Marine experts claim that a new landmark report reveals the need to end illegal fishing activities on the Dogger Bank
A landmark report by Blue Marine Foundation, ClientEarth and Marine Conservation Society reveals the urgent need for all harmful fishing activities on the Dogger Bank – a North Sea marine protected area (MPA) that is shared by Germany, the Netherlands and the UK – to be halted immediately in compliance with European and UK law.
The report highlights the Dogger Bank as a “test case” for the conservation of Europe’s MPAs, which should set an example for marine protection across the bloc. But the report shows that despite the Dogger Bank’s protected status, it has little to no management measures to safeguard it from destructive fishing activities which damage the seafloor.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has committed to ensuring that “our seas and oceans must be conserved and protected” and Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius has pledged to no longer accept “paper parks” within Europe – where areas are designated for protection, but have no management plans developed or enforced for true restoration of nature.
However, the report shows that EU countries have failed to stop harmful fishing activities on the Dogger Bank, despite the requirement under EU law to do so, and maps out how the Commission can take the first steps towards protecting marine biodiversity.
John Condon from ClientEarth said: “This report leaves no doubt that Member States have failed in their legal obligation to protect the Dogger Bank by allowing activities that jeopardise its health. The Commission must take immediate legal action against countries failing to respect and enforce EU laws designed to safeguard protected areas. In parallel, the Commission should propose its own conservation measures to protect the Dogger Bank. If it doesn’t, then marine protected areas mean nothing more than lines drawn on a map.”
Dr Thomas Appleby, associate professor in law at the University of Western England and legal adviser to the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “Failure to protect the Dogger Bank has far reaching consequences. If we lose the Dogger Bank, the whole marine protected area network is in peril.”
A decade-long failure to implement management measures in line with EU law, means that the habitat of the once abundant but now critically endangered species such as common skate and angel shark are at risk. The Dogger Bank is home to large mammals such as minke whale, beaked dolphin and harbour porpoise, beds of cold water corals which are critical to the health of North Sea ecosystems, as well as the quahog – a shellfish that can live for up to 400 years. The area also provides nursery grounds for plaice, whiting and cod, species vital to sustaining North Sea fisheries.
The various fishing gear employed in the region also damage the foraging grounds of sea birds, including gannets and puffins. The report finds that if these destructive methods are permitted to continue, there is no prospect of the Dogger Bank achieving favourable conservation status. This threatens the health of the wider marine ecosystem, with direct implications for industries like fisheries.
The findings remind both sides in the Brexit talks on fisheries of the need to comply with legal obligations to protect all of Europe’s seas. They say that proposals made by the British, Dutch and German governments to protect only 5% of the Dogger Bank from harmful fishing are totally inadequate under both European and UK law.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Principal Specialist for Marine Protected Areas for the UK’s Marine Conservation Society added: “Regardless of semantics, this is a protected area. Any Marine Protected Area in UK seas that is protected for seabed ecosystems cannot support bottom towed fishing activity. It results in relentless simplification of the marine environment, causes sediments to export carbon into the environment, hastens the demise of natural fish communities, and destroys what little sponge, coral and invertebrate richness and complexity we have left.”
“When the transition is in place, the UK will have the opportunity to unilaterally ban damaging fishing from the UK portion of the site and call on other EU Member States to do the same in their ‘portions’ of the site.”
The group is calling on the Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius to take legal action to protect the Dogger Bank in line with the Habitats Directive, the Green Deal and commitments made under the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.