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Collected from the ocean's depths: Over 33,000 hours of bottom-dwelling fishing uncovered in UK's protected waters.
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Collected from the ocean’s depths: Over 33,000 hours of bottom-dwelling fishing uncovered in UK’s protected waters.

According to recent data gathered from satellites, it has been discovered that industrial ships, which are believed to use a destructive fishing technique called bottom trawling, were present in British marine protected zones for over 33,000 hours in the past year.

According to Oceana UK, a conservation organization, 25% of the offshore protected area activity was caused by ten vessels, mostly from the EU.

Bottom trawling is a method where metal equipment and heavy nets are dragged across the ocean floor. This technique often catches a large amount of unintended marine life, leading to a decrease in biodiversity.

According to the analysis, the top two sites with the most trawling activity are located off the coast of Cornwall. One is known as the Western Channel marine reserve and is situated near the Lizard peninsula. This area is home to underwater sand dunes and a variety of marine life such as angler fish and small-spotted catsharks.

The other is South West Deeps (East), 150 miles off Land’s End, which has cuckoo rays, supports seals and whales, and is among the top five offshore marine protected areas (MPAs) for carbon-storage capacity, according to the Marine Conservation Society.

The society believes that the South West Deeps location has the capacity to hold 1.7 million tonnes of carbon, which is equal to 1 million round-trip flights from London to Sydney. However, bottom trawling can release this harmful carbon back into the air.

Although it is known to cause harm, this practice is permitted in the majority of the UK’s MPAs, which are designated as sanctuaries aimed at safeguarding rare, endangered, or crucial ocean habitats and species for the promotion of sustainable marine environments.

The small-spotted catshark is one of the species at risk in Cornwall.View image in fullscreen

Hugo Tagholm, executive director of Oceana UK, stated that the purpose of industrial fishing is to maximize the efficiency of killing marine life.

Bottom trawling, a method of fishing that catches everything from sharks to starfish, poses a serious threat to our oceans. It not only devastates entire ecosystems, but also jeopardizes the livelihood of communities who rely on the sea for sustenance.

How can we justify labeling them as “protected” when such damaging extraction industries operate within them? The government should take immediate action to prohibit this in our marine protected areas.

Oceana analysed satellite-tracking data from Global Fishing Watch, a nonprofit open-access platform, and found that more than 100,000 hours of apparent industrial fishing took place in MPAs off the coast of Britain in 2023.

30% of this came from boats using bottom-towed equipment, such as bottom trawls and dredges. The United Kingdom only accounted for 6% of these vessels, while the remaining vessels were from the European Union.

According to Martin Attrill, a Plymouth University professor in marine ecology, the allowance of trawling in marine sanctuaries is “surprising.”

For more than 100 years, the UK seabed has been damaged by industrial bottom trawling and dredging. This continues to endanger our most important and delicate marine habitats, causing harm to the biodiversity and overall health of our oceans.

After facing a legal challenge from Oceana in 2021, the UK government has promised to limit the use of bottom trawling in MPAs by 2024. To address this issue, they have begun implementing bylaws to safeguard specific areas within sanctuaries, such as reefs, on an individual basis.

A consultation will be launched this spring to discuss actions for most of England’s offshore MPAs.

A representative from Defra stated their priority is to prevent harmful fishing practices in English Marine Protected Areas. They plan to establish all required laws by the end of 2024, and have already implemented additional limitations in 13 designated areas this week.

In the year 2022, four regulations were implemented to prohibit the use of bottom-towed equipment. These regulations pertain to four Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which include Dogger Bank – the biggest sandbank located in the waters of the UK.

A new regulation will limit the practice of bottom trawling in 13 more ocean regions this week, and there will be discussions on proposed regulations for the Western Channel MPA and South West (Deeps) East.

Source: theguardian.com