On 13 April 2022, the UK government announced that it will ban bottom trawling from four of England’s offshore Marine Protected Areas to help the species recover and to restore the sea bed in the areas. The byelaws will come into force from 13 June 2022 by using new powers under the Fisheries Act, the UK’s first major domestic fisheries legislation in nearly 40 years.
The four MPAs are Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation; Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Area of Conservation; South Dorset Marine Conservation Zone and The Canyons Marine Conservation Zone. The new measures will include the ban of bottom trawling, the use of dredges, demersal seines and semi-pelagic trawls.
Bottom trawling, one of the most destructive fishing practices, involves a boat dragging large, weighted nets across the seafloor, hoovering up target fish and any other marine species in its way, while also destroying the sea floor.
Even though a network of MPAs has existed throughout the UK for years, most of them still experience destructive fishing activities such as bottom trawling at the same rate as non-protected areas, according to the Marine Conservation Society.
The UK’s announcement now acts as the beginning of a widespread ban on damaging fishing as the government said it would ban the practices in 36 more English offshore MPAs by the end of 2024. “The first four have taken a year to go through, but now that the process has been established, the rest should follow quickly,” commented the Marine Conservation Society in a statement.
The Marine Conservation Society’s Marine unProtected Areas report pointed out the significance of these areas for fighting climate change by acting as vital carbon stores and supporting biodiversity. According to the report, 98% of offshore MPAs in the UK experience fishing activities, while only 6% of the UK’s seabed MPAs legally ban bottom-towed fishing gear. In the Dogger Bank MPA alone, 5,055 hours of fishing activity were recorded between 2021 and 2022 alone.
Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, said about the news: “It’s good that the government is progressing with the next phase of its programme to restrict bottom trawling in England’s offshore marine protected areas. This destructive fishing practice must be outlawed in all of the UK’s protected areas to protect our oceans and safeguard local fishing jobs, and so we’re pleased to see further progress being made.”
“However, the government’s reliance on this cumbersome progress of lengthy consultations will not on its own deliver at the speed or scale necessary to protect our oceans. Ministers must also use their Brexit powers to immediately ban industrial fishing in our marine protected areas by imposing conditions on the licenses of bottom trawlers, supertrawlers and other industrial fishing vessels. Only then can the government claim to be on track towards delivering its promise to protect a third of our oceans by 2030, which will save our oceans and our fishing communities,” he added.
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Photography courtesy of Unsplash.