The European Symposium on Marine Protected Areas, held in September 2007 in Murcia, Spain, provided a wide range of findings and perspectives on the use of MPAs for ecosystem conservation and fisheries management (

MPA News attended the symposium and featured selected presenters and findings in our October 2007 edition (MPA News 9:4). Coverage of the symposium continues in this and next month’s editions as well. This month, we offer lessons on two aspects of MPA planning:

  • Why it is useful for fisheries and conservation agencies to decide how they will resolve future conflicts in MPA planning; and
  • Why it is important for MPA scientists to acknowledge what they do not yet know.

Why agencies should consider the use of pre-arranged agreements in MPA planning

It is common for countries to divide the management of their ocean resources among more than one part of government. Fisheries, for example, are usually managed by a fisheries department, while the conservation of habitats may be managed by an environment- or parks-oriented department. As a result, jurisdictional questions frequently arise when MPAs are proposed. Resolving these can result in significant delays in decision-making and planning, and frustration among stakeholders and planners.

Agencies can avoid such delays by anticipating what jurisdictional issues may arise in future MPA planning, then negotiating agreements ahead of time, says Simon Jennings. Jennings is lead scientist for the Environment and Ecosystems Division at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) in the UK. He also works as an advisor on international marine conservation and fisheries issues. In a presentation at the Murcia symposium, Jennings said pre-arranged agreements between agencies could help guide those agencies in resolving questions to come during MPA establishment.

“Pre-arranged and pre-negotiated agreements are preferable to arrangements made in more of an ad hoc or case-by-case manner,” he tells MPA News. Crafting agreements ahead of time, he says, has several benefits:

  • They help to support faster decision-making in the future;
  • They can buffer the planning process against inconsistencies associated with changing administrations and personnel;
  • They guarantee institutional memory; and
  • They ensure that all those involved in the designation process know their role at the outset.

“Of course, the initial development of pre-agreed arrangements will require a significant time investment by all parties,” says Jennings. “But this short-term cost is countered by the expectation that a single, higher-level negotiation process ahead of time will attract contributions from more and better-prepared participants, and will help to reduce ‘stakeholder fatigue’ in the future.”

Jennings cites New Zealand as an example of a country that has instituted pre-arranged agreements on MPAs. “In New Zealand there are agreements that deal with collaboration at policy and administrative levels,” he says. “At the policy level, the national Government’s Marine Protected Areas Policy and Implementation Plan identifies the purpose of MPAs and helps to achieve a consistent cross-Government approach to identifying potential MPAs based on agreed criteria. This is needed because several parts of Government ‘own’ the right to implement MPAs. The Department of Conservation, for example, can create marine reserves, while the Ministry of Fisheries can close areas to avoid, remedy, or mitigate unwanted fishing impacts. At the administrative level, there is also a formal agreement to cover the ‘signing off’ [designation] of MPAs. This helps to minimize the impact of staff changes and the changing relationships among parts of Government on the signing-off process.”

Anthony Grehan, a biologist at the National University of Ireland, Galway, agrees with Jennings that pre-arranged agreements can be useful. He says the European Commission has indicated interest in developing a pre-ordained response to particular marine conservation scenarios. This interest was articulated, he says, during a recent meeting of a Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) working group evaluating the effectiveness of EU policy measures for using closed areas in fisheries management (

“In the European Union, all Member States have ceded competence to manage fisheries beyond their territorial seas to the European Commission under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP),” explains Grehan. “The group of experts at the STECF meeting, drawn from fisheries and conservation backgrounds, considered that, in addition to fisheries closures, conservation areas requiring management of fisheries through the mechanism of the CFP should also be evaluated.”

In early 2007, says Grehan, Ireland became the first EU Member State to request that the Commission establish appropriate measures under the CFP to allow the management of fisheries activities in offshore Special Areas of Conservation, or SACs. The SACs in question were four areas off the west coast of Ireland that had been designated under the EU Habitats Directive to protect deep-water coral. The Irish request led to the establishment of an ad hoc working group and a series of consultations with scientists and stakeholder groups. The Commission eventually adopted a proposal from the Irish Government for measures to protect these coral reefs.

“Reaching this decision was a lengthy process taking several months as well as engaging a large number of actors,” says Grehan. “As it is likely that other Member States will designate offshore conservation areas requiring similar measures, I assume that the Commission would like to avoid duplication and delay when requested by Member States to act in the future.” He adds that an important consideration when adopting pre-negotiated agreements, particularly with stakeholders, is to build in a review mechanism to facilitate adaptive management. By revisiting the agreement every few years, management and stakeholders can incorporate advances in scientific understanding and technology. Grehan, a participant in the EU-funded MPA research project PROTECT (, notes his comments for this article reflect his personal views and are not intended to represent the position of the European Commission.

