The sector has expressed concern that new plans from Defra will have a ‘cumulative impact’ on fishing supply

The UK fishing sector has expressed concerns there may be a “cumulative impact” on fish supply should proposed government marine conservation plans go ahead.

Earlier this week, the Marine Management Organisation, part of Defra, launched a consultation on plans to manage bottom-towed gear in 13 marine protected areas, alongside a call for evidence to assess the impact of fishing across England’s MPA network.

The consultation was launched as part of a programme to protect all English offshore MPAs from harmful fishing by 2024.

But the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has cautioned any proposals to restrict access to fishing crews could affect fish supply.

“Our principal concern is that the government hasn’t addressed our concerns about the cumulative impact of the scale of potential displacement of fishing activities, arising mainly from MPAs and the expansion of offshore wind,” said Barrie Deas, CEO of the NFFO. 

“Until there is a comprehensive cross-government policy framework to deal with displacement, it seems misconceived to proceed with expanding the MPA network on an incoherent ad hoc basis.”

The current proposal would see the total area protected from bottom-towed gear by MMO bylaws to almost 18,000 sq km, up from the current level of 4,000 sq km..

Locations that could gain protection include Cape Bank, home to ecologically important species such as pea urchins and a type of starfish called a cushion star; Haig Fras, a site that supports a variety of fauna ranging from jewel anemones and solitary corals; and Goodwin Sands, home to rocky habitats that support species such as pink sea fans, cup corals and commercially important shellfish and fish.

The consultation will run alongside a call for evidence to gather views on the impacts of anchored nets and lines, bottom-towed fishing gear and traps on valuable marine features such as reefs and sandbanks across England’s MPA network.

“There needs to be a balance between protecting vulnerable habitats and species, protecting coastal communities and providing food security,” added Deas. “There is no such policy framework in place.”

However, environment secretary Thérèse Coffey said Defra planned to “listen carefully to the responses so that we can help habitats and species recover whilst ensuring we have a sustainable and successful fishing industry for years to come”. 

The NFFO will respond to the consultation after its Executive Committee meeting on 25 January.