Understand marine conservation byelaws

How byelaws are made and what they protect.

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:

  • 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.

An MMO byelaw will apply to everyone, regardless of nationality, including EU member states that hold fishing access rights in the site or its specified areas.

Byelaws can also be used to restrict activities on the seashore.

A MMO byelaw will include:

  • the law that allows the byelaw to be made;
  • details (including coordinates) of the site or specified areas;
  • details of the activity being prohibited or restricted;
  • details of possible permits – like a scientific exemption;

It can take 12 months to make a permanent byelaw, from the need being identified to the byelaw being made. An emergency byelaw can be put in place if MMO considers there to be an urgent need to protect a feature of the site, due to the time it may take to make a permanent byelaw.

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 withdraw those found to be no longer needed. A review could be started sooner than originally planned if there was a change in the situation or if information that it was not effective was received. The review will determine whether to keep, amend, replace, or withdraw the byelaw, or replace it with a different management measure.

Penalties for breaching a byelaw are based on the offence rather than for each species or habitat that is damaged.

MMO byelaw-making process

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

The 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:

Below outlines steps taken by MMO in the byelaw-making process:

  1. An MMO draft MPA assessment identified that an activity is not compatible with the conservation objectives of an MPA, and potential management options are outlined.

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

  3. The MMO MPA assessment is finalised and a preferred management option is identified. The impacts of the preferred management option is captured within a draft regulatory impact assessment.

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

  5. After formal consultation, if a byelaw is still the preferred option, the byelaw is made and submitted to the Secretary of State for confirmation. If a byelaw is not considered the most appropriate action, other management options are considered.

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

  7. The 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 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 about 6 weeks to make. The Secretary of State may withdraw an emergency byelaw at any time.

An emergency byelaw must be replaced by a permanent byelaw after 12 months, unless extended with agreement from the Secretary of State by a maximum of 6 months, or withdrawn if it is no longer needed.

Interim byelaws follow the same procedure as emergency byelaws. MMO can introduce an interim byelaw to protect an area being considered as an MCZ only.

Current Call for Evidence

MMO has launched a call for evidence open from the 14 May to 10 July 2022, seeking additional evidence and views on our draft assessment of the impacts of fishing activity using bottom towed gear on the designated features of 13 MPAs:

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

To respond to this call for evidence and access further information, please see our dedicated page.

Current MMO byelaws

There are currently 10 MMO byelaws, which protect the designated feature(s) of that MPA from the impacts of bottom towed fishing gear.

Defra Spatial Data tool.

This dataset displays the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) marine nature conservation byelaws. 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

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 14 May 2022 + show all updates
  1. C4E Update

  2. Amended in line with EU Exit operability guidance

  3. changes made to page from MCT request

  4. Updates made to attachments inline with MMO accessibility audit

  5. New byelaw added

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

  7. Text updated

  8. Text updated

  9. First published.