Brexit: Johnson discusses ban on ‘hoover’ EU fishing trawlers
In a clear signal that Boris Johnson’s Government is keen to use Brexit to step up efforts to protect wildlife in British seas, the Marine Management Organisation’s (MMO) has launched a formal conservation which could see so-called bottom trawlers barred from operating in four offshore Marine Protected Areas. Meanwhile, the announcement has been given a cautious welcome by environmentalists, who stressed much work remains to be done.
The Marine Management Organisation, the executive, non-departmental body which looks after British waters, is seeking views on proposed bylaws for the following four offshore Marine Protected Areas: Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation (East of England); Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Area of Conservation (The Wash approaches, off the Lincolnshire and North Norfolk coasts); South Dorset Marine Conservation Zone (South West – Dorset); and The Canyons Marine Conservation Zone (South West – Offshore).
The proposed bylaws will aim to prohibit the use of bottom towed fishing gear in all four sites and additional restrictions for static gears over sensitive features in two of the sites.
The consultation runs from February 1, 2021, to March 28, 2021, and follows a call for evidence, which closed in December 2020, during which time the MMO sought additional evidence and views on the draft assessments and management options for the four offshore MPAs.
Beiner, a bottom trawler operating in Dogger Bank
Dolphins in the English Channel
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Now that we have left the Common Fisheries Policy, we are able to deliver on our commitment to achieve a healthy, thriving and sustainable marine environment.
“The UK has already established an impressive ‘Blue Belt’ covering 38 percent of our waters and our Fisheries Act has provided us with additional powers to go further to protect our seas around England.
“This proposal to introduce bylaws to safeguard four of our precious offshore Marine Protected Areas shows how we are putting these powers into action.”
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Geertruida, a dredger in Dogger Bank
Tom McCormack, Chief Executive Officer of MMO, said: “This consultation is a big step forward in agreeing measures that will help protect and revive important marine habitats, vital to the unique and vibrant marine life that live within them.
“We are ambitious for England’s seas and want to hear as many views as possible in order to create benefits for people and the economy, while protecting our precious marine environment for future generations.”
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Principle Specialist in Marine Protected Areas at the Marine Conservation Society, commented: “You’d think that Marine Protected Areas are, in fact, protected.
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A seal in the English Channel
Evidence of damage caused by bottom trawlers on the bed of the Bering Sea
“However, just five currently ban bottom trawling, which has been shown time and again to damage the fragile sea floor.
“Whilst in the past the UK has had to get full agreement from other EU member states for bans on fishing, now we can act independently with the powers provided by the Fisheries Act.
“This announcement today – whilst only for 4 of a possible 74 areas of protection – is an encouraging start.
“After years of heavily degrading our seas are we finally starting to see measures that can provide the green shoots of recovery?”
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Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, added: “We need to see the detail of these proposals, but if the Government is indeed considering a total ban on bottom trawling in these four protected areas, then it’s good news.
“However, all of our sensitive marine areas must be properly protected, not just four.
“Months after we created a 50 square mile bottom trawler exclusion zone in the Dogger Bank by building an underwater boulder barrier, ministers have finally woken up to their responsibilities.”
There were still hundreds of other marine areas which were open to all forms of destructive industrial fishing, Mr Thorne said.
A whale surfaces in the English Channel
He added: “Action in these four sites is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the scale needed to solve the crisis facing our oceans.
“This process shows that the Government is prepared to use its new Brexit powers to properly protect our seas.
“It must deliver on its aspiration to be a world leader in marine protection, and use these new Brexit powers as a matter of urgency.
“If the Government choses to follow this consultation approach for a handful of marine protected areas at a time, it will be many years before the entire network is properly protected. Our oceans can’t wait that long.”