Today, there has been coverage in The Daily Mail, The Times and The Express of a press notice by Greenpeace calling for a reform of marine protections after the fishing vessel, the Margiris, was detected fishing in the ‘Offshore Overfalls’ Marine Conservation Zone in the English Channel, according to analysis of satellite tracking data by Greenpeace.
The fact is that the Marine Conservation Zone, Offshore Overfalls, does have a restrictions on vessels over 14 meters in the inshore area. The Margiris is a pelagic mid-water trawler, so its fishing activities in that area would not have directly impacted the seabed. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) also closely monitored the Margiris during its stay in the Channel and confirmed the vessel did not fish illegally in the restricted area.
Over 4,500 km2 of our inshore waters are permanently closed to methods of bottom towed fishing gear, with 94 inshore Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) having these protections in place.
However, we recognise there is still more to be done to strengthen protections in marine areas, and leaving the EU will give us the opportunity to strengthen these, as the Common Fisheries Policy currently restricts us from making fisheries management changes unilaterally in offshore areas.
The Fisheries Bill proposes a new power which will enable the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to implement conservation management measures to manage harmful fishing activities across English waters. The power would allow us to progress management measures in our offshore MPAs when we leave the EU.
We are also examining stronger protections for English seas with a review under way into a new type of protection for sea life and marine habitats in England. In Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), all human activities with the potential to damage these habitats would be prohibited. We expect the review led by Richard Benyon MP to report in Spring 2020.
We have recently designated 41 new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), spanning almost 12,000 square kilometres - an area almost eight times the size of Greater London – meaning that we now have 91 MCZs in English waters and Northern Ireland offshore waters. Our Blue Belt now spans almost 220,000 square kilometres - nearly twice the size of England.
A Defra spokesperson said:
“The UK is a global leader in the fight to protect our seas, with our ‘Blue Belt’ of protected waters nearly twice the size of England.
“Currently the Common Fisheries Policy restricts our ability to implement tougher protections but leaving the EU and taking back control of our waters as an independent coastal state gives us the opportunity to introduce stronger measures.
“The MMO closely monitored, and inspected, the Margiris while it was in the Channel to ensure its fishing activities adhered to current rules and did not take place in restricted areas.”