October 9, 2020

Revealed: 97% Of UK Marine Protected Areas Subject To Bottom-Trawling

News Source: The Guardian

Author(s): Karen McVeigh

More than 97% of British marine protected areas, created to safeguard ocean habitats, are being dredged and bottom trawled, according to data shared with the Guardian.

Nearly a quarter of the UK’s territorial waters are covered by MPAs, set up to protect vital ecosystems and species, including harbour porpoises and dolphins. This network of parks is a symbol of the government’s “world leading” target to protect 30% of ocean biodiversity by 2030.

However, analysis of fishing vessel tracking data from Global Fishing Watch (GFW), by Oceana, a conservation NGO, found that bottom trawling and dredging, the most destructive type of fishing on sea-floor habitats, is happening in 71 out of 73 offshore MPAs around the UK.

The vessels, from the UK, other EU countries and Russia, spent an estimated 200,000 hours trawling or dredging across the seabed in offshore MPAs in 2019, according to GFW algorithms based on their AIS (automatic identification systems) data, Oceana said.

The findings, which follow reports by Greenpeace of an increasing number of foreign supertrawlers fishing in the same sites, drew accusations that the government is misleading the public over “paper parks” that fail to protect Britain’s seas.

The government has insisted that the EU’s common fisheries policy restricts its ability to implement tougher protections in MPAs. Trawling and dredging is not illegal in most offshore MPAs.

Oceana warned of an “ecological emergency”, calling on the government to introduce measures to protect the sites from 1 January, the end of the Brexit transition period, when it gains more control of its territorial waters.

The shadow environment secretary, Luke Pollard, said the government should publish plans of how it intends to honour its “30 by 30” oceans pledge and hold urgent talks with fishermen.

Melissa Moore, head of policy at Oceana UK, said: “If the government really want to take back control of our waters, as they repeatedly claim, they should make a policy announcement today that they’ll halt bottom-towed fishing gear by foreign and UK vessels in all marine protected areas. We don’t want more trials, or other measures that merely rearrange the deckchairs, we’re in an ecological emergency and need action now.”

Prof Callum Roberts, a marine scientist at Exeter University, said it was “very disappointing” bottom trawling and dredging was still taking place inside protected sites.

Roberts said: “MPAs are highly ineffective. They are fake, they are paper parks. There’s a massive problem here and the government needs to address it. They are misleading the public, wasting resources, protecting nothing. They are not going to contribute to recovery of marine life, stem the loss of biodiversity or mitigate the impacts of climate change.”