'Set aside fifth of Irish Sea for nature'

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The Independent Online

All fishing in a fifth of the Irish Sea could be banned under a Government plan to create a series of marine nature reserves around the British Isles.

All fishing in a fifth of the Irish Sea could be banned under a Government plan to create a series of marine nature reserves around the British Isles.

In a report for ministers, Government scientists claim that large areas of the sea need to be closed off to trawlers, dredging, oil exploration and even wind farms, to save endangered species.

The Government's Joint Nature Conservation Committeesays reserves are the best way of preserving threatened species such as whiting, cod, prawn, harbour porpoises, coral, and seabirds such as the common scoter.

The threat of local cod stocks collapsing is so acute the European Commission is expected in December to ban cod fishing in the Irish Sea for up to five years. Stocks are now down to about 6,500 tonnes, well below safe levels.

Fishermen's groups were angered, saying the move would devastate fleets, particularly those catching scallops and Dublin Bay prawn.

Dick James, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers' Organisation, said 350 trawlers relied on those waters and it was global warming that was reducing the cod and whiting population.

The committee, in choosing reserve sites, will probably see the Irish Sea as the most pressing case because of its multiple human uses. It hopesthe plans will lead to a new marine protection Bill being put before Parliament before the next election. The Irish government, which supports marine protection, may also raise the issue of nuclear waste discharges from Sellafield.

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