UK Marine Management Organisation criticises Greenpeace’s disruptions of fishing activities

The UK Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has been informed by Greenpeace earlier this week that the latter intends to collect more boulders and drop them into the sea at South West Deeps off England in what it refers to as a peaceful protest to prevent “destructive bottom trawling.”

The MMO said it was “extremely disappointed” that Greenpeace intends to continue with its actions, which would mean further boulder drops into the marine space without the required marine licences.

“Greenpeace is aware of the work that is being undertaken by MMO to protect these sites and the process that must be followed, and Greenpeace was left in no doubt following the judicial comments in the previous court proceedings, that it is expected to comply with the marine licensing regime,” the agency said via an official statement posted on its website.

The MMO added that it will continue to monitor and investigate as appropriate.

The MMO said that since the programme started, it has already delivered a range of management measures in four offshore sites, including Dogger Bank SAC, which, at 12,331 square kilometres, is the largest marine protected area (MPA) in England protecting seabed habitat.

The MMO also recently published a call for evidence, and sought views on its draft assessments of the impacts of bottom-towed fishing gear on a further 13 MPAs in order to identify appropriate long-term site protection.

“As England’s marine regulator,” the MMO stated, “we are very disappointed that Greenpeace has chosen to take this action to drop boulders to form a barrier as we don’t believe it is justified or will help protect our marine environment.

“It is also a requirement under the Marine and Coastal Access Act that any deposit of construction below high water is required to have a Marine Licence. Greenpeace does not hold, nor has it applied for one and as such the group’s activity is potentially illegal.”

The MMO said it has launched a formal investigation in accordance with its regulatory function around marine licensing enforcement and is gathering evidence before considering its next response.

South West Deeps (East) is a large offshore marine conservation zone (MCZ) covering an area of 4,676 square kilometres. It is located in the Western Channel and Celtic Sea where its closest point to land lies 190 kilometres south-west of Cornwall.

The depth of the water reaches 750 metres in some places and the area is home to a wide variety of important species including flatfish such as sole and plaice on the seabed surface, and species of clam, cockles and marine worms. The site also provides habitats and prey species for a range of commercial fish species, as well as marine birds and mammals.

The location is part of a third round of the MMO’s work to manage fishing in offshore MPAs, and the MMO is currently gathering and analysing evidence to inform its management decisions for this site. Any proposed management for this site will be subject to public consultation, and all necessary fisheries management measures for all English offshore MPAs will be in place by the end of 2024.

The fishing vessels that work in these waters are predominantly French and Spanish with only two UK static netters which are vessels that deploy a static wall of netting (either trammel or gill net) in a fixed position. From available records, the type of fishing undertaken is a mix of gillnetting, longlining, bottom trawling, pelagic trawling and fly seining.

“Therefore,” the MMO concluded, “it is our view that to drop boulders in this location will have minimal impact.”

The MMO said it remains open to discussions with Greenpeace to ensure both parties can achieve their joint goal of marine nature recovery.

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