Environmental protesters have pointed out that EU supertrawlers are still plundering UK waters, despite Boris Johnson’s commitment to ban vessels that he said were “hoovering up” fish earlier this year.
And the Prime Minister has been encouraged once more to follow through on his promise to reclaim control of UK waters following Brexit, with one enraged fisherman warning, “We can’t compete.” Neil Whitney, a local fisherman who works off the UK’s south coast, joined Greenpeace campaigners at sea in a protest against the Maartje Theodora. This 140.8m long German-flagged and Dutch-owned supertrawler fished in UK protected areas for at least 243 hours in 2020.
They hung a banner in front of the supertrawler that stated, “This is a marine protected area” in front of the supertrawler and shadowed it out of the Offshore Brighton Marine Protected Area (MPA).”
“We’ve seen more of these big factory ships like the Maartje Theodora fishing in the Channel over the last 18 months than ever before. “Mr Whitney added.
“They can stay out fishing for weeks, catching hundreds of tonnes of fish. We local fishermen can’t compete.”
“When we go out, there’s almost nothing left for us to catch.”
“We thought Brexit was a chance for our government to stop these huge factory ships, but we’ve been let down by empty promises once again,” he said.
“That’s why I joined Greenpeace to protest at sea against the Maartje Theodora.”
“We need our government to see that it’s not only environmentalists who want to protect our oceans and our Marine Protected Areas, but it’s also us fishermen as well. Without healthy oceans, we’ll all be out of business.”
Next Wednesday, fishermen will join Greenpeace in a flotilla floating up the Thames to Parliament to demand more protection from industrial fishing. Between 2017 and 2020, supertrawler fishing times in UK protected areas increased by 1,000%. Supertrawlers fished in UK MPAs for 5,590 hours in the first half of 2020.
Mr Johnson indicated in January that now that the UK is free of EU rules and regulations, it will be allowed to ban such vessels, but nothing has happened so far.
“Working with our fishing communities all summer has made clear to us what needs to be done.” Fiona Nicholls, an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said.
“Our government needs to deliver on its Brexit promise to ‘level up’ our coastal communities, get ocean protection done and ban the destructive industrial fishing which has devastated our fishing industry.”
“Supertrawlers like the Maartje Theodora provide no benefit to the UK’s fishing industry as none land in the UK or are UK owned.” she said.
“Why does our Government continue to let them fish in UK protected areas when everyone, from the general public to fishermen and us environmentalists, wants to see them banned?”
“The writing is on the wall, but our Government continues to turn a blind eye.”
Greenpeace’s weekend declaration of emergency with fishing communities calls for supertrawlers, fly-shooters, and bottom trawlers to be banned from all offshore MPAs in the Channel, as well as all pelagic trawlers over 55m and fly-shooters to be banned from the entire English Channel and Southern North Sea. It also claims that supertrawlers should be banned from all of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas.
The UK Government might use the Fisheries Act 2020’s vessel licencing limits to bar supertrawlers and other industrial fishing vessels from UK MPAs. Australia banned supertrawlers with a length of more than 130 metres from its seas in 2014.
According to a YouGov poll conducted on behalf of Greenpeace, more than 80% of UK citizens believe supertrawlers should be banned from fishing in the UK’s Marine Protected Areas.
Only 4% of those polled said they should be permitted to continue fishing within them. The poll found that support for a supertrawler ban is bipartisan, with equal backing among Leavers and Remainers and among Labour and Conservative voters.
“Protecting our vital fish stocks and those dependent on them is paramount, which is why all EU vessels granted access to fish in UK waters must comply with UK rules and regulations, including those on sustainability.” according to a Defra spokesman.
“We have heard the concerns raised about fishing pressures in the English Channel and want to work with industry to tackle the issues. We have already stopped pulse trawling by EU and English-registered vessels in UK waters, and now we have left the EU, the MMO is consulting on additional safeguards for our Marine Protected Areas.”
“Any decisions on managing fisheries in future will be based on the best available evidence.”