Bottom trawling triples in key marine protected area despite Brexit promise | marine life

The government is under pressure to safeguard Britain’s marine conservation areas after analysis showed the protected Dogger Bank site has seen a threefold increase in destructive bottom trawling since Brexit.

A year ago, conservationists welcomed government proposals to ban trawling and dredging fishing practices, which involve dragging weighted nets across the seabed, in 14,030 km2 (5,400 square miles) of English waters, an area equivalent to the size of Northern Ireland. The area includes Dogger Bank and three other marine protected areas (MPAs).

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) analyzed fishing data tracked by Global Fishing Watch and found that bottom trawling and dredging had increased at the site from around 1,700 hours per year between 2015 and 2018 to 5 500 hours per year between 2020 and the end of 2021.

He accused the government of “broken promises and late action” over the proposed fishing ban, which has not been in place for a year. The ban was introduced through a regulation, which is usually passed within 12 months.

In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said new regulations prohibiting bottom trawling in the four MPAs were “being finalized” but have not yet been finalized. given schedule.

Dogger Bank MPA, one of the largest sandbanks in Europe, with an area of ​​12,300 km2, is a vital breeding ground for commercial species including cod and whiting, as well as sand eels , which are a food source for puffins, porpoises and kittiwakes. It is also an important site for blue carbon, CO2 sequestered and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems.

Almost a quarter of UK territorial waters are covered by MPAs, set up to protect vital ecosystems and species, including harbor porpoises and dolphins. This network is a symbol of the government’s goal to protect 30% of ocean biodiversity by 2030.

However, more than 97% of UK MPAs are dredged and bottom-trawled, according to data shared with the Guardian.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Senior MAP Specialist at MCS said: ‘MAPs are currently a lie. There has been an incredible increase in harmful fishing in the Dogger Bank since we left the EU. Are we really “taking back control” of our waters?

“The government promised it a year ago. We were very optimistic but nothing happened. There is no sign of the promised timetable for managing the full list of 40 offshore MPAs in England.

At the current rate, it would take more than a decade to put management in place for all MPAs, Solandt said.

Frith Dunkley, MPA researcher at MCS said: “In the year since the proposal for this by-law prohibiting bottom-towed fishing gear from the Dogger Bank MPA, the habitat of the sandbar and the species it was meant to protect have continued to from being damaged by fishing activity, degrading marine life and killing ecologically important species such as sandeels.

This week, the MCS is launching a social media campaign with the hashtag MarineUnprotectedAreas, calling on the public to tweet their MPs and MSPs to ban bottom trawling and dredging in offshore MPAs.

Ministers also face pressure to protect the seabed within the Conservative Party. On Tuesday, former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will introduce a 10-minute motion in Parliament for a bill introducing a requirement for the Secretary of State to ban bottom trawling in MPAs.

Charles Clover, Executive Director of the Blue Marine Foundation, which will support the MCS campaign, said: “If we’ve learned anything in marine conservation, it’s this: Meaningful protection leads to large and rapid regeneration. In order to protect our fish stocks and low impact fisheries, the UK needs to wake up and effectively protect these ‘protected areas’, from seabed to seabed. »

The government has argued that before Brexit it had no control over fishing rights.

When George Eustice, the environment secretary, last year announced proposals to ban bottom trawling in the four MPAs, he said: “Now that we have left the Common Fisheries Policy, we are able to deliver on our commitment to achieve sustainable marine environment.

Citing the power of the Fisheries Act to further protect Britain’s seas, Eustice added: “This proposal to introduce regulations to safeguard four of our precious offshore marine protected areas shows how we are putting those powers into action.”

Located about 75 miles east of Hull, the Dogger Bank has been heavily fished for decades. Bottom trawling releases carbon from the seabed into the ocean, reducing its ability to buffer climate degradation. Dogger Bank has the capacity to store the most carbon of any English MPA, according to the MCS.

Last September, Greenpeace dropped giant boulders from its ship in the Dogger Bank MPA to create an exclusion zone for trawlers.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are working to ensure that all of England’s MPAs are effectively managed as quickly as possible – 98 coastal MPAs now have management measures in place to protect sensitive features from towed fishing gear by the bottom.

“Following our 2021 consultation, new orders protecting offshore MPAs are being finalized for the first four identified high-risk sites.”

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