Waves at sea level Thierry Meier

Campaign win: damaging fishing banned from four Marine Protected Areas

2 minute read

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Sandy Luk, CEO Marine Conservation Society

14 Apr 2022

On 13th April 2022, the Government announced it will ban damaging fishing from four of the UK’s offshore Marine Protected Areas. Worth celebrating? Definitely. But the Government has a long way to go to reach its goal of 40 sites properly protected by 2024.

Fishing that uses gear that scrapes along the seafloor, damaging it in the process, will be banned from four of England offshore Marine Protected Areas: Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation; Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Area of Conservation; South Dorset Marine Conservation Zone; The Canyons Marine Conservation Zone.

In the case of Dogger Bank, this means that once-abundant species like halibut, cod, ling, common skate, and angelshark will have the chance to increase in numbers and size. Populations of sand eels, a food source enjoyed by kittiwakes, puffins and harbour porpoises, will begin to grow. Dogger Bank will also be able to support healthier populations of existing species including mussels, oysters, fish, whales, dolphins and seals.

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Life on the seabed of Dogger Bank MPA

Credit: WWF

For years, truly protecting so-called Marine Protected Areas has been one of the big challenges for all of us who care about the health of our seas. We finally had a network of so-called protected sites, but most them weren’t managed in any way. These vast areas of sea – Dogger Bank is five times the size of the Lake District National Park – experienced fishing activity at the same, if not greater, rate as before. Designations of protection had done nothing.

Yesterday’s announcement should be the start of a series of laws that ban damaging fishing in 36 more English offshore marine protected areas 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.

For us, that’s when we can really call these areas ‘protected’. Banning damaging fishing, like bottom trawling, from these sites, will be a real game-changer for our seas, as long as it’s done properly!

Our Marine unProtected Areas report and subsequent campaign highlighted the incredible value of these areas of sea from both a climate and biodiversity perspective.

98

%

of UK's offshore seabed MPAs experience fishing activity

6

%

of UK’s seabed MPAs legally ban bottom-towed fishing gear

5,055

hrs

of fishing, including bottom trawling, in Dogger Bank MPA from 2021-22

The Dogger Bank MPA has the capacity to store the carbon equivalent of 2.5 MILLION return flights from London to Sydney, if not more now it’s been protected. Protecting these sites, all of which are vital carbon stores, will make huge strides in supporting our ocean to combat the climate crisis.

Alongside the climate crisis, we’re also facing a biodiversity crisis. With loss of plant and animal life happening at an alarming rate. By protecting these areas of our seas – properly – animals which travel through them, use them as nesting grounds and find food within them, can thrive once more.

The UK Government has set out to lead international efforts to protect the ocean. It has promised to protect at least 30% of land and sea by 2030. This simply cannot be achieved by putting lines on maps and labelling areas as ‘protected’. It will not be achieved by stopping damaging activities piecemeal in some protected sites. It certainly will not be achieved by dismantling current regulatory frameworks for nature and ocean conservation in England, something that the UK Government is currently considering in its Green Paper on Nature Recovery.

However, entirely banning damaging fishing from 40 English offshore sites within the next two years will position the UK as a leader in ocean conservation. Keeping, implementing and enforcing strong laws around this will be ground-breaking and will show real international leadership.

Only time will tell, and we’ll certainly be keeping up the pressure. You can join us in ensuring our seas are properly protected, for people, planet and wildlife and put our seas on the road to recovery. Sign our petition and show your support for fully protected seas by 2024.