Greenpeace UK activists have dropped boulders into the English Channel at the South West Deeps (190 kilometers south of Land's End Cornwall) to prevent industrial trawling. The South West Deeps is one of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas and Greenpeace says the boulder barrier will stop industrial bottom trawlers from dragging weighted nets across the sea floor.
The Marine Management Organization (MMO) has said that the action is potentially illegal and has launched an investigation.
In the past 18 months, the South West Deeps experienced almost 19,000 hours of industrial fishing, 3,370 hours of which was bottom-trawling, according to Global Fishing Watch data. The majority of industrial fishing vessels in the area were from France (53%) followed by Spain (30%) and the UK (9%).
Greenpeace’s boulder project took place on September first, just days after UK leaders failed to help secure a Global Ocean Treaty at IGC5 in New York. The move threatens the UK Government’s aim to achieve at least 30% ocean protection by 2030.
Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, said: “Right now, there’s an industrial fishing frenzy happening in UK waters, and what’s our Government doing about it? Greenpeace UK has created this underwater boulder barrier as a last resort to protect the oceans. We’d much rather the Government just did their job.
“It is outrageous that bottom-trawlers are allowed to scrape along the sea bed in most of our Marine Protected Areas every single day. They destroy huge swathes of the marine ecosystem and make a mockery of our so-called ‘protection’.
“Ocean protection is even more urgent now that our leaders have failed to help secure a Global Ocean Treaty.
Our new prime minister must protect local fishing communities and immediately ban industrial fishing in Marine Protected Areas by tweaking commercial fishing licences. The Government already has the power to do this; all they need is the will to make it happen.”
A spokesperson from the MMO said: “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 License. Greenpeace do not hold, nor have they applied for one, and as such their activity is potentially illegal.
“As unlicensed activity has now taken place, MMO has launched a formal investigation in accordance with its regulatory function around marine licensing enforcement and is gathering evidence before considering its next response.”
MMO has a statutory responsibility to protect our precious marine environment. We had already announced a program of work to manage all fishing activities in England’s 40 offshore marine protected areas (MPAs) by the end of 2024, after new powers were granted in 2021. This program includes South West Deeps (East) Marine Conservation Zone” .
Barry Deas, CEO of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, said that “boulders of that size represent a threat to the crews and the vessels that fish the area”, adding that they could be “a potential threat to life”.