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April 19, 2024

Stay strong for the ocean

In the last few days, France has raised a dispute with the UK after it restricted harmful bottom trawling in small areas of its waters, and the European Commission has requested talks about the UK’s wildlife-friendly ban on industrial sandeel fishing. These retrogressive reactions are pandering to the industrial fishing lobby and betraying our ocean and coastal communities, says Oceana.  

The EU has chosen the right side of history by committing to protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030 and has had legislation in place for many years that legally requires member states to free marine protected areas (MPAs) from harmful activities, including  bottom trawling. Yet implementation is lax, and the damage continues with impunity. Greece, in announcing a ban on this destructive practice in all its own MPAs this week, is showing true leadership.

The UK too, has committed to the 30 x 30 pledge, and recently restricted bottom trawling in some MPAs, as well as banning industrial fishing of sandeels – tiny fish that are a mainstay of many marine food webs.

These are steps in the right direction. While highly destructive bottom trawling needs further restriction, and has no place in any ‘protected’ areas, we applaud the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ actions. 

In the case of sandeels, the move is an unmitigated positive: these fish support wildlife from commercially important cod to kittiwakes – a seabird listed as globally vulnerable on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The strength of feeling from the public is also clear: nearly 200,000 people signed up via the RSPB and Greenpeace to back the ban. 

Defra has taken progressive and important action in both these steps, and we urge the department to stand strong in the face of these regressive challenges, clearly driven by the large-scale fisheries lobby. 

On both sides of the channel,  we must push back against industrial fishing interests who lobby for short-term profits with no thought for the future of small-scale fishers or long-term livelihoods. That course will lead only to empty seas and impoverished communities. 

Our marine life is already facing multiple severe threats from the climate crisis, pollution and overfishing. Safeguarding sandeels and creating properly protected havens for wildlife, free from destructive trawling, is a vital part of building the resilience of our seas.

For the sake of our ocean, fishers and coastal communities, the voices of reason must prevail in both the UK and EU.