Understand MMO marine conservation byelaws

How MMO byelaws are made and what they protect.

Vital marine ecosystems in an additional 4,000 square km of our seas to receive protection

Marine Management Organisation (MMO) byelaw to protect valuable marine habitats and species in a further 13 English offshore marine protected areas (MPAs) will come into force on 22 March 2024.

The new management measures will prohibit the use of bottom towed fishing gear in an area of almost 4,000 square kilometres off the English coast. Copies of the bylaw and the decision document which contains a map of MPA sites which have received protection are available online.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is responsible for making byelaws in English waters to protect habitats and species from activities that may harm them.

MMO has the power to make byelaws within 0-200 nautical miles (nm). For the management of fishing activities, MMO leads on management between 6-200 nm, with the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) leading in the 0-6 nm area.

MMO also leads on non-licensable activities from 0-12 nm. To find out more visit Managing marine non-licensable activities in MPAs.

MMO will consider voluntary measures before making a byelaw. If a permanent byelaw is required, this will be formally consulted upon. Please see the byelaw-making process for further information.

What MMO byelaws can protect

MMO byelaws can prohibit or restrict a range of activities depending on the location and need for protection:

  • entry to a site, movement or other activity by people, animals, vessels or vehicles;
  • vessel speed;
  • vessel anchoring;
  • killing, taking, destroying or disturbing any animals or plants;
  • anything that interferes with the seabed or damages or disturbs any object in the sea;
  • specific activities in certain parts of the site;
  • specific activities in certain periods of a year; or
  • certain methods of activity within a site.

Any MMO byelaw affecting fishing will apply to UK and non-UK vessels equally.

MMO byelaws can also be used to restrict activities on the seashore.

An MMO byelaw will include:

  • the law that allows the byelaw to be made;
  • details (including coordinates) of the areas where the byelaw applies;
  • details of the activity being prohibited or restricted;
  • details of possible exemptions, exceptions or permitting arrangements;

The decision to introduce an MMO byelaw (other than an emergency byelaw) is based on rigorous analysis of the best available evidence and a period of public consultation. These MMO byelaws only come into force following confirmation by the Secretary of State.

Emergency or interim MMO byelaws can be put in place if MMO considers there to be an urgent need for protection. Emergency and interim MMO byelaws do not require public consultation or Secretary of State confirmation, and can last for a maximum of 18 months.

Any byelaw which affects European Union (EU) fishing vessels is also subject to the terms of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, including the requirement to notify the EU and provide an opportunity to provide feedback and seek clarification before the byelaw comes into force.

MMO may issue permits that authorise anything that would otherwise be unlawful under the byelaw. Permits may not be available for a specific byelaw.

MMO will review all byelaws and amend or revoke those found to be no longer appropriate. A review can be triggered by a change in evidence or if we determine it is not effective. The review will determine whether to keep, amend, replace, or revoke the byelaw, or replace it with a different management measure.

Penalties for contravening an MMO byelaw include a fine up to an unlimited amount.

MMO byelaw-making process

MMO has legal obligations to protect marine protected areas (MPAs).

MMO carries out site-level assessments to determine whether the activities we regulate are compatible with the conservation objectives of MPAs

If fishing, or marine non-licensable activities are not compatible with the conservation objectives of the site, we will introduce management, which may include making an MMO byelaw.

MMO permanent byelaws

MMO’s byelaw making powers for MCZs come from:

The steps taken by MMO to make a byelaw are:

  1. MMO assess the impact of fishing/marine non-licensable activities on an MPA. If the draft assessment identifies that an activity is not compatible with the conservation objectives of an MPA potential management options are outlined.

  2. In most cases, a public call for evidence on the draft MPA assessment is carried out to gather further evidence and views from stakeholders.

  3. The MMO MPA assessment is finalised and a preferred management option is identified. In the case of an MMO byelaw, the byelaw is drafted. The impacts of the preferred management option are captured within a draft impact assessment.

