Allow bottom trawlers to fish in protected areas such as “bulldozing in a nature reserve”
ITV News correspondent Rupert Evelyn reports on fishing in protected waters
Traveling on a flat, calm sea in the middle of the English Channel, those aboard this Greenpeace vessel knew that it was very likely to catch fishing activity inside a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
These benign conditions are perfect for trawling.
The Sea Beaver spends the summer patrolling British waters in search of MPA fishing.
These areas, it is argued, are only protected in name.
The law does not prevent trawlers from dragging their nets on the bottom but in doing so, activists ask how this is compatible with environmental protection?
Two hours from Newhaven, satellite data pointed us to a French trawler with its net inside the Bassurelle Sandbank on the English side of the border with France.
It was French that day, but observers regularly see fishing activity inside MPAs of a multitude of states, including Britain.
Greenpeace staff attempted to speak with the trawler captain and explain that he was in an MPA, but refused to engage.
So, with a smaller boat, they moved in.
The aim is to educate, but also to dissuade.
The trawler hoisted its bulging net aboard as Green Party MP Caroline Lucas held up a banner stating: “This is a Marine Protected Area.”
As the net cleared the water, the trawler turned on the current and headed straight out of the area.
Although almost 40% of UK waters have protected status, it is believed that fishermen often do not realize they are there.
Greenpeace Oceans activist Chris Thorne said: “We have a network of marine protected areas offshore, but they only offer protection in name.
“These are just lines on the map and they don’t have any sort of restrictions on disruptive activity.
“It’s almost free for all of them.”
He says their research reveals that trawlers spend tens of thousands of hours operating in MPAs, adding, “We believe the government should ban these fishing methods for marine protected areas without delay.
“Since Brexit, they have the power to do it.
“They have proven that they are able to use those powers, so now we just want to see the government use those powers for good and restrict this type of fishing in marine protected areas.
“This will be a huge step towards fully protecting 30% of our waters by 2030, which is one of the government’s goals.”
Trawlers spend tens of thousands of hours operating in MPAs, says Chris Thorne, Greenpeace Oceans activist
Green Party MK Caroline Lucas, who had also joined the patrol, told ITV News: “If you ask [most people] what do you expect to see in a marine protected area i guess you wouldn’t see some of the most damaging industrial fisheries on the planet. And yet, this is what we see.
“I don’t think we need more consultation.
“What I think we need is a sense of urgency and commitment.”
Making comparisons with protected areas on land, she added: “I was told that if the kind of destruction that happens at sea happens on land, if you had a bulldozer going through a nature reserve, people would be in. anger.
“The problem is, people can’t see what’s going on here. They don’t have the privilege that I had to go out today and see it for myself. I think s ‘they saw it, the pressure on the government to act much more, much faster, it would be much higher. “
Allowing trawlers to operate in MPAs is like “bulldozing through a nature reserve,” says Green MP Caroline Lucas
The government says it is determined to assess the status and levels of protection of MPAs.
The Marine Management Organization (MMO) – which is responsible for the management of MPAs in England – said: “Over the next three years, the MMO will undertake a program of work to manage the impacts of fishing activities in more than 40 MPAs. off the coast.
“It is important that we continue to monitor activity in all MPAs, to ensure that their features remain protected and to allow fishing to continue to the extent possible. “
This “work program” has drawn stinging criticism from one of the main organizations representing fishermen.
Dale Rodmell, Deputy Director General of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, said: “A mature and stable approach in which we have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort has been abandoned.
“We are now in the realm of the politics of gesture and vanity projects.
“The focus is on one site by site and no one is looking at the cumulative effects and damage to the fishing industry from displacement.”
The NFFO fears that its members are being driven from their traditional fisheries by “a cohort of environmental fanatics within the upper echelons of the Conservative Party and close to the Prime Minister”.
Many of those who advocate for greater protection of MPAs are in favor of sustainable fishing. Finding a balance to appease all sides is, as always, the problem.
What makes the Banc de Basseurelle a Marine Protected Area?
There are 372 marine protected areas in the UK, covering almost two-fifths of our waters.
These are areas where activities harmful to the environment – such as certain types of fishing – are restricted.
ITV News revolved around Bassurelle Sandbank, which sits in the Strait of Pas de Calais and covers over 6,700 hectares. It straddles the border between British and French waters.
It was declared a “site of community importance” in 2011 and a “special conservation area” in 2017.
It is described by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) as a “nursery area for lemon sole, mackerel and sand lance, and a spawning area for cod, lemon sole, sole, plaice, sandeel and sprat ”.
Although it is not illegal to fish there, the protected element of the Basseurelle Bank is considered sensitive to the pressures associated with fishing.
A Defra spokesperson said: “The UK is a world leader in protecting our seas, with our ‘blue belt’ of marine protected areas spanning 40% of English waters and plans to pilot areas highly protected marine areas to stimulate the recovery of biodiversity.
“We are committed to creating a healthy and sustainable marine environment, and 98 sites in our coastal waters now have management measures in place to protect habitats from bottom-towed fishing gear. “