CARDIFF, Wales, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- The Welsh government, considering the establishment of tightly regulated "marine conservation zones," says it is listening to the concerns of small fishermen.
Wales Environment Minister John Griffiths said Friday he "welcomes" the opinions of the Welsh Fishermen's Association, which represents lobster and crab fishers who work close to the Welsh coast in several areas that could see a ban on fishing under the proposed habitat protection zones.
The group has offered what it calls an "ecologically balanced" alternative to complete fishing bans in 10 proposed Welsh MCZs, including sites in the Menai Strait and Llyn Peninsula.
The proposals -- backed by conservationists and supported by the Labor Party government -- have created fears among fishermen and the tourist industry because they would include a ban on fishing, dredging and anchoring in all or some of the areas.
A public consultation on the marine conservation zones last year drew 7,000 responses and the government has appointed a "cross-cutting task-and-finish team" to come up with recommendations by April.
Griffiths said Friday he talked with Welsh Fishermen's Association leader Jim Davis and viewed a presentation on sustainable fishing prepared by Michel Kaiser, a professor with the School of Ocean Science at Bangor University, calling it "interesting."
"Their proposals outline a framework for taking forward marine spatial management on an ecosystem basis," he said. "The association's proposals, alongside the feedback we received to last year's consultation, will be carefully considered in informing the next steps to establishing MCZs in Wales."
Griffiths said he would again meet with fishermen on a visit to Bardsey Island off the Llyn Peninsula this month.
For his part, Davis, in a statement co-issued with the Welsh minister, said he welcomed the chance to deliver the group's "considered proposals and the wider benefits and opportunities that can be achieved for all marine users through an eco-system-based approach to the management of the marine environment."
The fishermen insist their use of the traditional "pot" method of harvesting lobster and crab is ecologically sustainable and doesn't contribute to degradation of habitat for the diverse mix of sea life close to the Welsh shore.
They are urging that Welsh MCZs should be managed as "multi-use sites" to not only benefit the environment but also fisheries and economy and have called for restrictions that are "proportionate to risk from damage and disturbance," the BBC reported.
They also want fishermen to oversee the marine zones and for decisions to be reached using "scientific research."
Political opponents in the National Assembly for Wales have called on the government to heed the objections of the lobsterers, whose livelihoods they say could be severely impacted by the MCZs.
"The fact that there were 7,000 responses to the consultation reflects the huge concern at these proposals and the impact they would have on Welsh fisheries," Conservative Party Assembly Member Antoinette Sandbach told the broadcaster in November.
"I hope that the next consultation will be available bilingually, so that everyone with an interest in our seas is able to respond."
"Bringing on board a wider range of stakeholders to discuss proposals that will have a direct and substantial impact on their interests is the approach that should have been adopted from the outset," added Llyr Gruffydd, a Party of Wales legislator.
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