  4. If an MMO byelaw is considered the preferred option, a formal consultation is conducted on the draft byelaw and draft impact assessment. If a byelaw is not considered the most appropriate action, other management options are considered.

  5. After formal consultation, if an MMO byelaw is still the preferred option, the byelaw is made and submitted to the Secretary of State for confirmation.

  6. MMO byelaws come into force after confirmation by the Secretary of State. MMO will notify stakeholders of any MMO byelaw due to come into force.

  7. The MMO byelaw is reviewed to assess effectiveness. If the byelaw is considered effective, a further review date is set. If the byelaw is considered ineffective, other management options are considered.

Emergency or interim byelaws

MMO may introduce an emergency or interim byelaw when there is an urgent need to protect a feature. This is based on evidence about the level of damage and risk to the site.

Emergency byelaws come into force without being confirmed by the Secretary of State, do not require public consultation, and take up to 6 weeks to make. The Secretary of State may revoke an MMO emergency byelaw at any time.

An emergency byelaw can remain in force for 12 months, unless extended with agreement from the Secretary of State by a maximum of 6 months. If longer term management is required, MMO will replace the emergency byelaw with a permanent byelaw.

Interim byelaws follow the same procedure as emergency byelaws. MMO can introduce an interim byelaw only where there is an urgent need to protect an area which may be considered for designation as an MCZ .

Current Consultations

Please see our page Managing Fishing in Marine Protected Areas: Consultations for details of any consultations:

Current MMO byelaws

There are currently 9 MMO byelaws in force.

Defra Spatial Data tool.

This dataset displays all Marine Management Organisation (MMO) marine nature conservation byelaws that are currently in force. You can find the download page here.

North West Marine Plan Area

East Marine Plan Area

South East Marine Plan Area

South Marine Plan Area

South West Marine Plan Area

Multiple Marine Plan Areas

In the Start Point to Plymouth Sound and Eddystone MPA, the MMO byelaw applies between 6 and 12 nm from the coast. Cornwall Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authority (IFCA) and Devon and Severn IFCA management applies between the remaining portion of the site from 0 and 6 nm.

In the Land’s End and Cape Bank MPA, the MMO byelaw applies to the Cape Bank portion of the site which lies between 0 and 12 nm. Cornwall IFCA has implemented a byelaw which applies to the Land’s End portion of the site between 0 and 6 nm.

To find out more about our current MMO consultations for managing fishing activities with MPAs, please visit our Managing Fishing in Marine Protected Areas: Consultations page.

Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs)

The 10 IFCAs are responsible for making fisheries byelaws within their districts – from 0-6 nm.

MMO quality assures all IFCA byelaws prior to submission to Secretary of State. MMO help draft byelaws to ensure sustainability and to protect sensitive features in MPAs as well as fisheries activities within IFC Districts.

IFCA byelaws help achieve specific protections that each IFC District may require to:

  • prohibit or restrict certain fishing activities
  • introduce a permit scheme to control fishing activity or the level of fishing effort within a specific area
  • protect certain fisheries resources or to monitor stock

MMO can make byelaws to manage fishing activity within an IFC district.

MMO works with the IFCAs to agree how to manage these sites that cross the 6 nautical mile boundary. Through their own MPA assessment, an IFCA may determine that the inshore area (within 6 nm of the coast) does not require management through the introduction of a byelaw. Alternatively, an IFCA can make a byelaw within 6 nm and MMO can make a byelaw outside of 6 nm, or MMO makes a byelaw for the whole site.

Contact information

Marine Conservation Team

0300 123 1032

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 17 January 2023 + show all updates
  1. Small updates

  2. Stage 2 and Stage 3 launch

  3. C4E Update

  4. Amended in line with EU Exit operability guidance

  5. changes made to page from MCT request

  6. Updates made to attachments inline with MMO accessibility audit

  7. New byelaw added

  8. The Margate and Long Sands European Marine Site (Specified Areas) Bottom Towed Fishing Gear Byelaw added

  9. Text updated

  10. Text updated

  11. First published.