New report finds bottom trawling taking place in 98% of UK’s offshore Marine Protected Areas

Date posted: 6 January 2021

Today, we’ve released our Marine unProtected Areas report which found that bottom trawling is taking place in a worrying 98% of the UK’s offshore Marine Protected Areas designed to protect the seabed. As a result of the report, and the yearlong research which informed it, we’re calling for a ban on bottom trawling in these protected areas.

Curled octopus (Eledone cirrhosa) amongst a horse mussel bed (Modiolus modiolus) Shetland, Scotland, UK
© SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

Without a ban on this form of fishing, these areas of our seas simply aren’t recovering and we’re missing a crucial opportunity to combat climate change and ensure there are, indeed, plenty more fish in the sea.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt,
Principal Specialist in Marine Protected Areas

Bottom trawling is a method of fishing that can damage the seabed, kill animals and plants, and release carbon from the seafloor which can enter our atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

What’s the problem?

Out of all the UK’s Marine Protected Areas, just 5% currently ban bottom trawling (and only in inshore waters less than 12 miles from our coasts). Continuing to allow this fishing method in protected areas is equivalent to bulldozing a national park on land.

All but one of the offshore Marine Protected Areas, which are meant to safeguard the seabed, experienced bottom trawling and dredging between 2015 and 2018. Bottom trawl and dredge vessels spent at least 89,894 hours fishing the seabed inside Marine Protected Areas between 2015 and 2018.

It’s important that carbon currently stored in the UK’s offshore waters remains there. The Dogger Bank Marine Protected Area, off the east coast of Yorkshire, has the capacity to store the most carbon of all UK Marine Protected Areas – equivalent to 31,000 return trips from London to Sydney.

What needs to be done?

By completely banning bottom trawling in Marine Protected Areas designed to protect the seabed, it is possible for our seas to recover.

Within five years of protection from bottom trawling, animals in three UK and Isle of Man Marine Protected Areas were found to be larger and more diverse. And, when areas of sea around the world were fully protected, biodiversity was found to increase by an average of 21%.

With the powers provided by the new Fisheries Act 2020, the UK Governments can act more independently to recover our seas and combat climate change – starting with the banning of bottom trawling in these vulnerable areas of our seas.

By banning bottom trawling we can:

Seabed before and after

To find out more about this issue, read our summary report here. You can read the full technical report here.

Our MPA Reality Check website shows you where England’s Marine Protected Areas are, and what’s happening to them. For details of MPAs in Scotland see For more insight into MPA Reality Check watch the webinar here.

Actions you can take