My response to constituents who contacted me about supertrawlers in Marine Protected Areas.
Thank you for contacting me about supertrawler activity in our Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
I am aware of research by Greenpeace that found supertrawlers spent almost 3,000 hours fishing within UK MPAs in 2019. More recently, Greenpeace found that this activity almost doubled, with supertrawlers spending some 5,590 hours fishing in UK MPAs in the first six months of 2020.
In the face of declining marine biodiversity and given the central importance of our oceans in combating the climate crisis, it is critical that UK waters and the species that live there are properly protected. I therefore agree that we should ban supertrawlers from fishing in our MPAs and I believe this should have happened already.
As you may be aware, Marine protection is devolved. The Fisheries Act 2020 gives the Devolved Administrations greater fisheries management powers. According to DEFRA, this means each Administration will tailor their approach based on the specific needs of their industries and waters, enabling a move away from the inflexible and cumbersome Common Fisheries Policy.
Marine Scotland is responsible for management of Scottish seas, with its Compliance section monitoring activity of Scottish fishing vessels in any waters, and non-Scottish fishing vessels in Scotland’s waters. It has designated Marine Protected Areas over approximately 37% of Scottish seas. Therefore, you may wish to contact your MSP to discuss these issues.
Amendment 101 to the Fisheries Bill (now Act) to ban supertrawlers from UK waters, laid by the Opposition in Westminster in September 2020, would have been made to Schedule 3 on sea fishing licences had it been successful, and this would have extended to Scotland.
I am concerned that there is no sustainable plan for fishing and the restoration of our marine environments, and that practices such as over-fishing and bottom trawling can have disastrous effects on ocean habitats.
During its passage through Parliament in 2020, the Opposition tabled an amendment to the Government’s Fisheries Bill to ban supertrawlers over 100 metres from fishing in MPAs. Not only do I think this would be beneficial for our oceans and marine biodiversity, I believe it would also benefit our own fishing industry and small boat fleet. Indeed, the vast majority of fishing by supertrawlers in UK waters is by foreign-owned vessels. Unfortunately, the amendment was rejected by the Government.
The Government has said that it is reviewing its policy on supertrawlers and that it will pilot Highly Protected Marine Areas. It also says that fisheries regulators implement management measures on a site-by-site basis and have protected 98 MPAs from fishing activities that would have hindered their conservation activities.
In my view, the Government faces a simple choice: whether it is on the side of British fishing or foreign-owned industrial supertrawlers, harvesting huge quantities of fish and plundering the very habitats that we regard as special.
Thank you once again for contacting me about this important issue. I will continue to advocate for a ban on supertrawlers fishing in our MPAs and for sustainable fisheries management.