BREAKING: Greenpeace UK creates underwater boulder barrier in the South West Deeps to block destructive industrial fishing

Greenpeace UK has placed 18 limestone boulders on the seabed in the South West Deeps (East) Marine Protected Area to block destructive industrial fishing.


On Thursday 1 September, campaigners and crew on board Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise sailed to the western English Channel to make a portion of the South West Deeps off-limits to bottom-trawling. 

The boulder action took place days after UK leaders failed to help secure a Global Ocean Treaty at IGC5 in New York, threatening the Government’s aim to achieve at least 30% ocean protection by 2030

Across the entirety of the South West Deeps (East) – more than 4,600 km2 – there is not one metre of protection from destructive industrial fishing[1]. It is one of the most heavily fished so-called Marine Protected Areas in the UK. In the last 18 months, the South West Deeps experienced almost 19,000 hours of industrial fishing, 3,370 hours of which was bottom-trawling. The majority of industrial fishing vessels in the area were from France (53%) followed by Spain (30%) and Great Britain (9%) [2]. 

Celebrities Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry, and Daniel Lismore are supporting the action, alongside Conservative politicians Henry Smith MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP and Theresa May’s former Downing Street environment advisor Lord Randall, as well as the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas MP. Their names were stencilled onto the boulders before being dropped into the ocean. 

The 18 boulders are Portland limestone, and each weighs between 500kg and 1,400kg. They make it impossible for bottom-towed fishing gear to be dragged along the seabed. Artists from the Portland Sculpture and Quarry Trust created a giant ammonite sculpture out of one of the boulders, which will be placed on the seabed alongside the others. The sculptors took inspiration from the ammonite fossils found in Portland limestone. 

Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK, said: “Right now, there’s an industrial fishing frenzy happening in UK waters, and what’s our Government doing about it? Greenpeace UK has created this underwater boulder barrier as a last resort to protect the oceans. We’d much rather the Government just did their job. 

“It is outrageous that bottom-trawlers are allowed to scrape along the sea bed in most of our Marine Protected Areas every single day. They destroy huge swathes of the marine ecosystem and make a mockery of our so-called ‘protection’. 

“Ocean protection is even more urgent now that our leaders have failed to help secure a Global Ocean Treaty. Our new Prime Minister must protect local fishing communities and immediately ban industrial fishing in Marine Protected Areas by tweaking commercial fishing licences. The Government already has the power to do this; all they need is the will to make it happen.”

Neil Whitney, a fisherman from Newhaven in East Sussex, said about Greenpeace UK’s boulder action: “Big industrial fishing boats can catch more in one day than I can catch all year. They’re able to take out entire ecosystems, and if they cause a fishery to collapse, they just move on to the next one. Greenpeace gets the urgency, while leaders and policy makers just twiddle their thumbs. 

“Industrial fishing, like fly-shooters and supertrawlers, are killing our marine environment, and small-scale UK fishermen like me are losing out big time. Coastal communities are on their knees because fishermen are having to leave the profession they’ve dedicated their lives to; there’s hardly anything left to catch and no money to be made, despite all the promises politicians made to us.

“I’m a trawlerman, and I know it’s absurd that bottom trawling is legal in our Marine Protected Areas. It’s like ploughing a combine harvester through a national park. MPAs are supposed to be the areas where fish stocks can recover, so that we have fish for generations to come. It’s a case of common sense.”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “For more than a decade, I’ve been just one voice among millions asking our Government to take urgent and meaningful action to conserve our marine life. They say they are listening, and that they have already made world-leading commitments on marine conservation. But as industrial fishing vessels continue to plough through our so-called Marine Protected Areas, the Government’s rhetoric is revealed as empty and cynical.

“It makes no sense at all to call something a protected area if you’re going to sit by and let huge fishing boats trash the seafloor with their heavy gear. There is no good explanation for the Government’s inaction. It’s baffling and frustrating, and completely undermines their claims to be world-leaders on ocean protection.

“That’s why I fully support Greenpeace’s latest boulder barrier in the South West Deeps. My name has been stencilled, for the second time, onto a boulder which is now at the bottom of the sea, stopping bottom-trawlers from continuing their trail of destruction.”


Photos: Photos and video footage of Greenpeace UK’s boulder action in the South West Deeps (East) MPA on 1 September 2022 can be downloaded here

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: 

Notes to Editors

Industrial fishing refers to: 

  • Supertrawlers, i.e. fishing vessels that are 100 metres long or more
  • Bottom-towed fishing gear
  • Fly-shooting 

[1] Methodology for fisheries closures in the South West Deeps (East) MPA

Fisheries closures: Fisheries byelaws from the governing body of each region regarding fisheries management were assessed and any referring to any form of bottom trawling were retained. Byelaws from inshore and offshore fisheries management organisations were also assessed. The extracted byelaws were then split into 4 groups: 

  1. Seasonal protection from bottom towed gear or only limitations on specific bottom towed gear types
  2. No bottom towed gear
  3. No towed gear
  4. No take zone 

Byelaws relating to passive/static gear were not assessed in this analysis. Using the coordinates provided in the byelaw documentation, a shapefile was then created for each closure with a protection level assigned to it. The resulting layers were then dissolved to create a mask for each closure level and all closures as a whole. Using the Lambert Projected coordinate system for Europe (ESRI:102014), the area (km2) was calculated for each of the closure levels as a total and by region.

MPA protection from fisheries: The MPA was then assessed alongside the closures determined by fisheries byelaws. Where the MPA overlapped with a closure the level of protection afforded by that closure was assigned to the MPA and the percentage area of the MPA protected at each level was recorded. 

[2] Fishing hours in the South West Deeps

  • Fishing hours data for the South West Deeps (East) MPA is taken from Global Fishing Watch data
  • Between 1 January 2021 and 15 July 2022, the South West Deeps (East) MPA was fished in for a total of 18,928 hours by 110 individual vessels 
  • Between 1 January 2021 and 15 July 2022, vessels with bottom-towed fishing gear spent 3,376.86 hours fishing in the South West Deeps (East) MPA 
  • “Bottom-trawling” refers to the following types of fishing gear: 
  • Bottom beam trawls
  • Bottom otter trawls
  • Scallopers and other bottom dredgers
  • Fly-shooting 
  • Between 1 January 2021 and 15 July 2022, the following flagged vessels fished in the South West Deeps (East) MPA: 


France 58 53%
Spain 33 30%
Great Britain 10 9%
Netherlands 4 3%
Irish 2 2%
Portugal  1 1%
Germany 1 1%
Denmark 1 1%
TOTAL 110 100%


About the South West Deeps (East) MPA

  • The South West Deeps (East) is a Marine Conservation Zone straddling the Western Channel and Celtic Sea, located roughly 190km south-west of Land’s End in Cornwall. The site covers an area of more than 4,600 km2 – which is bigger than Cornwall itself – and reaches depths of 750m.

The Marine Conservation Society has done research on the South West Deeps, revealing that the habitat and the species that live there have been gravely affected by decades of industrial fishing. The beam trawling that takes place here erodes, uproots and crashes into species that are damaged by physical contact. For thousands of years, these species have evolved to grow slowly in a relatively stable environment and cannot withstand the destructive effect of seabed trawls. The area also stores 1.67 Mt of carbon – equivalent to carbon emissions from 1,007,058 return flights from London to Sydney – so it is really important to stop disturbing the sea bed and releasing carbon emissions. There is also a huge amount of pelagic fishing fleets and long-liners that target large fish near the surface.

What's next?