Managing fishing in marine protected areas

How fishing is 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 178 MPAs in English waters, covering 51% of inshore and 37% of offshore waters. To view all English MPAs visit our Marine Information System.

MMO leads on the assessment and management of fishing in MPAs in English waters offshore of 6 nautical miles from the coast. Inshore of 6 nautical miles the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) lead the assessment and management of fishing activities within MPAs.

Managing Fishing in Marine Protected Areas

Fishing activity in an MPA is managed and monitored through a process which includes several steps:

  1. MPA designation;

  2. MPA fisheries assessment;

  3. Management measures identified;

  4. Proposed measures introduced; and

  5. Site monitoring.

MPA Designation:

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

Each MPA has conservation objectives set, which set out what the intended conservation outcome of the MPA is.

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 considers information on the designated feature(s), what fishing activity takes places within the MPA and whether this activity is compatible with the MPA’s conservation objectives.

Site Management:

If the MPA fisheries assessment cannot rule out fishing activities being incompatible with the MPA’s conservation objectives, the next step is to identify how to avoid or mitigate the impacts. This includes developing management options, and consultation with stakeholders.

Management of fishing activity within an MPA may apply to the entire site, or to specific parts of the site, provided that this allows for the feature to be protected, whilst enabling fishing activity which does not have a negative impact to continue.

Not all MPAs need management measures for fishing activity to be introduced. If the MPA fisheries assessment finds that the fishing activity does not have a negative impact on the MPA and its features, management measures will not be implemented. However, to ensure any changes are captured, activities at the site will be monitored.

Management Measures - Byelaws

Management measures to reduce the impact of fishing activities within MPAs are usually introduced through an IFCA or MMO byelaw. The byelaw sets out the affected area within the MPA and the fishing activity restrictions. Further details on the byelaw making process are available on our Understand Marine Conservation Byelaws page.

All permanent byelaws are subject to public consultation before they are introduced. To view our live consultations please visit our Managing Fishing in Marine Protected Areas: Consultations page.

Site Monitoring

Due to the changing nature of our seas, site features can change over time. We are continuing to improve our understanding of MPAs and the impact of fishing activity on them.

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


Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 14 May 2022 + show all updates
  1. C4E Update

  2. Updated page with information on working with the cruise sector to protect our seas

  3. Content update

  4. Page amended in line with EU Exit operability guidance

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

  6. West of Walney MCZ consultation added

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

  8. First published.