Blue Marine Foundation has today praised the Fisheries Minister and the UK Government’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO) on its inclusion of the option to completely close the Dogger Bank – a North Sea marine protected area (MPA) – to fishing, as part of its call for evidence to better safeguard marine habitats. The potential closure of the marine reserve comes just weeks after the publication of a report by Blue Marine Foundation, ClientEarth, Marine Conservation Society and WWF which revealed the urgent need for all harmful fishing activities to be halted immediately in the Dogger Bank MPA, in compliance with European and UK law.
The option of banning fishing on the sea bed by beam trawlers, seine trawlers and scallop dredgers as well as mid-water fishing by supertrawlers in all areas of the Dogger Bank marine reserve was put forward as part of the MMO’s Draft Dogger Bank Fisheries Assessment. Blue Marine Foundation and its fellow NGOs both support this option and have the evidence to prove that a ban on all demersal fishing is necessary.
Charles Clover, executive director of Blue Marine Foundation, said: “We applaud George Eustice and his fellow ministers for getting the MMO to put forward this option to ban all destructive fishing from the Dogger Bank. This is a test case for the rest of the UK’s offshore marine reserves, and we have evidence to show that this level of protection is not only necessary, but vital.”
The UK shares the Dogger Bank MPA with Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark but the European Commission has yet to ensure there are similar options to protect this Special Area of Conservation, formerly home to critically endangered species such as common skate and angel shark and still a nursery for many fish species and a foraging ground for seabirds and large mammals such as minke whale, beaked dolphin and harbour porpoise. Some 66 per cent of the Dogger Bank is in UK waters.
ClientEarth Wildlife and Habitats lawyer John Condon said: “We hope to see the European Commission follow this good example set by the UK Government to look at ambitious options for safeguarding these important protected areas. If the Commission is serious about protecting the Dogger Bank, it needs to turn commitments into concrete action by ensuring that conservation measures are proposed that close the Dogger Bank to all forms of destructive fishing.”
The Dogger Bank is one of only four offshore MPAs covered by the UK Government’s call for evidence, the others being the Canyons Marine Conservation Zone, the South Dorset Marine Conservation Zone and the Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge. There is one inshore MPA in the consultation, Studland Bay in Dorset, where a variety of options are canvassed for activities including mooring, power boating and diving.
Dr Thomas Appleby, Associate Professor in law at the University of the West of England, said: “We are delighted that the UK Government is including a proposal to fully protect the Dogger Bank in this consultation but we would point out that it is only one of 73 offshore marine protected areas around the UK, all of which should be protected by law. The Government may claim that it lacks the resources to do this quickly, but it would have been able to afford an assessment of all 73 offshore MPAs had it imposed licence fees on the big, well-capitalised companies and multi-million pound vessels that have been fishing in these protected areas for the past ten years – contrary to environmental law.”
Jean-Luc Solandt, from the Marine Conservation Society, said: “If fully protected, the Dogger Bank protected area will provide a refuge for over fished and endangered species like the common state and angleshark. Important keystone fish such as sandeels can recover to feed greater numbers of fish, seabirds porpoises and seals. All these species were once prevalent and much more abundant in the southern North Sea. Recent evidence from government scientists also suggest that carbon locked into seabed sediments will be prevented from being released, helping to combat climate change. Seabed trawling is destructive on so many levels. Perhaps this is a turning point for our large MPAs. We hope so.”
Cover image: Dutch Maritime Productions