13 April 2022

Dogger Bank among four areas of English seas protected from damaging fishing

13 April 2022

Dogger Bank is one of four areas of English seas that will be protected from damaging fishing, the Government has announced in a move welcomed by campaigners.

Byelaws banning bottom trawling fishing gear will be brought in for Dogger Bank in the North Sea, which was the site of a Greenpeace protest that saw the campaign group dropping boulders into the water to stop damaging fishing.

The move to protect the important shallow sandbank habitat has been heralded as the “beginning of the rewilding of the North Sea”.

Byelaws safeguarding marine protected areas from damaging fishing activities will also be introduced for Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge, off the south Lincolnshire coast, South Dorset, and The Canyons, home to cold water coral reefs more than 200 miles from Land’s End, Cornwall.

A boulder falls into the North Sea from the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza (Suzanne Plunkett / Greenpeace/PA)

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Outside the EU, we are using our new freedoms to protect our marine environment.

“We will be stopping trawling and dredging in these marine protected areas to protect wildlife and habitats, through powers we have in our Fisheries Act 2020.”

Campaigners welcomed the move, which comes into force in two months’ time, but warned more action was needed to protect the rest of the network of English marine protected areas (MPAs).

Charles Clover, executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “We are delighted that the Government has finally got round to protecting the Dogger Bank and the three other sites, which it promised to do a year ago.

“The Dogger itself is the size of the Bristol Channel, so protecting it from damaging activities is an enormous and welcome precedent for the protection of all our UK offshore marine protected areas which were formerly, almost all, ‘paper parks.’

“It is the beginning of the rewilding of the North Sea.”

He said the protections were the result of a legal campaign by Blue and other groups against the Government for breaking habitat protection laws by allowing bottom trawling dredging on more than 60 protected sites.

And he raised concerns that new plans by the Government would remove legal responsibilities from ministers to protect designated areas.

Fiona Nicholls, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “It’s been 18 months since Greenpeace built a protective boulder barrier in the Dogger Bank and since the Government committed to stop bottom trawling in this iconic and ecologically important area.

“While this is a major step towards protecting some of the most environmentally significant features of the Dogger Bank, destructive industrial fishing vessels like factory trawlers will still be allowed to plunder this now partially protected area.

“We need the Government to get us on track this year to fully or highly protecting all of our marine protected areas.”

It’s good news that Government has at last taken the first step to manage four of their 64 offshore MPAs

Melissa Moore, head of UK policy from conservation group Oceana, said: “It’s good news that Government has at last taken the first step to manage four of their 64 offshore MPAs, given damaging activity such as bottom trawling is prohibited in MPAs under conservation law.

“Oceana’s analysis found over 68,337 fishing hours using bottom towed gear within these offshore MPAs in 2020.”

She said Oceana fully supported the Dogger Bank byelaw that would protect the whole site and have benefits for the North Sea ecosystem beyond, but warned the Inner Dowsing MPA byelaw was “miniscule” and would not protect the site.

She called on UK and devolved governments to act quickly to implement the law and ban bottom towed gear in the remaining 60 offshore MPAs that they promised to manage following legal challenges by Oceana and others.

The four marine protected areas, where fishing with bottom towed gears will be banned in specified areas, are:

– Dogger Bank, a shallow sandbank in the North Sea, which is home to species such as sand eels, that are food for puffins and porpoises;

– The Canyons, a deep sea habitat off the coast of Cornwall which harbours cold water coral reef and coral gardens;

–  Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Area of Conservation, off the Lincolnshire and North Norfolk coasts, whose sandbanks and reefs are home to wildlife including lobster, crabs and pink shrimp.

– South Dorset Marine Conservation Zone, off the coast of Dorset, which is home to sea squirts, crabs, sponges, scallops and starfish.

There are additional restrictions for static gears over sensitive features for Inner Dowsing and the Canyons.

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