to monitor these factors (effort-based and ecological-based) is provided in the Decision Making component of the Toolkit.


Fisheries Management Decision Making

Depending on the characteristics of the MPA and the type of fisheries occurring, a range of management options may be available to managers, differing in the degree of restriction they place on fishing operations and the risk they pose to achieving the conservation objectives within an MPA. Applying the best available evidence should make it possible to identify where risks may exist, and where these could be reduced through the introduction of management measures so that significant risks of achieving conservation objectives are appropriately mitigated.

Decision-making in the management of MPAs is guided by legal requirements with official guidelines provided for evidencing, formal assessment and consultation. Although there is no requirement to adopt a participatory approach into formal decision-making, there are many examples throughout the UK where such an approach has been taken in the development of MPA fisheries management proposals.

Participants involved in a decision-making process need to have a shared understanding of the uncertainties involved and the extent of risk associated with management outcomes. This will assist in helping to manage expectations regarding outcomes (decisions) and will also encourage shared ownership of those outcomes.

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Figure: A consensus based approach to decision making


The current regulatory framework surrounding designation and management of UK MPAs is complex. All stakeholders involved in the decision-making process should be made aware of the relevant legislation that drives the process of MPA management and understand the legal obligations of regulators. Trust and respect between managers and stakeholder groups is key and so throughout the decision-making process the approach should be transparent. An audit document of decision making should be maintained throughout a participatory process. Due to challenges associated with applying participatory approaches (such as attendance and continued engagement), an audit can provide a concise summary of discussions and decisions to date, which can then be used as a reminder for participants in the process and convey how decisions have been reached for new participants or those unable to attend regular meetings.

The characteristics of an MPA and nature of fisheries will influence whether and how a participatory approach may be applied as part of decision making. Conservation advice is available for most UK MPAs and provided by statutory nature conservation bodies (SNCBs). These resources should be used in conjunction with local stakeholder knowledge to build a detailed picture of site-specific considerations, establishing what data / evidence / anecdotal information is available and where any data gaps exist.

A range of potential management options and scenarios may be identified to explore potential trade-offs and preferences. Any preliminary assessment or data review will help to inform the risk profile for a particular fishery and so scope what scenarios form realistic options that strike the right balance in terms of addressing risk to achieving conservation objectives for the site and socio-economic trade-offs. Models that can be easily manipulated to produce alternative scenarios are a valuable tool to support decision-making and participatory processes. Models can focus on analysing spatial and temporal distributions of activities and habitat combinations to assess the level of risk to conservation objectives, predicting the effects of different scenarios and exploring trade-offs. However, it is essential to recognise and share understanding of the limitations and caveats associated with modelled information. Models are simplifications of reality and unlikely to account for all cause and effect relationships. Information from models should be used in conjunction with other evidence to assist in decision making processes.

It is desirable to aim for consensus over the selection of a preferred option. Ultimately, however, the fisheries management authority will need to be confident that any proposed set of measures sufficiently address the risks to meeting conservation objectives, and where a consensus proposal is not obtainable, take a decision in light of such circumstances.

More information on selecting the preferred management options and how to incorporate a participatory approach is provided in the Decision Making component of the Toolkit.



Supporting Material

The supporting material of the MPA Fisheries Management Toolkit includes flowcharts outlining the implementation of management and byelaws in English waters. Case study examples of varying types of participatory governance structures are also provided along with a glossary of terms which provides definitions of terms used throughout the toolkit to encourage a shared understanding of the language used throughout this project.


Benthic Impacts Tool

A user manual for the Benthic Impacts Tool is available on the Resource Hub.

Bottom trawl fisheries impact sedimentary habitats to various degrees. It is difficult to determine whether a fishery is causing serious or irreversible harm to a habitat objectively.

The Benthic Impacts Tool (BIT) is a decision support tool and aims to aid the user (typically a regulator) in quantifying the impact of bottom towed fishing activity on sedimentary habitats. The BIT has also been designed to inform adaptive MPA management and therefore allows the user to consider various scenarios and their potential impacts on the Relative Benthic Status (from spatial closures, to modified gear types).

The concept of Relative Benthic Status (RBS) is at the core the of the Benthic Impacts Tool developed by Bangor University. The tool provides an estimate of benthic status relative to an unimpacted state and can be used to explore and assess the impact of fishing on seabed ecosystems in a quantitative way. The tool uses:

  1. gear and sediment specific depletion rates drawn from published assessments of the relationship between gear penetration depth and depletion of benthic species biomass;
  2. fishing effort presented as gridded swept area ratios (SAR); and
  3. benthic species recovery rates drawn from the findings of peer reviewed studies assessing the longevity (lifespan) and sensitivity of benthic species.


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Figure: Main aims of the Benthic Impacts Tool (BIT)


The BIT can be used for quantitative ecological assessment of potential management measures in conjunction with other evidence.

Examples of scenarios are available in the Supporting Material of this toolkit.

The user manual for the Benthic Impacts Tool was used in a training workshop run by Bangor University in February 2020 and provides further detail about the technicalities, data inputs and also the limitations and assumptions of the RBS model within the tool.

The R script behind the Benthic Impacts Tool and user manual is available on request though GitHub. If accessing the R script through GitHub please make sure you are using the most up to date version of the user manual (available on GitHub). Knowledge of the R software is required for use of this option. Please contact Jan Geert Hiddink (Bangor University) for further information and access.

The Benthic Impacts Tool has been designed to be a web-based application and may be made available as such in the future.



MPA Adaptive Management

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