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 over 250 marine protected areas in English waters. These include European marine sites and marine conservation zones.
European marine sites (EMS) are protected under the European Union Habitats Directive and Birds Directive. 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
Marine conservation zones (MCZs) protect species and habitats of national importance and are designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. There are currently over 50 designated MCZs.
To view all English marine protected areas 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.
Instead fishing activity in an MPA is managed and monitored through a separate process, which includes six main steps:
- site designation
- site allocated to a regulator to assess, manage and monitor (Defra, MMO, Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority - IFCA)
- MPA assessment (inshore sites)/ Joint Recommendation (offshore sites)
- management measures recommended (public consultation)
- proposed measures introduced (byelaw/ Council regulation)
- site monitored
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.
Site allocated to regulator:
There are three different organisations responsible for assessing, managing and monitoring MPAs. These are:
MPA Assessment/Joint Recommendation:
To understand what impact fishing activity is having on an MPA, an MPA assessment is completed. It provides information on the MPA designated feature(s), details of what fishing activity takes places within the area and the impact of this activity on the site feature(s).
If the MPA assessment finds that commercial fishing activity may have a significant effect, 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.
Management of fishing activity within an MPA will be only 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 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 in the inshore (0-12nm) 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.
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 enable fishing to continue where possible.