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In a desperate plea, Greenpeace has called on the UK to use Brexit as an opportunity to enforce greater protections for marine protected areas. Although the UK has left the EU, super and bottomtrawlers are not banned from certain areas meaning they freely “tear off everything” in their path, Greenpeace warned. Such is the devastation caused by both in marine protected areas, Chris Thorne Greenpeace’s Oceans Manager likened it to “operating a bulldozer” through a forest.
Despite some of the Government’s claims to be a world leader in marine conservation, Mr Thorne warned the UK must “level up” its marine protected areas to stop the devastation caused to the ecosystem.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, he said: “Bottomtrawlers drag heavy weighted gear along the seabed, tearing off everything indiscriminately.
“You could kind of compare that to operating a bulldozer in a protected area which just absolutely should not be happening.
“Especially when you consider many marine protected areas have been set up specifically to protect the seabed.
“Then there supertrawlers which have gigantic vessels are over 100 metres long.
“And they’re capable of capturing and processing hundreds of tonnes of fish a day.
“And although their fishing gear doesn’t come into contact with the seabed, it’s quite clear that if you’re taking that much out of the ecosystem in supposedly protected areas, it has a real knock on effect for the rest of that ecosystem, which is meant to be protected.
“So we have a broken network of protected areas and the government needs to level them up.”
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Currently, there are 76 marine protected areas around the coastline of the UK.
Despite being designated as a protected area, Mr Thorne claimed they have no proper and rigid enforcement structures to stop the barbaric activity of supertrawlers.
Not only are these large ships destroying the seabed but they are also putting small fishing communities out of business.
Mr Thorne said: “If we don’t level up these marine protected areas and ban destructive fishing methods, it’s going to be harder and harder for our small scale fishing fleet to make a viable livelihood.
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“There’s going to be these industrial vessels operating free so there’s going to be less fish, and it’s going to be harder for the small-scale fishermen to catch fish.”
It is thought, up to 71 of the 73 protected areas in 2019 were subject to destructive fishing habits.
In 2020, Greenpeace found supertrawlers spent 5,590 hours fishing in protected areas.
In 2017, supertrawlers had spent just 475 hours fishing in UK-protected areas.
Last week Greenpeace was forced to shadow a supertrawler away from UK waters.
The Willem van der Zwan passed through the Offshore Overfalls Marine Protected Area off the Sussex coast.
Fiona Nicholls, a Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner, said: “Supertrawlers like the Willem van der Zwan spend thousands of hours each year fishing inside our protected areas at sea.
”They endanger the health of our oceans, remove unimaginably vast quantities of fish from the ecosystem, and destroy the livelihoods of local fishers all around the UK.
“The Willem has absolutely no place fishing in the UK’s protected areas.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK is a global leader in the protection of our seas, with our ‘Blue Belt’ of Marine Protected Areas extending across 38% of UK waters and plans to pilot Highly Protected Marine Areas to boost biodiversity recovery.
“We are committed to achieving a healthy and sustainable marine environment, and 98 sites in our inshore waters now have management measures in place to protect habitats from bottom towed fishing gears.”
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