Environmental Policy News

UK Government Expands MPA Area

Following formal consultation in 2023 and an official announcement on January 31, 2024 as part of the UK Government’s 1 year on Environmental Improvement Plan progress update, management measures prohibiting the use of bottom towed fishing gear will be introduced to protect an area of almost 4,000 square kilometers off the English coast.

This will increase the total area protected by MMO (Marine Management Organisation) byelaws to almost 18,000 square kilometers—an area larger than Yorkshire and Norfolk combined.

The confirmation of the new byelaw represents a significant step forward in the MMO’s ambitious program to protect all 54 English offshore MPAs from impacts of fishing activity by 2024.

In June 2022, four byelaws were implemented in key sites including Dogger Bank, Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge, South Dorset and The Canyons.

There are 181 MPAs (including highly protected marine areas) covering over 40% of England’s waters. These areas are critical to protecting rare and threatened habitats and species, ensuring a healthier marine environment and enabling the restoration of valuable ecosystems that support a sustainable fishing industry for the future.

Locations that have now gained protection include Cape Bank, home to ecologically important species such as pea urchins and a type of starfish called a cushion star; Haig Fras, a site that supports a variety of fauna ranging from jewel anemones and solitary corals; and, Hartland Point to Tintagel, which is home to reef habitats containing pink sea fans and fragile sponges.

The 2023 consultation ran alongside a call for evidence to gather views on the impacts of anchored nets and lines, bottom towed fishing gear and traps on valuable marine features such as reefs and sandbanks. The evidence is currently being reviewed by MMO, with a formal consultation on any further management measures required due later this year.

In addition, MMO is currently assessing the impacts of fishing on MPAs designated for highly mobile species, including harbor porpoise and marine birds such as red-throated diver. Fishers, partners and members of scientific or marine conservation bodies are encouraged to participate in the call for evidence before the February 13 closing date.

Michelle Willis, Acting Chief Executive Officer MMO, said: “We’d like to thank all those who took part in our formal consultation on the proposed byelaw for these sites last year. We’ve listened to your views and considered the available evidence on the impacts of bottom towed fishing in these 13 marine protected areas.

We’ll now be introducing a byelaw to manage fishing and protect the valuable marine flora, fauna and habitats in these areas.’’

Marine Minister Lord Benyon, said: “The UK remains committed to safeguarding our oceans and the precious species that depend on them. The recent introduction of a further byelaw that restricts the harmful use of bottom towed fishing gear is just one of many steps that we will take to ensure the right measures are in place to enhance our network of MPAs.

“Thank you to those who participated in the consultation, your views have helped us shape these proposals and I look forward to future collaboration with the sector.”

Access copies of the byelaw: Marine Protected Areas Bottom Towed Fishing Gear Byelaw 2023

Please see the full list of MPAs to receive protection and covered by the new byelaw.

  • Cape Bank
  • East of Haig Fras
  • Farnes East
  • Foreland
  • Goodwin Sands
  • Haig Fras
  • Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton
  • Hartland Point to Tintagel
  • Lands End and Cape Bank
  • North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef Offshore Brighton
  • South of Celtic Deep
  • Wight-Barfleur Reef

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