UK MARINE PROTECTED AREAS (MPAs) in continental shelf waters store approximately 26.5 million tonnes of carbon, according to Marine Conservation Society data, making them a vital tool in the battle against the climate emergency.

However, industrial fishing methods like bottom trawling risk releasing this carbon by disturbing the seabed where it would otherwise be stored safely.

New YouGov polling, commissioned by Greenpeace UK, reveals that 71 per cent of UK adults believe bottom trawling should not be taking place in UK MPAs.

The key findings are:

  • Bottom trawlers threaten to disturb 26.5 million tonnes of blue carbon stored safely on the seabed in UK MPAs.
  • 71 per cent of UK adults believe bottom trawling should not be allowed in UK MPAs. Just 3 per cent oppose a ban on bottom trawling in MPAs, while 69 per cent support a ban.
  • Only 12 per cent of UK adults believe the UK government is doing a good job of protecting the UK’s seas from industrial fishing
  • Bottom trawlers are operating in 98 per cent of the UK’s MPAs, and spent over 200,000 hours bottom trawling UK MPAs in 2019.

According to the YouGov polling, 69 per cent of adults in the UK believe the government should ban bottom trawling in all of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Just 3 per cent of UK adults oppose a ban on bottom trawling in MPAs, while 80 per cent believe it is important to restrict industrial fishing activity in MPAs. Just 12 per cent of UK adults believe the UK government is doing enough to protect our seas from industrial fishing.

Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Bottom trawlers are ripping up areas of seabed that are supposed to be protected. This is equivalent to a bulldozer ploughing through a nature reserve, but this destruction of our marine environment is so often out of sight and out of mind for both the public and, unfortunately, politicians. This is damaging the marine environment and disturbing vital stores of blue carbon. Our polling shows the public are becoming more informed, and more concerned, about the issue. Let’s hope the politicians follow suit and completely ban bottom trawlers from operating in all of the UK’s marine protected areas.”

Marine Conservation Society data for MPAs in UK continental shelf waters shows that, in total, they store approximately 26.5 million tonnes of carbon. The Dogger Bank stores the largest quantity of blue carbon in English waters, with approximately 5.1 million tonnes of carbon stored in its seabed. Earlier this year the Marine Conservation Society revealed that 98 per cent of the UK’s MPAs are being bottom trawled, and last month a study in Nature calculated that bottom trawling produces more emissions globally than air travel, with the UK’s emissions from bottom trawling some of the highest on Earth.

Frith Dunkley of the Marine Conservation Society said: “A protected ocean is worth more than an exploited one, to people and planet alike. The seabed, as a home to a myriad of life as well as a vital blue carbon store, must be safeguarded as an integral part of tackling the climate crisis. A properly managed network of Marine Protected Areas where bottom trawling is banned to actually protect the seabed habitats they have been designated for is key to achieving this. We know this, the public knows this, now the government must act”

Bottom trawling is a destructive fishing method that involves dragging heavy weighted fishing gear along the seabed to catch fish. The method is widely employed in UK waters, with bottom trawlers fishing for over 200,000 hours in UK MPAs set up specifically to protect the seabed in 2019, according to Oceana.

The UK government is considering closing a handful of important MPAs to bottom trawling, including the Dogger Bank where last year Greenpeace built its first underwater boulder barrier to stop bottom trawling. They are also considering ‘restrictions’ on bottom trawling in 40 English MPAs. However, Greenpeace says, implementing restrictions in a handful of MPAs falls far short of the ambition needed. The UK government must ban bottom trawling and supertrawlers from all of the UK’s marine protected areas.

* Source: Greenpeace UK