On Thursday 1 September, campaigners and crew on board Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise sailed to the western English Channel to make a portion of the South West Deeps off-limits to bottom-trawling. The boulder action took place days after UK leaders failed to help secure a Global Ocean Treaty at IGC5 in New York, threatening the Government’s aim to achieve at least 30% ocean protection by 2030.
“Right now, there’s an industrial fishing frenzy happening in UK waters, and what’s our Government doing about it? Greenpeace UK has created this underwater boulder barrier as a last resort to protect the oceans. We’d much rather the Government just did their job,” commented Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK.
He continued: “It is outrageous that bottom-trawlers are allowed to scrape along the sea bed in most of our Marine Protected Areas every single day. They destroy huge swathes of the marine ecosystem and make a mockery of our so-called ‘protection’.
“Ocean protection is even more urgent now that our leaders have failed to help secure a Global Ocean Treaty. Our new Prime Minister must protect local fishing communities and immediately ban industrial fishing in Marine Protected Areas by tweaking commercial fishing licences. The Government already has the power to do this; all they need is the will to make it happen.”
Across the entirety of the South West Deeps (East) – more than 4,600 km2 – there is not one metre of protection from destructive industrial fishing. It is one of the most heavily fished so-called Marine Protected Areas in the UK. In the last 18 months, the South West Deeps experienced almost 19,000 hours of industrial fishing, 3,370 hours of which was bottom-trawling. The majority of industrial fishing vessels in the area were from France (53%) followed by Spain (30%) and Great Britain (9%).
Celebrities Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry, and Daniel Lismore are supporting the action, alongside Conservative politicians Henry Smith MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP and Theresa May’s former Downing Street environment advisor Lord Randall, as well as the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas MP. Their names were stencilled onto the boulders before being dropped into the ocean.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “For more than a decade, I’ve been just one voice among millions asking our Government to take urgent and meaningful action to conserve our marine life. They say they are listening, and that they have already made world-leading commitments on marine conservation. But as industrial fishing vessels continue to plough through our so-called Marine Protected Areas, the Government’s rhetoric is revealed as empty and cynical.
“It makes no sense at all to call something a protected area if you’re going to sit by and let huge fishing boats trash the seafloor with their heavy gear. There is no good explanation for the Government’s inaction. It’s baffling and frustrating, and completely undermines their claims to be world-leaders on ocean protection. That’s why I fully support Greenpeace’s latest boulder barrier in the South West Deeps. My name has been stencilled, for the second time, onto a boulder which is now at the bottom of the sea, stopping bottom-trawlers from continuing their trail of destruction.”
The 18 boulders are Portland limestone, and each weighs between 500kg and 1,400kg. They make it impossible for bottom-towed fishing gear to be dragged along the seabed. Artists from the Portland Sculpture and Quarry Trust created a giant ammonite sculpture out of one of the boulders, which will be placed on the seabed alongside the others. The sculptors took inspiration from the ammonite fossils found in Portland limestone.
Neil Whitney, a fisherman from Newhaven in East Sussex, said about Greenpeace UK’s boulder action: “Big industrial fishing boats can catch more in one day than I can catch all year. They’re able to take out entire ecosystems, and if they cause a fishery to collapse, they just move on to the next one. Greenpeace gets the urgency, while leaders and policy makers just twiddle their thumbs.
“Industrial fishing, like fly-shooters and supertrawlers, are killing our marine environment, and small-scale UK fishermen like me are losing out big time. Coastal communities are on their knees because fishermen are having to leave the profession they’ve dedicated their lives to; there’s hardly anything left to catch and no money to be made, despite all the promises politicians made to us.
“I’m a trawlerman, and I know it’s absurd that bottom trawling is legal in our Marine Protected Areas. It’s like ploughing a combine harvester through a national park. MPAs are supposed to be the areas where fish stocks can recover, so that we have fish for generations to come. It’s a case of common sense.”
Photography courtesy of Greenpeace UK.
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