Jennings says that pre-negotiated agreements remain relatively rare in the global MPA field despite their merit. “The scarcity of these arrangements is surprising given the institutional and political challenges that have been identified during MPA planning and designation,” he says. “Although pre-agreed rules may limit political ‘wiggle room’, there is growing awareness that the processes for identifying and reviewing proposed designations need to be streamlined. In part, this is simply a consequence of the higher profile of MPAs following commitments made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the increased time spent on MPA issues by governments. It is also based on the recognition that MPAs have often failed to meet their management objectives when they were not supported by all agencies with potential jurisdiction.”

For more information

Simon Jennings, Cefas, Pakefield Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk NR33 0HT, UK. Tel: +44 1502 562244; E-mail:

Anthony Grehan, National University of Ireland, University Road, Galway, Ireland. Tel: +353 91 524411; E-mail:

What the MPA science community “knows it doesn’t know”, and what this implies for management: Interview with Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens is a senior lecturer in Marine and Coastal Ecosystem-based Management at the University of Plymouth in the UK, and served for 11 years as senior principal conservation officer in the Marine Parks Branch of the Queensland (Australia) National Parks and Wildlife Service. In a presentation titled “Where to for MPAs in the UK?: Assessing the management of MPAs in the UK in a global context”, Stevens said there were certain questions about MPA design for which scientists knew they did not yet have good answers. “In essence,” he said, “the MPA science community knows what it doesn’t know.” MPA News interviewed him, below, to examine what he meant by this.

MPA News: In your view, what does the science community know that it does not yet know about MPA design?

Tim Stevens: It is important to set this in context. Where MPAs fail, they do so more often from poor governance than from failures in design, even allowing for bias in the literature. I have said this before and been taken to task for implying that all the issues pertaining to quantitative design of MPAs have been resolved, which of course they have not.

The science community is active and engaged in good science for MPA design, and is certainly aware of the shortcomings of current methods and available information. For MPAs designed primarily with biodiversity conservation in mind, the science community knows, for example, that it often lacks habitat (or biotope or assemblage) mapping at the requisite scale, and is forced to use surrogates. The science community knows that it often lacks detailed information about current and future patterns of human use. It knows that it lacks detailed information about the coupling between different functional or trophic components of biodiversity. For MPAs designed primarily for fisheries management, the science community knows that it often lacks detailed information about levels and distribution of effort (the behavior of the top predator – i.e., man). It also knows that it lacks detailed information about the movements of target species within and across reserve boundaries, and so on.

This is of course far from an exhaustive list. But the point is that there is no such thing as perfect data or methods. We have to manage, and manage effectively, with what we have, while identifying and filling the gaps.

MPA News: Why is it important for the MPA science community to acknowledge what it does not yet know?

Stevens: There are two reasons. First, it is so that we – the science community, fishers, conservation groups, managers, etc. – understand the limitations of what can be achieved at present, and are therefore able to frame realistic goals and objectives for MPA science and management within those bounds. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is so that we can prioritize research and monitoring resources toward those gaps that are important in realizing the longer-term aspirational goals that are currently beyond our reach.

We can work toward that knowledge – i.e., the things we do not currently know – in a structured way by using well-designed adaptive management methods. The 2001 report Adaptive Management: A Tool for Conservation Practitioners by Salafsky et al. is a good place to start [available at]. But in essence we should accept the reality that all policies, including MPAs, are experiments, and treat them as rigorously as we would any other experimental trial, improving them with each iteration.

For more information

Tim Stevens, School of Earth, Ocean and Environmental Science, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 1752 233036; E-mail:

BOX: What should be included in pre-arranged agreements on MPAs?

Simon Jennings says agencies should consider the use of pre-arranged agreements to help streamline the process of MPA planning and avoid delays caused by jurisdictional disputes [see article above]. MPA News asked Jennings about the range of topics that such agreements could cover. His answer is below:

“In relation to pre-arranged agreements dealing with policy and implementation, a non-exclusive list of the main characteristics would be that the agreements should:

  • Define an MPA for the purposes of the agreement;
  • Specify an agreed rationale and criteria for MPA designation based on clearly articulated management objectives;
  • Describe the rules for engagement between relevant authorities during the designation process (including the conduct of persons and authorities involved); and
  • Provide mechanisms for dealing with appeals and ensuring the progressive improvement of the agreement and designation process.

“In addition, prearranged agreements could be developed to guide the practical aspects of the designation process including the scientific analyses necessary to predict the impacts of an MPA or MPA network.

“It is surprising that simple and obvious consequences of MPA implementation, such as the displacement of human activity and its effects on meeting management objectives that are set at scales larger than the MPA, are rarely considered on a systematic basis. A prearranged process for the provision of science advice could therefore consist of a simple checklist of analyses that need to be conducted when assessing the effects of designation and guidance on interpreting the outputs of these analyses. The analyses would focus on determining whether an MPA or network of MPAs would meet the stated management objectives. The outputs of the analyses would contribute to identifying and resolving any incompatibilities among management objectives at multiple scales – from within the MPA to regionally and internationally.”