Sussex’s offshore marine protected areas (MPAs) are bottom trawled for thousands of hours each year, despite existing to protect the seabed. Fly shooting, a resurgent form of industrial fishing which harms the seabed and threatens local fishers’ livelihoods, has also begun in Sussex’s MPAs in recent years.
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Caroline Lucas and Greenpeace activists from Operation Ocean Witness caught Larche, a French flagged industrial fly shooter fishing vessel, damaging the seabed of the Bassurelle Sandbank MPA. They displayed a banner reading “This is a marine protected area”, before asking the vessel to stop fishing and leave the area. The fly shooter immediately hauled its gear and left the protected area.
The Offshore Brighton MPA was the 4th most heavily bottom trawled UK protected area in 2019, with 6904 hours fishing that year. Offshore Overfalls was subjected to 1586 hours of bottom trawling, Bassurelle Sandbank 911 hours, and the Wight Barfleur Reef suffered 193 hours of bottom trawling .
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said:
“This area off Brighton is supposed to be a marine protected area. Yet it’s clear that the Government is turning a blind eye to hugely destructive industrial fishing which continues to take place there. When I’ve raised it with ministers, they’ve failed to show any urgency in banning it. But if the Government can’t ensure the protection of areas like this, it makes pledges to safeguard 30 percent of land and sea for nature completely meaningless. Protected status has to be backed up with measures to keep land and marine areas safe for biodiversity and the recovery of nature.”
Fiona Nicholls, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said:
“It’s heartening when members of Parliament like Caroline Lucas put their time into joining us at sea to bear witness to the destructive industrial fishing that is ripping up supposedly protected patches of seabed with alarming regularity. There’s no point saying an area of seabed is protected, while still allowing bottom trawlers to plough that seabed for thousands of hours each year.
“MPs from across the political spectrum are concerned about this issue – 85 joined us in signing an open letter to the Environment Secretary last year, calling for such fishing practices to be banned from all of the UK’s marine protected areas. Our government needs to listen to their concerns, and deliver on its Brexit promise to level up ocean protection by banning bottom trawlers, supertrawlers and fly shooters from all of the UK’s protected areas. This would revive our struggling coastal communities and save our oceans, so what is this government waiting for?”
Greenpeace’s Operation Ocean Witness has spent the last 3 months patrolling the MPAs off the Sussex coast, documenting, exposing and confronting the destructive fishing practices taking place at sea. This includes numerous instances of AIS dark bottom trawling, which is illegal. Greenpeace have already stopped 2 bottom trawlers, and now one fly shooter, from causing further harm to Sussex’s protected areas.
This comes as last month, Oceana revealed that bottom trawlers spent 68,000 hours fishing in UK protected areas in 2020 . 97% of the UK’s protected areas safeguarding the seabed were bottom trawled in 2019 . This is legal because the UK government has failed to implement restrictions on industrial fishing methods like bottom trawling in the UK’s MPA network.
The UK government has consulted on bottom trawling restrictions in 4 offshore English protected areas following Greenpeace boulder deployments in September 2020 and February 2021, and has hinted at further restrictions on bottom trawling across England’s 40 offshore MPAs, though details are yet to be made public and the proposed timeline is three years.
Greenpeace is calling on the UK government to get ocean protection done by banning bottom trawlers, fly shooters and supertrawlers from all UK marine protected areas as a matter of urgency. This would ensure we have healthy seas for future generations, and revive the UK’s struggling coastal communities.
Greenpeace UK press office – email@example.com / 020 7865 8255
 This data was shared with Greenpeace by Oceana. The full dataset is available on request