A new byelaw, effective 22 March 2024 will expand protection to over 4,000 kilometres of marine ecosystem in English waters
In a move to fortify the conservation of marine ecosystems, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is set to enforce a byelaw, effective from 22 March 2024, safeguarding an additional 13 English offshore marine protected areas (MPAs).
This initiative follows formal consultations in 2023 and aligns with the UK Government’s Environmental Improvement Plan progress update.
The byelaw introduces management measures, specifically prohibiting the use of bottom towed fishing gear, across an expanse of almost 4,000 square kilometres off the English coast. This marks a significant stride in MMO’s ambitious plan to shield all 54 English offshore MPAs from the impacts of fishing activities by 2024.
With this latest addition, the total area protected by MMO byelaws will reach nearly 18,000 square kilometres, surpassing the combined size of Yorkshire and Norfolk. In June 2022, four byelaws were implemented in key sites, including Dogger Bank, Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge, South Dorset, and The Canyons.
England currently hosts 181 MPAs, covering over 40% of its waters, including highly protected marine areas. These zones play a crucial role in preserving rare and endangered habitats and species, fostering a healthier marine environment, and supporting the restoration of valuable ecosystems for a sustainable fishing industry.
The newly protected locations encompass vital marine features such as Cape Bank, known for hosting ecologically important species like pea urchins and cushion starfish; Haig Fras, supporting diverse fauna including jewel anemones and solitary corals; and Hartland Point to Tintagel, a habitat for reef ecosystems containing pink sea fans and fragile sponges.
The 2023 consultation, conducted alongside a call for evidence, aimed to gather insights into the impacts of anchored nets and lines, bottom towed fishing gear, and traps on marine features like reefs and sandbanks. Currently under review by MMO, this evidence will inform any additional management measures, with a formal consultation expected later this year.
Simultaneously, MMO is assessing the effects of fishing on MPAs designated for highly mobile species such as harbour porpoises and marine birds like the red-throated diver. Fishermen, partners, and members of scientific or marine conservation bodies are encouraged to participate in the call for evidence, with a closing date of 13 February.
Michelle Willis, Acting Chief Executive Officer of MMO, expressed gratitude to those who participated in the consultation and affirmed the commitment to introduce a byelaw to manage fishing activities, protecting the marine flora, fauna, and habitats in the designated areas.
She said, “We’d like to thank all those who took part in our formal consultation on the proposed byelaw for these sites last year. We’ve listened to your views and considered the available evidence on the impacts of bottom towed fishing in these 13 marine protected areas.
We’ll now be introducing a byelaw to manage fishing and protect the valuable marine flora, fauna and habitats in these areas.’’
Marine Minister Lord Benyon reiterated the UK’s commitment to safeguarding oceans and their precious species. He acknowledged the recent byelaw as part of a series of measures to enhance the MPA network, thanking participants for shaping these proposals and anticipating future collaboration with the sector, saying:
“The UK remains committed to safeguarding our oceans and the precious species that depend on them. The recent introduction of a further byelaw that restricts the harmful use of bottom towed fishing gear is just one of many steps that we will take to ensure the right measures are in place to enhance our network of MPAs.
“Thank you to those who participated in the consultation, your views have helped us shape these proposals and I look forward to future collaboration with the sector.”
For more information, access copies of the byelaw: Marine Protected Areas Bottom Towed Fishing Gear Byelaw 2023 and view the full list of MPAs covered by the new byelaw.
- Cape Bank
- East of Haig Fras
- Farnes East
- Goodwin Sands
- Haig Fras
- Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton
- Hartland Point to Tintagel
- Lands End and Cape Bank
- North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef
- Offshore Brighton
- South of Celtic Deep
- Wight-Barfleur Reef