Sussex Authority proposes ban on inshore trawling to help kelp forest recover

Date posted: 24 January 2020

The Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) has become the first English regulator to propose a bylaw to ban trawling specifically to restore habitat.

Kelp off UK coast
© Matt Barnes

This is a very positive decision by our partners at the Sussex IFCA to pioneer a new and much-needed approach to managing ocean habitats for wildlife and people

Dr Peter Richardson,
MCS Head of Ocean Recovery

A campaign to restore a vast underwater kelp forest off the coast of Sussex has been boosted by a proposed bylaw to ban trawler fishing. The bylaw must now be signed off by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Theresa Villiers before it can be enacted by the IFCA.

The Help Our Kelp partnership, including MCS, the Blue Marine Foundation, Sussex Wildlife Trust and Big Wave Productions, wants the bylaw to be signed off quickly before another year of trawler damage. Agreed by the Sussex IFCA Committee yesterday, the bylaw will mean trawling is excluded from a 304 square kilometre (117 square miles) area of Sussex coastline year-round.

The move follows a consultation period in which 2,500 people gave their support in response to the Help Our Kelp campaign. It is a major milestone in the first ever kelp “rewilding” project to recreate habitat and an important carbon store, according to the groups behind the campaign, which has been backed by Sir David Attenborough.

Dr Peter Richardson, MCS Head of Ocean Recovery says the move is good news in securing ocean health and much more: “This is a very positive decision by our partners at the Sussex IFCA to pioneer a new and much-needed approach to managing ocean habitats for wildlife and people, and to help prevent climate catastrophe through ‘blue carbon’ storage. We urge the Secretary of State to support and sign-off this forward-thinking and important bylaw for ocean recovery.”

Forests of the underwater plant once stretched along 40km (25 miles) of the West Sussex coastline from Selsey to Shoreham and extended at least 4km (2.5 miles) seaward. The habitat provided habitat, nursery and feeding grounds for seahorses, cuttlefish, lobster, sea bream and bass. But it also locked up huge quantities of carbon, improved water quality and reduced coastal erosion by absorbing the power of ocean waves.

However, repeated passes by trawling vessels dragging nets have ripped the kelp from the sea floor, while storm damage and the dumping of sediment by dredging boats have also taken their toll.

The trawling also removes large fish that are important to the habitat because they eat sea urchins, which eat the kelp if they are not preyed on by fish. Alleviating this major pressure on the habitat is the critical first step towards recovery.

Dr Richardson added: “We sincerely hope this exciting initiative inspires the Government to spearhead further radical protection for our seas so we can meet international ambitions to protect 30% of our ocean by 2030 and help fight climate change.”

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