Pressure on UK and EU to tackle destructive fishing

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Recent news confirms that destructive industrial fishing remains one of the greatest threats to marine life in UK and European waters, highlighting the need for urgent action.

Shocking figures reported in the Guardian this week show that:

  • 230,000 tonnes of fish were killed and discarded in the EU in 2019.
  • 92% of this wasted life was the result of bottom trawling, which also damages ocean habitats.
  • 80% of fisheries subsidies drive overfishing by supporting industrial fleets.

In the UK, the government recently introduced bylaws to manage bottom trawling in Dogger Bank and three other Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The bad news is that not all of these sites will be fully protected, and 60 MPAs around the UK are still vulnerable to fishing activity.

Industrial fishing has many negative impacts on cetaceans, from dolphins being killed in the nets of large-scale pelagic ‘supertrawlers’ to whales suffering from dangerous levels of noise created by bottom-towed gear.

Since leaving the EU, the UK has the power to effectively ban destructive fishing from its waters by restricting vessel licenses – a step that we at the WCA and Sussex Dolphin Project believe is necessary to prevent further deaths of dolphins and other wildlife as bycatch.

A common dolphin killed as bycatch on the Sussex coast.

It’s clear that current measures simply don’t go far enough, as shown by this week’s protest from small-scale, inshore fishers in the UK and France, who are calling for destructive fishing vessels to be banned from MPAs in the Channel.

We’re continuing to work with inshore fishers in Sussex and beyond who support our ‘Dolphins Aren’t Discard’ campaign and share our commitment to a healthy ocean. As part of our feedback on the draft Joint Fisheries Statement, we’ve demanded to see strong, timebound actions from the UK government to end bycatch, including financial support for sustainable inshore fishers to implement solutions.

Earlier this month, we also urged Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to vote for a ban on bottom trawling in EU MPAs. Disappointingly, this opportunity was weakened by an amendment to apply the ban to strictly protected areas only. However, the majority of MEPs recognised the severity of the issue and called on the EU Commission to tackle the damage caused by bottom trawling, as well as the need to ban extractive industrial activities in all MPAs.

Most recently, Fisheries MEPs have issued a statement today asking for EU countries to improve their allocation of fishing quotas by taking environmental factors such as energy consumption and habitat damage into account.

We know that destructive fishing is killing marine wildlife, harming habitats, and contributing to the climate crisis. It’s beyond time for the UK and EU to respond to environmental concerns and step up to end this problem.

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