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Eight in 10 adults in the UK (81%) think bottom-trawl fishing should be banned in marine protected areas

Eight in 10 adults in the UK (81%) think bottom-trawl fishing should be banned in marine protected areas, according to a new poll from ocean charity Oceana UK.

The poll found that in coastal constituencies, this verdict was similar, with 80% of respondents against allowing the practice of dragging heavy metal gear and nets across the seafloor in areas designed to protect and restore ocean health.

Oceana UK said bottom-trawl nets could be as large as a football field and weigh several tonnes. The charity claimed the practice could “decimate” UK habitats and had a high rate of bycatch. Despite this, it is permitted in almost all of the UK’s MPAs, even those designated specifically to protect rare and important seabed species.

The survey of 2,111 UK adults, 566 of whom lived in coastal constituencies, revealed the strength of feeling was high on the issue but awareness was initially low. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those asked, and 66% of those in coastal constituencies, thought that bottom trawling was already banned in MPAs.

“The strength of feeling across the UK public is clear: destructive bottom trawling has no place in our marine ‘protected’ areas,” said Hugo Tagholm, executive director of Oceana UK. “Whether we live by the coast or in a city, we are united against the bulldozing of our marine havens.”

Over a fifth (23%) of respondents were angry and over two fifths (41%) were disappointed that the practice was still permitted.

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“The UK is an ocean nation and our waters have provided prosperity, food, a stable climate and a deep connection to nature for millennia,” Tagholm added. “As a nation, we must honour our commitment to protect and restore 30% of our seas by 2030.”

Last year, UK offshore MPAs were subjected to over 33,000 hours of suspected bottom trawling, according to analysis of satellite tracks by Oceana published earlier this year. This adds up to nearly four years of continuous trawling.

The charity claimed there are benefits of banning bottom trawling. In Lyme Bay, bottom trawling was banned in 2008 and since then commercially caught fish species have increased by 370% and the richness of species has risen by 430%, researchers have found.

The charity also said that restricting bottom trawling would improve the amount of fossil fuels released as emissions.

“The absolute minimum we can do is give real protection to our so-called protected areas,” Tagholm concluded.