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 over 178 MPAs in English waters, covering 51% of inshore and 37% of offshore waters. These include European marine sites (EMS) and marine conservation zones (MCZs).

Over the next 3 years the MMO will be undertaking a programme of work to manage impacts from fishing activities in over 40 offshore MPAs.

This work will be delivered by the Defra marine system working in an integrated manner. MMO is responsible for leading the assessment and byelaw making process, taking advice from the statutory advisors, and with engagement of stakeholders and the public.

European marine sites are protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Conservation of Offshore Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. They include:

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

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

Managing fishing in marine protected areas

Fishing activity in an MPA is managed and monitored through a process which includes 6 main steps:

  1. site designation
  2. site allocated to a regulator
  3. MPA fisheries assessment
  4. management measures identified
  5. proposed measures introduced
  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 two different organisations responsible for managing fishing in MPAs. These are:

  • IFCAs: inshore of 6nm;
  • Marine Management Organisation: offshore of 6nm;

MPA Fisheries Assessment

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

Site management:

If the MPA fisheries assessment cannot rule out adverse effects from fishing on the MPA and its designated features, the next step is to identify how to avoid or mitigate the impacts. This includes potential management measures, which are developed in 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 is available on our Understand marine conservation byelaws page.

All permanent byelaws are subject to public consultation before they are introduced. To view our current consultations please visit our Managing Fishing in Marine Protection 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 8 June 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated page with information on working with the cruise sector to protect our seas

  2. Content update

  3. Page amended in line with EU Exit operability guidance

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

  5. West of Walney MCZ consultation added

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

  7. First published.