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      Fishing boats tracked protected areas for more than 7,000 hours, analysis shows

      ByMonelo Gabriel

      Mar 1, 2023

      UK and EU fishing vessels spent more than 7,000 hours trawling the bottom of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) during 2022, according to a new analysis.

      Data provided by Global Fishing Watch (GFW) and analyzed by Oceana UK appears to show 907 fishing vessels, mainly industrial trawlers, active in MPAs, which are designed to protect important, rare or threatened habitats and species.

      Using satellites and radio transmitters, GFW said it tracked what it believes to be fishing vessel activity for a total of 136,398 hours in offshore protected areas, an increase of more than 4,000 hours since 2021.

      The data suggests that at least 7,219 of those hours were spent bottom trawling, where boats drag a large net along the seafloor to catch bottom-feeding fish or crabs.

      Oceana UK said the government has licensed more than 2,000 UK and EU fishing vessels to fish in UK waters by 2022, including all but six offshore MPAs.

      fishing survey
      Monitoring data suggests that fishing boats dragged nets along the seabed of marine protected areas for 7,000 hours in 2022 (Steve Parsons/PA)

      Three Highly Protected Marine Areas – in the North Sea, the English Channel and off the Cumbrian coast – will come into force in July, the Government said, where fishing, building and dredging will be banned.

      Dr Emma Sheehan, Associate Professor of Marine Ecology at Plymouth University, said: “Industrial bottom dredging and trawling is a devastating practice with extreme effects on seabeds and biogenic habitats.

      “These areas act as important nursery and feeding grounds for essential marine life, including endangered species. The seabed also serves important ecological and environmental functions: filtering water, binding sediment, and sequestering carbon.

      “We must urgently expand and enforce the protection of these habitats. My research in Lyme Bay, one of the largest marine protected areas in the UK, where bottom trawling has been banned, has shown the incredible resilience and resilience of reefs when we protect these ecosystems.”

      A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK is a world leader in marine conservation and attaches great importance to protecting our marine habitats, with three new highly protected marine areas designated this week to safeguard them from all Harmful fishing activities.

      “Nearly 60% of our 178 English MPAs are protected from harmful fishing activity, including new statutes introduced last year at the first four offshore sites, which ban bottom trawling over sensitive habitats.

      “We recently launched a charter consultation for a further 13 MPAs and our goal is to have all protected from harmful fishing activity by 2024.”

      Last week, Greenpeace UK criticized the government for allowing fishing in MPAs, saying it was undermining the UK’s credibility at global ocean talks in New York, due to conclude on Friday.

      Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of Oceana UK, said allowing fishing in MPAs “is a mockery” of the UK’s position as leader of the Global Ocean Alliance and its commitment to help protect 30% of the world’s seas for 2030.

      He said: “Industrial trawling and dredging of the seabed are the most destructive fishing techniques in use today.

      “Our analysis exposes the appalling scale of apparent industrial fishing in UK marine protected areas in 2022, including destructive trawling.”

      A survey commissioned by Oceana UK found that 76% of British adults agree that bottom trawling in MPAs and 80% say UK laws should be strengthened to protect the ocean.

      Mr Tagholm added: “The British public is shocked by the government’s failure to adequately protect marine life in these so-called sanctuaries.

      “At the very least, we must stop destructive fishing in marine protected areas and end the public delusion that these regions are protected from industrial exploitation. We can’t take this bluewash any longer. The attack on marine life must end.”

      Oceana UK also commissioned a sand art trick in Cayton Bay, Scarborough, near the Holderness offshore MPA.

      The art shows Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with a fish in his mouth and the slogan #EndDestructiveFishing.


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