Managing fishing in marine protected areas

How fishing is assessed and managed in marine protected areas (MPA)

Fishing in marine protected areas

Marine protected areas background

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.

MPAs are areas of the ocean established to protect habitats, species and processes essential for healthy, functioning marine ecosystems. The purpose of an MPA is to protect and recover rare, threatened and important habitats and species from damage caused by human activities.

In the UK, all MPAs are designated to protect specific habitats or species (also known as ‘features’) and have conservation objectives set which state what conservation outcomes the MPA is designed to achieve.

There are 178 MPAs in English waters, covering 51% of inshore and 37% of offshore waters. To view all English MPAs visit our Explore Marine Plans tool.

The importance of protecting marine ecosystems

Protecting MPA species and habitats will contribute to healthier marine ecosystems, and the maintenance and restoration of valuable ecosystem services (the benefits we gain from having healthy ecosystems).

Marine ecosystems are essential for primary production and climate regulation, providing vital functions which support life. Marine ecosystems enable habitat formation and species diversification, generating primary and secondary biomass. This supports the process of fixing carbon and nutrients into organic matter (primary production) and the subsequent flow of energy, carbon, and nutrients from one organism to another through the food web (secondary production). As an example of an ecosystem service, the maintenance of fish and shellfish populations, enables the natural environment to provide stock for our seafood industry. This ecosystem service subsequently brings benefits to society, including nutrition and employment now and for the future.

Ecosystem services not only support the healthy functioning of the marine environment, they can also generate tourism, provide recreational benefits (such as diving and sea angling) and contribute to human wellbeing. Overall, a healthy sea and resilient ecosystem can generate many ecosystem services with positive impacts including provisioning services (food, water), regulating services (waste removal, climate regulation), supporting services (shelter and biogeochemical cycles), and cultural services (aesthetics, recreation and tourism).

Managing fishing impacts on marine protected areas

MMO assesses and manages the impact of fishing on MPAs in English waters offshore of 6 nautical miles (nm) from the coast. Inshore of 6 nm the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) assess and manage the impact of fishing on MPAs.

The revised approach to the management of fishing in MPAs

In 2013 the Government published its revised approach to management of fishing in European marine sites, a type of MPA, in English waters. This was subsequently extended to include marine conservation zones, the other main type of MPA in English waters.

Under this approach, fisheries management measures were identified and introduced by MMO and IFCAs for MPAs inshore of 12 nm.

MMO management of fishing for offshore MPAs

The Fisheries Act 2020 introduced new powers for MMO to make byelaws to manage fishing for the conservation of marine flora, fauna and habitats, including in England’s offshore waters (beyond 12 nm from the coast).

MMO is using these new powers to introduce fisheries management to protect our 41 offshore MPAs by the end of 2024.

Alongside this we are introducing fisheries management measures to protect the 10 additional MPAs sited between 6 and 12 nm from our coast. This work is taking place over four stages.

Stage 1

For Stage 1, the impacts of fishing on four MPAs were assessed by MMO:

Draft versions of these assessments were made available as part of a call for evidence in 2020.

These assessments concluded that certain fishing activities were undermining the conservation objectives of these sites. MMO therefore drafted byelaws to ensure that fishing taking place was compatible with the sites’ conservation objectives. Public consultation on these draft byelaws took place in 2021.

Byelaws for each of the four MPAs were made by the MMO on 8 April 2022 and came into force on 13 June 2022.

Stage 2

Stage 2 focusses on the impacts of bottom towed fishing gear on all rock and reef MPA features (other than those covered in Stage 1).

Stage 2 includes 13 MPAs:

  • Cape Bank
  • East of Haig Fras
  • Farnes East
  • Foreland
  • Goodwin Sands
  • Haig Fras
  • Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton
  • Hartland Point to Tintagel
  • Lands End and Cape Bank
  • North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef
  • Offshore Brighton
  • South of Celtic Deep
  • Wight-Barfleur Reef

An MMO assessment of the impact of bottom towed gears on rock and reef features in these sites was made available in a call for evidence from 14 May to 10 July 2022.

From 17 January to 28 March MMO held a formal consultation on a proposed draft byelaw to protect these features from the impacts of bottom towed fishing gear.

Following formal consultation, management measures will be finalised and where appropriate introduced.

To support the formal consultation on management measures for 13 Stage 2 MPAs, MMO developed a series of interactive WebApps displaying:

  • the boundaries of the 13 MPAs under consideration;
  • their designated features;
  • bottom towed fishing activity within and around each MPA; and
  • for each MPA, the management measures proposed in the byelaw subject to the current formal consultation.

A guidance note detailing how to access and make the most of each WebApp, to help users provide informed consultation responses is available on our dedicated consultation webpage.

A shapefile of the Stage 2 Proposed Management Areas can be provided on request by emailing ‘’ with ‘Stage 2 Proposed Management Areas’ in the subject line.

Stage 3

Stage 3 covers the remaining impacts of fishing on the 41 MPAs with seabed features not already covered in Stage 1 or Stage 2.

MMO has analysed best available evidence on the impacts of fishing on these features. This evidence and analysis is set out in three documents, each focussing on a different gear group (anchored nets and lines, bottom towed gears, and traps).

From 17 January to 28 March MMO held a call for evidence to seek additional evidence and views on these documents.

These Stage 3 Fishing Gear MPA Impacts Evidence documents will be updated based on responses to the call for evidence. MMO will then use them to create site level assessments of the impacts of fishing on each Stage 3 MPA. MMO will develop proposed management measures to address any issues identified in these site level assessments.

The site level assessments and proposed management measures will then be subject to consultation. Following formal consultation, management measures will be finalised and where appropriate introduced.

Stage 4

Stage 4 covers the impacts of fishing on MPAs with highly mobile species features. These are two MPAs protecting harbour porpoise, and three MPAs protecting certain bird species:

MMO are currently working closely with partner organisations to understand the impacts of fishing on harbour porpoise and relevant bird species, and agree our approach to assess and manage these.

MMO byelaws

If fisheries management measures are required to protect offshore MPAs these are likely to be introduced through MMO byelaws. For more information about MMO byelaws please see our guidance page here.


Draft MPA impacts evidence documents

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 17 January 2023 + show all updates
  1. Update for launch tomorrow

  2. C4E Update

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

  4. Content update

  5. Page amended in line with EU Exit operability guidance

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

  7. West of Walney MCZ consultation added

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

  9. First published.