Apply for a scientific research dispensation

How to apply for a fisheries dispensation from UK laws to carry out scientific research from a fishing vessel in English waters.

Please complete the dispensation request form and submit it to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO):

We aim to make a decision on most applications within 40 working days, however each application is different and some applications will take longer than this if we are required to consult with other regulatory bodies.

Dispensation request form

Most fisheries dispensations are issued to licensed fishing vessels. However, you may also require a fisheries dispensation if your research requires dispensation from UK law that is applicable to any fishing vessel. If you believe you may require a dispensation for a vessel which is not a licensed fishing vessel, please send an email stating the vessel name, dates of the survey, type of survey and equipment used to

Examples of activities that require a dispensation include:

  • using undersized nets or modified trawls;
  • catching, retaining and landing prohibited or undersized fish species not subject to landing obligation rules;
  • fishing beyond set effort management limits (days at sea);
  • catching and landing fish over a vessel’s catch limits – MMO may be able to provide extra quota to licensed fishing vessels involved in research
  • catching, retaining or landing fish stocks for which a vessel has no quota allocation

Scientific Quota

Up to 2% of quota allocated to England is available for scientific dispensations. Any scientific quota requests will determine by the availability of the specific quotas and the scientific objectives provided in the dispensation application form.

Licensing and consenting requirements

You may require additional licences and consents to carry out your proposed research. This is relevant regardless of which type of vessel you are using, and whether you require a fisheries dispensation. It is your responsibility to ensure such licences and consents are in place.

Protected species

A marine wildlife licence is required by anyone who wishes to carry out an activity that may effect a species that is protected by wildlife legislation.

Marine licensing requirements

Activities within the dispensation application may also require a marine licence or application for an exemption. It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that they have all relevant licences in place before starting their research activities. Further information on the application process and a list of marine licensable activities is available here: Do I need a marine licence.

Marine protected areas (MPA)

The MMO is responsible for making byelaws in English waters to protect European marine sites (EMS) and marine conservation zones (MCZs) from activities that may harm them; these may be commercial and/or recreational. A ‘European marine site’ is any special area of conservation (SAC) or special protection area (SPA) designated or classified under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. ‘European marine site’ also includes any candidate SAC, site of Community interest or proposed SPA.

MMO byelaws must help to further the conservation objectives of the MPAs.

You may be required to comply with these byelaws and, unless stated, the derogation does not allow you to undertake activities which would constitute an offence under the byelaw.

Your dispensation application will ask you to provide details of any marine protected area you may be operating in. A map and details of all marine protected areas can be found on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) website.

If your activity will take place within an MPA, you must be able to demonstrate that the activities which you are planning to undertake:

  • are not likely to have a significant effect on any EMS;
  • are not capable of affecting (other than insignificantly) the protected features of any MCZ, or any ecological or geomorphological process on which the conservation of any protected feature of an MCZ is dependent.

If you cannot demonstrate both of the above points, an assessment of the impact of your activities on the relevant MPAs (EMS or MCZ) will be required.

The relevant statutory nature conservation body (SNCB) provides information on the protected features and ‘advice on operations’ in the conservation advice packages for each MPA. MPA conservation advice packages, along with guidance on how to use them is available online via the relevant SNCBs: Natural England (NE) for MPAs within the 12nm limit around England and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) for MPAs beyond the 12nm to the 200nm limit.

The conservation advice packages will help you to identify if your research activity is likely to have any impact on the MPA features, and should be used to inform the assessment of impact/s using the following guidance:

Habitats regulations assessment (HRA) for EMSs: Defra guidance

MCZ assessments for MCZs: MMO guidance MCZ assessments follow the same principles as an HRA assessment – a staged approach to screening the activities.

If your research activity will have an impact on any MPA features you should consult the relevant SNCBs in order to discuss your research project. You can consult the relevant SNCBs via their consultation mailbox: NE: and JNCC:

Other authority consents

You may also require consent or approval from other bodies before you are able to carry out the work that the dispensation applies to.

Local fisheries byelaws are the responsibility of the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA). You should familiarise yourself with the IFCA byelaws in your research area and contact your local IFCA if necessary.

If your research involves salmon, eels, elvers, lamprey, sea trout, smelt or crayfish the Environment Agency should also be contacted to discuss your research.

If your research involves work within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) Natural England should be contacted to discuss the research application.

Further information

For research in other UK waters, dispensations will be issued by:

Foreign research vessels

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, all states have the right to conduct marine science research subject to the rights and duties of other States. The Marine Science Research (MSR) webpage contains an application form for foreign research vessels.

Foreign fishing vessels are required to follow the process outline at the top of this page.

The UK Government is committed to protecting vulnerable habitats and species in our seas. Foreign vessels engaged in research are required to carry out marine protected area (MPA) assessments in consultation with the SNCBs (as detailed above) to ensure their activities do not have significant impacts on protected features of these sites.

Contact information

Marine Conservation Team

To discuss fisheries dispensations, wildlife licensing and Marine Protected Areas.

Telephone: 0300 123 1032

Marine Licensing Team

To discuss sampling and sediment analysis.

Telephone: 0300 123 1032

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 9 August 2022 + show all updates
  1. Decision on most applications within 40 working days - amended

  2. Dispensation

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  4. Amendments to PDF attachments in line with .GOV accessibility guidelines

  5. Removal of text referencing Marine Plan consultation, following closure of the consultation

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  16. New dispensation form added

  17. Foreign Commonwealth Office vessel voluntary notification of intent form added

  18. Link to Marine Science Research (MSR) webpage added

  19. First published.