More than 90% of Britain’s protected offshore sea areas continue to be fished and dredged with bottom trawls, two years after analysis of the extent of destructive fishing uncovered them as “paper parks,” according to data shared with the Guardian .

The UK’s network of marine parks, designed to protect vulnerable parts of the seabed and marine life, is a cornerstone of the government’s target to protect 30% of ocean biodiversity by 2030.

But analysis of fishing vessel tracking data from Global Fishing Watch (GFW) and Oceana, a conservation NGO, found that last year towed fishing was done on 58 of the 64 offshore “benthic” MPAs, which aim to protect species that live on the seabed. In all, 1,604 vessels, including industrial boats, spent 132,267 hours fishing in these UK MPAs, it found.
Vessels with bottom towed gear — the most destructive form of fishing, dragging weighted nets over seafloor habitats — spent at least 31,854 hours in MPAs in 2021. This is likely an underestimate, Oceana said, because it could only identify the gear type for 837 boats, just over half of the boats detected, due to a lack of publicly available data. The vast majority were industrial ships, it said.
When bottom-towed vessels fish in marine parks, it prevents the recovery of ecosystems already lost from decades of exploitation, and limits the seafloor’s ability to store carbon and combat the effects of the climate crisis. Greenpeace has described this type of fishing in MPAs as akin to “bulldozing national parks.”

Bottom trawling has been banned in only two MPAs so far, with a further four to be protected in June.

Melissa Moore, head of UK policy at Oceana in Europe, said Oceana’s analysis is “further evidence that this harmful activity is ubiquitous. Yet the UK and local governments have allowed this to continue in 2022, in violation of the laws of nature. They destroy habitats for the future.