Greenpeace launch Operation Ocean Witness to patrol UK marine protected areas

For World Oceans Day, Greenpeace UK has launched Operation Ocean Witness.


This six month operation, involving a new Greenpeace ship called Sea Beaver, will patrol the UK’s protected areas off the south coast and do what the government has so far failed to do – protect the UK’s marine protected areas from destructive fishing, a key Brexit promise which has been broken. Operation Ocean Witness will operate out of Newhaven from June until Autumn 2021.

This comes as Oceana has today revealed that bottom trawlers spent 68,000 hours fishing in UK protected areas set up specifically to protect the seabed in 2020. Photo and video is available here.

Greenpeace’s Operation Ocean Witness will document and expose the destructive fishing practices the UK government still permits in UK protected areas. It will also document the beauty and biodiversity of the UK’s seas, and engage with fishing communities along the south coast to build a movement for a fairer, more sustainable future for the UK’s seas.

Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said:
“Our government calls itself a global ocean champion while allowing destructive industrial fishing vessels to operate freely in our protected areas. We’ve heard enough rhetoric, which is why we’re launching Operation Ocean Witness. We will do our government’s job for them, holding the most destructive fishing vessels to account and making sure our government can’t hide the destruction taking place in our oceans, which so often remains beyond the horizon and out of sight for most of the public. 

“Our government needs to deliver on its Brexit promise to level up ocean protection. A world-leading network of marine protected areas, where all bottom trawlers and supertrawlers are banned, would revive our seas and coastal communities, unify our divided nation and make Britain a genuine leader in marine protection.”

Melissa Moore, head of UK policy at Oceana in Europe, said:
“Our analysis of 2020 data released today has found that there was a large increase in fishing with destructive bottom towed gear in UK Marine Protected Areas despite the pandemic. This activity contravenes wildlife law and needs to be banned from our protected areas, rather than licensing over a thousand UK and EU vessels to continue their damaging activities with impunity. International commitments are welcome, but must be matched by domestic action.” 

Destructive bottom trawlers and supertrawlers spend thousands of hours each year fishing in areas that are supposed to be protected. Supertrawler fishing hours in protected areas have increased significantly every year since 2017. This is all legal, with there being almost no restrictions on industrial fishing in UK offshore protected areas, especially those which protect the seabed.

This is harming biodiversity, wrecking habitats and worsening the climate emergency by disturbing vast stores of carbon that would otherwise remain safely in the deep oceans. It was revealed earlier this year that global emissions from bottom trawling are equivalent to the entire global aviation industry [1], while UK protected areas in offshore waters store an estimated 26.5 million tonnes of carbon [2].

The UK government claimed that following Brexit, it would better protect the UK’s seas, with the Prime Minister saying that he would ban “hoover trawlers” when speaking to Andrew Marr in January 2021 [3]. This has not happened, and meanwhile the UK fishing industry has been brought to its knees by the fallout of Brexit. So far, the government has failed to deliver on two of its key Brexit promises: better marine protection and a better deal for the UK’s fishers.

Greenpeace is calling for the government to get ocean protection done by banning bottom trawlers and supertrawlers from operating in all UK protected areas as a matter of urgency. These bans could be enacted quickly and simply by restricting the licenses of these vessels to operate in UK waters, as provided for by the new Fisheries Bill 2020.


Contact: Greenpeace UK press office – / 020 7865 8255





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