Understand marine conservation byelaws

How byelaws are made and what they protect.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is responsible for making byelaws in English inshore waters to protect European marine sites (EMS) and marine conservation zones (MCZ) from activities that may harm them. MMO byelaws must help to further the conservation objectives of the site.

The MMO has the power to make byelaws within 0-12 nautical miles. For the management of commercial fishing activities, MMO will lead on the management between 6-12 nautical miles, with the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCA) leading in the 0-6 nautical miles area.

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.

Current MMO byelaws

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

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

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

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;
  • certain methods of activity within a site.

A MMO byelaw will apply to everyone, including other 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;
  • the conservation objectives of the site with background information about the byelaw possibly included in an explanatory note.

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 information that it was not effective or there was a change in the situation was received. The review will decide to keep, amend, replace, withdraw the byelaw, or replace 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 permanent byelaw-making process

  1. An activity is identified that harms an EMS or MCZ.
  2. Agree objectives for potential management options, detailed within an Impact Assessment.
  3. Assess the best management options (includes input from stakeholders).
  4. If a byelaw is considered the most appropriate action, carry out a public consultation on the assessed management options and draft byelaw. If a byelaw is not considered the most appropriate action, consider other management options.
  5. After consultation, if a byelaw is considered the most appropriate action, make and advertise the byelaw. If a byelaw is not considered the most appropriate action, consider other management options.
  6. Review byelaw to assess effectiveness (includes input from stakeholders).
  7. If the byelaw is considered to be effective a review date is set. If the byelaw is considered ineffective, return to step 2 to consider new objectives.

Emergency 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

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

Further information

MMO’s byelaw powers come from:

  • Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 – section 129
  • Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 – section 38

Inshore fisheries and conservation authorities (IFCA)

The 10 IFCA’s are responsible for making fisheries byelaws within their districts – from 0 to 6 nautical miles.

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 marine protected areas as well as fisheries activities within their districts. MMO has a duty to aid IFCAs in the review of Sea Fisheries Committee legacy byelaws. MMO has a duty to help IFCAs review sea fisheries committee legacy byelaws, by April 2015.

IFCA byelaws help achieve specific protections that each IFCA 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 IFCA district.

MMO works with the IFCAs to agree how to manage these sites that cross the 6 nautical mile boundary. Either an IFCA makes a byelaw within 6 nautical miles and MMO makes a byelaw outside of 6 nautical miles, or MMO makes a byelaw for the whole site.

Activities that may harm protected features

Natural England (NE) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) identifies and reviews activities that may harm sites and protected features. Regional project groups also identify possible byelaws when selecting the protected sites.

It is possible that management options are suggested by other sources as well, like:

  • MMO coastal officers;
  • fishermen’s associations;
  • IFCAs;
  • harbour masters;
  • EMS officers;
  • coastal forums.

MMO investigates management options for a specific site and activity when evidence shows a risk of damage to the protected features by the activity. MMO will:

  • develop an impact assessment;
  • gather evidence;
  • engage with interested parties;

MMO is able to make a byelaw to restrict activities that affect features not listed as part of a site if there is evidence to prove that it will further the conservation objectives. MMO can also make a byelaw if a feature is particularly rare and vulnerable.

Contact information

Marine Conservation Team

0300 123 1032

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 1 January 2021 + show all updates
  1. Amended in line with EU Exit operability guidance

  2. changes made to page from MCT request

  3. Updates made to attachments inline with MMO accessibility audit

  4. New byelaw added

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

  6. Text updated

  7. Text updated

  8. First published.