By Liz Stephens
The government is coming under pressure from green groups over the level of protection for marine reserves in today's marine and coastal access bill.
The Friends of the Earth Marine Network (MARINET) accused the government of making marine conservation "subordinate to economic and social interests" and claims if the current bill passes unaltered it could have disastrous repercussions for the future of fish stocks.
Eighty-eight per cent of fish stocks are being exploited beyond their maximum sustainable yield, the European Commission has found.
Marine protection is a hot topic at the moment, and with films such as End of The Line becoming this year's cause celebre, the bill, which receives it's second reading in the Commons today, is receiving prolific attention from campaign groups.
Although it provides a framework for establishing marine conservation zones (MCZs) for rare, threatened and representative habitats and species, environmentalists say the bill is inadequate. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) described it as "seriously flawed".
However, Plymouth Sutton MP Linda Gilroy defended the bill, saying: "Together with the Climate Change Act, it demonstrates the government's commitment to our environment."
The bill is designed to introduce a new planning system for the marine area, improve and simplify arrangements for managing marine development and ensure greater protection for the marine environment and biodiversity.
It also seeks to provide greater recreational access to the English coast.
This has been welcomed by the Ramblers, a charity which promotes walking and supports the view that the coast should be accessible to everyone.
Chief executive Tom Franklin said: "It's hard to believe that a child building a sandcastle on a beach could be trespassing. We want to end that staggering situation, and the presumption that you are not allowed on the coast."
According to the Ramblers, the new coastal trail "could see walkers giving an annual boost of up to £128 million pounds to coastal businesses".
However, this same provision has met with a lukewarm reception from the Countryside Alliance, which warned the bill needs to "strike a better balance between giving public rights and protecting existing rights".