MPs from all parties as well as celebrities and environmentalists have joined forces in a bid to ban so-called supertrawlers from UK waters, writes Juliet Lunam.
Nearly 60 MPs have signed an open letter to the environment secretary, George Eustice, calling for a ban on the mostly foreign-owned industrial ships fishing in Marine Protected Areas.
They include foreign secretary Dominic Raab, and Conservative MPs Kevin Foster, from Torquay; Danny Kruger, of Devizes; and North Wiltshire’s James Gray.
A separate petition has gathered more than 213,000 signatures including the likes of Gillian Anderson, Joanna Lumley, Michael Palin and Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
The letter calls on the government to “ensure that protection of the environment and the livelihoods of the UK’s coastal communities are the top priority when Britain becomes an independent coastal state”.
It urges the government to “ban destructive industrial fishing vessels like supertrawlers from fishing in the UK’s Marine Protection Areas.”
Greenpeace, which is behind the campaign, says supertrawlers have almost doubled their fishing time in UK waters in the first six months of 2020, compared to the whole of 2019.
The idea of a protected area is that human activity is restricted to protect the natural resources.
But Greenpeace says more than 20 massive fishing boats – mostly Russian or Dutch owned – spent 5,590 hours in 19 protected areas around the UK since January.
These include the Western Channel which covers most of the South West coast. This has gone up since 2017 when supertrawlers spent 475 hours in these locations.
The ships are more than 100m long and capable of catching thousands of tonnes of fish.
Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, said the government should not allow this sort of intense fishing to continue in waters which are supposed to be protected.
He said: “Industrial fishing operations have no place in our protected areas. At least 30 per cent of the UK’s waters should be off limits to all industrial fishing activity in a network of fully or highly protected marine areas.
A good start towards achieving this would be to ban supertrawlers.”
Luke Pollard, Plymouth MP and Shadow Environment Secretary, said the government needs to step up to protect British waters.
He added: “This industrial scale plunder is destroying precious biodiversity. Labour wants to prevent supertrawlers fishing in UK protected areas. And we’re campaigning for more jobs in our fishing communities, by pushing for more of the fish caught in British waters to be landed in UK ports.”
Cornwall’s Good Seafood Guide, based in Truro, provides information to the public, suppliers and restaurants on the Duchy’s seafood and how to choose sustainable options.
Matt Slater, from the Guide, said the existence of supertrawlers is concerning.
He said: “We are in support of small scale inshore fishing and we don’t feel these supertrawlers fit this at all. It is a real concern and their existence is worrying.
“When they’re not in UK waters, they’re often in poorer countries fishing and it’s not done very sustainably. It’s very important we raise people’s awareness of this. We want to support fishermen who are doing the right thing.”
Environment secretary Mr Eustice, who is also Redruth and Camborne MP, said the government is committed to protecting the seas.
He added: “We are already a global leader with our ‘blue belt’ of protected waters nearly twice the size of England.
“Leaving the EU means we will be taking back control of our waters as an independent coastal state and will be able to introduce stronger measures to protect our waters.”