Public back ban on damaging fishing in protected areas amid carbon warning

Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent
·2 min read

More than two-thirds of people back a ban on damaging fishing methods in protected areas of the sea, a poll suggests.

The findings come as conservationists warn fishing such as bottom trawling – in which a weighted net is pulled along the seafloor to catch fish – risks releasing millions of tonnes of carbon stored in the seabed in protected areas.

Data from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) estimates UK marine protected areas in the waters of the continental shelf store around 26.5 million tonnes of carbon.

Industrial methods of fishing such as bottom trawling risk releasing this “blue carbon” by disturbing the seabed where it would otherwise be stored, adding to the climate crisis rather than helping fight it, environmentalists say.

Bottom trawlers are operating in 98% of the UK’s marine protected areas, designated to protect sea wildlife and habitats which can be damaged by the fishing process, MCS said.

Polling commissioned by Greenpeace UK suggests the public support a ban on bottom trawling in marine protected areas around the UK.

The survey of 1,883 people by YouGov found 71% of those quizzed did not think bottom trawling should be allowed in protected areas of the sea, and 69% supported a ban in those places.

Just 3% of people opposed a ban, and only 12% of those questioned thought the Government was doing enough to protect the UK’s seas from industrial fishing.

Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said bottom trawlers were ripping up areas of seabed that were 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.”

He said the polling showed the public were becoming more informed and more concerned about the issue, and he hoped politicians followed suit.

The Government has announced plans to prohibit bottom trawling across all or some of four marine protected areas, which environmental groups say will help the wildlife there, but is just the tip of the iceberg of what is needed.

Frith Dunkley of the MCS said: “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.”