Brexit Britain leads green charge with crackdown on ‘bottom-trawling’ – EU under pressure

Greenpeace place boulders at Dogger Bank marine locations

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Thomas Appleby, an associate professor at the University of the West of England, was commenting on the UK’s aggressive push to ban the use of bottom towed fishing gear in four sites, citing the damage such activity causes to the marine environment. The four areas are: Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation (East of England); Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge Special Area of Conservation (The Wash approaches, off the Lincolnshire and North Norfolk coasts); South Dorset Marine Conservation Zone (South West – Dorset); and The Canyons Marine Conservation Zone (South West – Offshore).

Speaking to Politico, Prof Appleby said: “When the UK left the Common Fisheries Policy that triggered an obligation under the Habitats Directive to conduct what’s called an appropriate environmental impact assessment.”

The consequent report had prompted the UK to act to impose a complete ban in the four sites.

Prof Appleby added: “That, of course, puts pressure on the European Union members.”

He explained the obligation to undertake the environmental impact assessment under the UK’s post-Brexit habitats rules was “copy-pasted” from the EU’s nature protection laws.

Hence the EU was under the same obligation as the UK to assess the impact bottom trawling had on its part of the Dogger Bank.

He added: “It’s clear that that the UK has been forced to look into the protection of the Dogger Bank because of Brexit.

“But it does set a very strong precedent for the EU as well.”

So far, EU countries have resisted tougher rules against bottom trawling – but a letter from the European Commission’s marine department addressed to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) sent shortly after the British announcement, has raised hopes that other members of the EU27 could soon follow suit.

The letter states: “We continue to encourage Member States to agree on a more ambitious proposal.”

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Speaking earlier this month, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Now that we have left the Common Fisheries Policy, we are able to deliver on our commitment to achieve a healthy, thriving and sustainable marine environment.

“The UK has already established an impressive ‘Blue Belt’ covering 38 percent of our waters and our Fisheries Act has provided us with additional powers to go further to protect our seas around England.

“This proposal to introduce bylaws to safeguard four of our precious offshore Marine Protected Areas shows how we are putting these powers into action.”

Commenting, Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Principle Specialist in Marine Protected Areas at the Marine Conservation Society, commented: “You’d think that Marine Protected Areas are, in fact, protected.

“However, just five currently ban bottom trawling, which has been shown time and again to damage the fragile sea floor.

“Whilst in the past the UK has had to get full agreement from other EU member states for bans on fishing, now we can act independently with the powers provided by the Fisheries Act.

“This announcement today – whilst only for 4 of a possible 74 areas of protection – is an encouraging start.

Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, added: “We need to see the detail of these proposals, but if the Government is indeed considering a total ban on bottom trawling in these four protected areas, then it’s good news.

“However, all of our sensitive marine areas must be properly protected, not just four.

“Months after we created a 50 square mile bottom trawler exclusion zone in the Dogger Bank by building an underwater boulder barrier, ministers have finally woken up to their responsibilities.”

Mr Thorne said there were still hundreds of other marine areas which were open to all forms of “destructive industrial fishing”.

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