Managing fisheries in marine protected areas

How fisheries activities are assessed and managed in marine protected areas (MPA)

Fishing in marine protected areas

Our seas have a great variety of marine life and habitats, many of which are rare and of national importance. Marine protected areas (MPAs) help make sure that these are guarded from the increasing pressures of human activity.

There are over 250 MPAs in English waters. These include European marine sites (EMS) and marine conservation zones (MCZ).

European marine sites (EMS) are protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Conservation of Offshore Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. There are currently over 200 EMSs. They include:

  • special areas of conservation (SACs) – designated for habitats
  • special protection areas (SPAs) – designated for rare and vulnerable birds

MCZs protect species and habitats of national importance and are designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. There are currently 91 designated MCZs. To view all English MPAs visit our Marine Information System.

Managing commercial fishing activity in marine protected areas

The impact of any licensable activity or development in or near an MPA is looked at as part of the marine licensing process. However fishing activity is not part of this process.

Fishing activity in an MPA is managed and monitored through a separate process, which includes six main steps:

  1. site designation;
  2. site allocated to a regulator;
  3. MPA fisheries assessment;
  4. management measures recommended;
  5. proposed measures introduced; and
  6. site monitoring.

Site designation:

An MPA is designated by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Sites are designated following public consultation and analysis by Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Natural England (NE).

Site allocated to regulator:

There are three different organisations responsible for assessing, managing and monitoring MPAs. These are:

  • IFCAs: inshore 0 to 6nm;
  • Marine Management Organisation: inshore 6 to 12nm;
  • Defra: offshore 12 to 200nm.

MPA Fisheries Assessment

To understand the impact fishing activity is having on the designated feature(s) of an MPA, an MPA fisheries assessment is completed. It provides information on the designated feature(s), details of what fishing activity takes places within the area and the impact of this activity on the site feature(s).

Site management:

If the MPA fisheries assessment finds that commercial fishing activity may have a significant effect on the designated feature(s) of an MPA, the next step is to identify how to avoid or mitigate the impacts. This includes potential management measures, which are recommended in consultation with a range of sector and industry representatives as well as the public.

Management of fishing activity within an MPA may only be applied to the affected area of an MPA, rather than the entire site, if the evidence is available. This allows for the feature to be protected, whilst enabling fishing activity which does not have a significant impact to continue.

Not all MPA sites need permanent management measures for fishing activity. If the MPA fisheries assessment finds that the fishing activity does not have a significant impact on the MPA features, management measures will not be implemented. However, to ensure any changes in site activities are captured, the site will be monitored.

Management measures - Byelaw

Management measures to reduce the impact of fishing activities within MPAs are introduced through a byelaw. The byelaw sets out the affected area within the MPA and the fishing activity restrictions.

All permanent byelaws are subject to public consultation before they are introduced.

Site monitoring

Due to the changing nature of our seas, site features can change over time. Also our understanding of MPA sites and the impact of fishing activity on them continues to increase.

It is important that we continue to monitor all MPA sites, to ensure their features remain protected and to enable fishing to continue where possible.


Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 1 January 2021 + show all updates
  1. Page amended in line with EU Exit operability guidance

  2. Updated page content and collection documents as per guidance from MPA team

  3. West of Walney MCZ consultation added

  4. Draft site summaries for amber risk sites are now live. We are now accepting feedback and additional evidence for these sites.

  5. First published.