The Association of IFCAs is the representative body for the ten IFCAs in England. The Association welcomes the ‘Evaluation of the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities commissioned by Defra’ which has recently been published.

The independent report, commissed and paid for by Defra is available online here 

The Independent report’s timing is important as the UK embarks on its ambitious plans to develop a world class system of fisheries management. The IFCAs can and will play a pivotal role in delivering that ambition and by implementing the findings of the evaluation

Tony Tomlinson MBE, Chair of the AIFCA said “The Association broadly agrees with the key findings of the report. The analysis of implications for the future, drawing on lessons learnt and good practice provides an effective basis on which the IFCAs wish to engage with Defra and our partners in Local Authorities to fully realise the potential of putting local communities at the heart of inshore fisheries management through the IFCA model”.

Our coastal fisheries are important and the work of IFCAs essential. In the UK almost 80% of the commercial fishing fleet is under 10m in length and the majority of these will spend all or part of their time inshore. Les Weller, vice Chairman of AIFCA said “The majority of marine recreational fishing occurs in the coastal waters. Over 50% of our coastal waters are also designated, in one form or another, as Marine Protected Areas. IFCAs have a central role in balancing the different needs in these waters and supporting the communities which rely upon them. The report identifies some key areas where IFCAs can develop and improve their important role.”

In the development of the new national fisheries management plans, it is essential that the needs of inshore fisheries (both commercial and recreational), and the coastal communities which rely upon them, are adequately recognised in the objectives of the plans.

A key message from the report is the importance of engagement with coastal communities. Co-management is at the heart of what IFCAs do. Through the membership of IFCAs, local communities are put in the driving seat of decisions which support the sustainable management of coastal fisheries and the environment that underpins it. The IFCA welcome the emphasis in the report on the importance of IFCA local communication and engagement in fisheries management decisions.

The report recognises that effective management of inshore fisheries by IFCAs is undermined by an absence of offshore controls, because inshore fisheries management cannot deliver benefits in isolation. The report highlights the need to develop wider systems of management in offshore waters for what is termed ‘straddling stocks’. These stocks are fish or shellfish stocks which move from both inshore waters to offshore waters. Today these stocks are some of the most important in terms of their value yet national research and management efforts have not prioritised these stocks.

Turning to the issue of compliance and enforcement; the report identifies a divergence in views. IFCAs consider effective enforcement to be a component of developing a compliance culture. In England the IFCAs operate a fleet of over 30 coastal patrol and research vessels and Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Officers are responsible for enforcing local as well as national management measures. Enforcement efforts are far greater inshore than offshore, and this has been the source of some of the tensions highlighted.

In recent years the IFCAs have developed marine enforcement and coordination systems with our partners which deliver greater effectiveness and efficiency. This significant progress is not captured by the report and the Association recognises that more needs to be done to promote this aspect of the IFCAs important function. More generally this links to one of the key messages in the report; the need to improve how the impacts of IFCAs are monitored and communicated. We agree that clearly defined goals will provide a robust tool to help continually challenge and improve delivery. Furthermore, these success criteria need to be linked to clear metrics and a well-resourced and strategic approach to gathering the data that is used to inform them.

We welcome the acknowledgement that IFCAs deliver robust environmental research and have the ability to conduct high-quality research on a budget. The report recognises the IFCAs have worked hard to develop consensus and use best available science and commission their own research for this purpose.

The findings of the report highlight how the IFCAs have been central to the delivery of a coastal Blue Belt around England. IFCAs have successfully implemented management in the extensive marine protected area network and this has brought many benefits to the sustainability of inshore fisheries and protected the marine environment. The achievement of the IFCAs; to assess all fisheries against the conservation objectives of marine protected areas in inshore waters in England has however somewhat inevitably (in absence of allocated additional resources) diverted attention, in some areas, away from other important local priorities and this is recognised in the report.

We agree that the membership of the IFCAs is critical to our success and would very much welcome further work to ensure that the external appointment process is fit for purpose, values our members and recognises the benefits and value of our membership.

A key finding of the report is that consensus emerges that the IFCAs did not [and do not] have sufficient funds to fulfil their wider duties and concur with the analysis in the report this is a compounded by changes in central government policy, associated with marine protected area management. Local Authorities who fund the IFCAs are currently supported by a grant from Defra which represents roughly a third of IFCA funding. This grant, already very significantly less than that which Defra itself recognised (through its impact assessment) as necessary when the IFCAs were created, has yet to be approved in future years. The report highlights the challenge of working with uncertainty, and the challenge of establishing effective long-term research and enforcement plans.

We know, as an Association, we can do more to promote the importance of the co-management model that is IFCAs, and we shall endeavour to improve our systems of support for the IFCAs and the promotion of the benefits of joint working and collaboration. We are investing national training co-ordination and embarking on a programme of collaboration with our partners the Local Authorities.

In summary we welcome the publication of the report. We will work to implement the lessons learnt. The publication of this report highlights the need to ensure that investment continues to support effective management of inshore waters if we are to delivery a world class system of fisheries management and the protection of the Blue Belt around our coast.