Trawl fishing banned off Sussex coastline to restore kelp forests

written by Oceanographic Staff

A new bylaw that prohibits damaging trawl fishing in 300km2 of the seabed off Sussex has been approved, according to the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA). The hope is that this move will support the recovery of kelp forests.

The bylaw has been approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs after it was first agreed by the Sussex IFCA in January 2020, following a public consultation.

Kelp forests are valuable because they can capture vast amounts of carbon, improve water quality and reduce coastal erosion by absorbing the power of the waves.

kelp forests

“We are delighted that the local community and central government have recognised the critical importance of looking after Sussex marine wildlife and the local fisheries that critically depend upon it,” said Deputy Chief Fisheries & Conservation Officer for the Authority, Dr Sean Ashworth. “We look forward to seeing a regeneration of the lost kelp forests and an associated improvement of the inshore fishery. The result is a testament to local management involving all stakeholders.”

The bylaw will protect approximately 304 square kilometres of coastal seabed, and conservationists hope it will help to ‘rewild’ this ocean ecosystem by allowing the underwater seaweed and kelp forests to regenerate.

The marine plants that grow in forests in the coastal sea provide a crucial habitat, feeding ground and nursery for seahorses, cuttlefish, lobster, sea bream and bass, increasing both wildlife and commercial stocks. While dense kelp forests thrived in Sussex’s waters up until the 1980s, they have dwindled in recent years due to storm damage and trawling activities.

“The Authority has spent several years carefully working toward the introduction of this important new management measure,” said Chief Fisheries and Conservation Officer for the Authority, Tim Dapling. “There has been great interest and support within Sussex and the wider marine community regarding our work to both protect the marine environment and promote sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries. This is a key step toward more sustainable fisheries and delivery of positive outcomes for all. Future work will include assessing habitat recovery, biological productivity and benefits to the inshore fishing community.”

It has been reported that scientists and volunteer divers have been collecting baseline data on the remaining small pockets of Sussex kelp, to track the changes resulting from the bylaw.

The move follows a ‘Help Our Kelp’ campaign that was supported by Sir David Attenborough, the Marine Conservation SocietyBlue Marine Foundation, Sussex Wildlife Trust and Big Wave Productions, as well as numerous UK MPs and residents.

“We welcome the signing of the Sussex bylaw,” said Executive Director of the Blue Marine Foundation Charles Clover, “as it is a recognition by government that rewilding the sea is a way to protect marine biodiversity, invest in inshore fisheries and store carbon at a single stroke. We believe the Sussex kelp forest will now show the benefits of removing damaging fishing gears from vast areas around the UK coastline and offshore.”

Find out more about the ocean forest of Sussex in Issue 15 of Oceanographic Magazine, Big Little Lives.

Photography by Dan Smale.

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