Sixteen non-EU and 9 EU supertrawlers entered almost 40 UK marine protected areas (MPAs) spending 2,963 hours fishing, an investigation by Greenpeace has found.
Supertrawlers are colossal fishing boats that indiscriminately fish using trawls (large fishing nets). As a consequence, whales, dolphins, seals and sea birds can be pulled and stored in each vessel.
Supertrawlers work by essentially vacuuming the sea of any and every creature in its path. Animals caught are stored and frozen inside the vessel killing small to large fish and mammals including seals and dolphins.
Vessels from Russia, Faroe Islands, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Lithuania and the United Kingdom were found to be spending time in MPAs (a list can be found below). Russian vessels accounted for the most visits.
“Our government allowing destructive supertrawlers to fish for thousands of hours every year in Marine Protected Areas makes a mockery of the word ‘protected’. Even an hour of supertrawler activity inside an ecologically sensitive marine environment is too much, let alone almost 3000…” Greenpeace Oceans campaigner Chris Thorne said.
The extent of the damage is not known though the consequences of spending this much time in highly sensitive waters could be devastating. Unfortunately, it is legal for supertrawlers to operate in UK waters including MPAs, contradicting the notion of its intended purpose. The British government’s gov.uk website says ‘Marine Conservation Zones protect our diverse species and habitats in the “blue belt” around the English Coast’, though sanctuary is lacking without legal protection.
“For our government to be taken seriously as a leader in marine protection, it must ban supertrawler operations in the UK’s Marine Protected Areas. Will our government heed the recommendations of the Highly Protected Marine Area review and seize the historic opportunity Brexit provides to fix the UK’s broken network of Marine Protected Areas, or will it allow the flawed status quo to continue?”
Environmental groups have called on the government to get tough on supertrawlers including Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace (you can sign their petition here) and Animal Rebellion. The UK government claims to be a world leader in ocean protection, though the law says otherwise.