Campaigners urge fishing bans as Doggers Bank gets-protected status
A rich area of the seabed twice the size of Devon and home to countless fish and other marine animals is to protected by the government.
A 12,000-plus square kilometre tract of Dogger Bank, a sandbank region of the North Sea, is to become a marine protected area and the largest Special Area of Conservation in the European Union. It has been granted the status of candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC) as it awaits approval by the European Commission.
The impact of the move was, however, questioned by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) which welcomed the move but said it needed to be made clear to what extent the zone is protected from fishing and other industries.
It was especially anxious for bottom trawling, one of the most destructive forms of fishing because it tears up the seabed, to be banned in parts of Dogger Bank to give fish populations and other species a chance to recover.
Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS biodiversity policy officer, said: “The designation of large protected areas such as the Dogger Bank, can really regenerate all marine life, from delicate shrimps, crabs and sand eels, to large fish, but only if bottom-trawling is excluded. We need to ensure these are not just paper parks, and receive the necessary protection to really recover.”
The MCS recognised that “vast tracts of UK seabed, including most of the Dogger Bank, have traditionally been trawled” and that the fishing industry must continue to be allowed access to the area but insisted in a statement: “Certain regions should be off-limits in order to allow the seabed to recover, and fish to return in large size and numbers.”
However, a Defra spokeswoman dampened hopes of any restrictions on bottom trawling or any other kind of fishing: “There won’t necessarily be bans on fishing.”
In 2004 a Royal Commission recommended the government ensure 30 per cent of marine habitats be protected from commercial fishing. The MCS said that at present only 0.01 per cent is protected but pointed out huge increases in flounder and scallops resulted from a US decision to protect the seabed of Georges Bank in the Atlantic.
Dogger Bank is one of the richest areas of the North Sea for wildlife and is an especially important habitat and breeding ground for species such as plaice, sole, sand eels and the harbour porpoise. Crabs brittlestars, clams and a host of other crustaceans are among the other creatures found there.
Environment and fisheries minister Richard Benyon, said of the decision to protect Dogger Bank: "The thousands of species and habitats in our seas need just the same protection as those on land. The Dogger Bank is home to a fantastic array of sea life and habitats and thoroughly deserves special protection.
“This marks a major step towards achieving our commitment to create an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas.”
The Joint Nature Conservation Committee has already begun consultation on three other proposed SACs – the Wight-Barfleur reef in the English Channel, and the Croker Carbonate Slabs and the Pisces Reef Complex in the Irish Sea.
Natural England is starting a consultation on a reef from Studland to Portland off the Dorset coast which is an important site for species such as the pink sea fan.
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