Government plans to designate large areas in the North and Irish seas and the English Channel as marine conservation zones (MCZs) where many activities may be restricted or barred, are running out of time.

Sea anglers on four regional project teams covering the areas say there is only six weeks in which to study and then recommend which areas should initially be zoned.

They have set up a 40-strong group to harmonise their concerns by exchanging and co-ordinating details of the proposals as they emerge. The group – full name the Recreational Sea Angling Conservation Zone Co-ordination Group – includes anglers on local committees covering counties bordering the proposed zones set up by the regional projects. Some of the proposed conservation zones may be close to the shore,

The first bulletin from the group states: “The timeline is of great concern. We have until June 11 to make regional recommendations so that the overall plans of each project can to be submitted to a scientific advisory panel by June 30.”

The first of the four groups, named Finding Sanctuary and covering the western English Channel was started in 2007. However, the three other groups for the North Sea, the eastern English Channel and the irish Sea have existed for less than a year.

One of them only managed to hold its first meeting on April 22.

The bulletin says there has been too little time for anglers to study the areas in the sea proposed to become MCZs. The anglers need time to consult with clubs and others in the four areas where there are hundreds of thousands of individual sea anglers so that their views can been heard.

“There is, therefore, a high degree of risk that mistakes may be made,” the bulletin states. “This initiative is too important to be rushed and there are genuine fears that stakeholders are being driven to a predestined objective.”

The government’s plan is that once the zones have been designated they will not be reviewed for six years.

The bulletin calls for more transparent engagement by the four project teams with their stakeholders. Discussion papers were being presented at the start of meetings giving no time to study them and prepare constructive analyses.

“The lack of adequate information is fuelling the suspicions held by many sea anglers that their sport is going to be subject of massive restrictions. This lack of information needs to be reversed.”

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