Environmental Policy News

UK Takes Further Action to Protect Vital Marine Habitats

The latest stage of proposed measures to protect further valuable marine habitats and manage harmful fishing activity in England’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were unveiled January 17, 2023.

The Marine Management Organization (MMO) is delivering an ambitious program to protect all 40 English offshore MPAs from harmful fishing activity by 2024, with bylaws already in place in key sites, including Dogger Bank and The Canyons.

In the latest stage of the program, the MMO has today launched a consultation on a proposed bylaw to ban bottom-towed gear in 13 more MPAs to protect vital marine ecosystems - an area of over 4,000 km2. Combined with existing MMO bylaws, this will bring the total area protected from bottom-towed gear by MMO bylaws to almost 18,000 km2.

With 178 MPAs spanning 40% of England’s waters, these areas are critical to protect rare and threatened habitats and species from damage caused by human activities such as fishing.

Locations that would gain 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 Goodwin Sands, home to rocky habitats that support species such as pinks sea fans, cup corals and commercially important shellfish and fish.

The consultation will run 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 across England’s MPA network.

Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey, said, “The UK has a strong track record on marine protection, and we want more countries to step up and protect 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030. Today’s plans will deliver more crucial safeguards for vital biodiversity and help restore England’s marine ecosystems. We’ll listen carefully to the responses to ensure we help habitats and species recover whilst ensuring we have a sustainable and successful fishing industry for years to come.”

Tom McCormack, Chief Executive Officer of MMO, said, “Following completion of our call for evidence on the impacts of bottom towed fishing in these 13 marine protected areas, we will now launch a formal consultation on proposed bylaws for these sites. We look forward to engaging with stakeholders and interested parties on the bylaw proposals. Today’s announcement marks another step forward in the UK’s commitment to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030, known as ‘30by30’. The UK’s comprehensive network of 374 MPAs protecting over 38% of UK waters will be a valuable contribution to this global target.

It follows the Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey attending the UN Conference of Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Montreal in December last year, where nations adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, including the global 30by30 target. UK efforts, including as leader of the Global Ocean Alliance and Ocean Co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, helped to secure agreement on this important global target.

The UK has also committed to continue working through these initiatives to support global implementation of the 30by30 target.

The formal consultation and the call for evidence run from January 17 to March 28, 2023.

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