Greenpeace UK to create underwater boulder barrier in Marine Protected Area near Cornwall to block destructive industrial fishing


Greenpeace UK is today announcing imminent plans to build an underwater boulder barrier in a third UK Marine Protected Area to block destructive industrial fishing.

In the coming weeks, Greenpeace’s ship Arctic Sunrise will sail to the South West Deeps (East), a Marine Protected Area (MPA) almost 200 kilometres off the Cornish coast, to make a portion of it off-limits to bottom-trawling. Bottom-trawling is the most destructive type of fishing as it drags weighted nets across the seafloor, tearing up marine habitats. 

Celebrities Stephen Fry, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Simon Pegg and Daniel Lismore are supporting the action. Their names will be stencilled onto the boulders before they are placed on the seabed. 

The South West Deeps is one of the most heavily fished so-called Marine Protected Areas in the UK: 

  • Between 1 January 2021 and 15 July 2022, the South West Deeps was fished in for nearly 19,000 hours by 110 boats; 
  • Between 1 January 2021 and 15 July 2022, bottom-trawlers spent more than 3,370 hours fishing in the area; 
  • The majority of industrial fishing vessels in the South West Deeps are from France (53%) followed by Spain (30%) and Great Britain (9%). 

Greenpeace UK is today announcing their third underwater boulder barrier on the first day of the UN’s Global Ocean Treaty negotiations at IGC5 in New York (Monday 15 August). These talks are a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a strong Treaty that would make it possible to create vast Marine Protected Areas in international waters. Unless a Treaty is finalised in 2022, it will be practically impossible to deliver ‘30×30’ – 30% of the world’s oceans protected by 2030 – a target which the UK Government has committed to reaching. 

Pat Venditti, Greenpeace UK’s Executive Director, said: “This is a last resort to save the UK’s marine life; we would prefer that the Government did their job of protecting the oceans properly. But we’re taking matters into our own hands for the third year in a row because the Government is still failing to stop destructive fishing from decimating marine life in our so-called Marine Protected Areas.  

“Bottom-trawlers wipe out miles upon miles of the UK’s marine ecosystems every single day, but the Government has only banned it in a measly four out of 76 offshore Marine Protected Areas. This is just a drop in the ocean – it’s like locking your front door but leaving all your windows wide open. 

“The future of the UK’s oceans is hanging in the balance, and we’re running out of time to save them from industrial fishing, habitat destruction and climate change. The next PM should ban industrial fishing in Marine Protected Areas by tweaking commercial fishing licences, to show they mean business on protecting nature and supporting fishing communities.” 

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 protect our seas and 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, and my name will be stencilled, for the second time, onto a boulder which will soon be at the bottom of the sea, stopping bottom-trawlers from continuing their trail of destruction.”

Actor Simon Pegg said: “I am adding my name to one of Greenpeace’s boulders because I stand in solidarity with the UK’s small independent fishermen. The Government promised that Brexit would be a turning point for fishing in the UK, but now that it has happened, this has turned out to be nothing but empty words. Massive industrial fishing vessels are catching everything in our seas, leaving our fishermen with nothing and making their jobs untenable. 

“Properly protecting our Marine Protected Areas won’t only help wildlife recover, it will also help our local fishermen recover their livelihoods and bolster our coastal communities. It’s a no-brainer. So why is the Government going back on their promise?”

Fabric sculptor, designer and campaigner Daniel Lismore said: “If we carry on industrially fishing like this, there will be no fish left in the UK’s oceans, and we and the planet will be in trouble. I am proud to support Greenpeace’s necessary boulder action, and I want the Government to sit up, take note and act to protect our oceans from destructive industrial fishing – like they said they would.”

The Government banned bottom-trawling in four MPAs following Greenpeace’s previous boulder actions, and is consulting on bans in a further 13 MPAs. But this glacially slow pace will not deliver ‘30×30’ in UK waters, and will do nothing to address other types of destructive fishing. Greenpeace is calling on the Government to match its rhetoric by banning bottom-trawling in every UK MPA using fishing licensing restrictions, and fulfil its ‘30×30’ commitments. 


Notes to Editors

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Jasmine Watkiss, Press & Communications Officer (UK Oceans) at / +44 7796 947448 


  • Photos of destructive fishing in the South West Deeps (East) MPA and of previous Greenpeace UK boulder actions can be downloaded here

Fishing Hours Research

  • 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- shooters (seine nets) 
  • 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.

IGC5 and the Global Ocean Treaty

  • Intergovernmental Conference 5 (IGC5) is the final negotiation for a new Global Ocean Treaty (also known as BBNJ – Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction). This Treaty would improve the dysfunctional system of global ocean governance “to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”.
  • The Treaty would make it possible to deliver 30×30: fully protecting at least 30% of our planet’s oceans by 2030. Scientific evidence is clear: this is the absolute minimum required to give the oceans space to recover. Without a strong Treaty being finalised in 2022, it will be almost impossible to deliver 30×30.
  • 49 countries have committed at the highest political level to deliver an ambitious Treaty in 2022. It’s vital that these commitments become a reality.
  • IGC5 runs from 15 – 26 August 2022 in New York. This is the last chance for governments to meet their commitments and finalise an ambitious Treaty in 2022 to show they are serious about ocean protection.
  • Laura Meller of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign said from New York [1]: “These negotiations are a once in a generation opportunity to protect the blue part of our blue planet. The oceans sustain all life on Earth but for too long, we’ve neglected them. Delegates must finalise a strong Treaty this August. A weak Treaty, or any further delay, will maintain the broken status quo that has pushed the oceans into crisis.”

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