Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is responsible for managing fishing and marine non-licensable activities in England’s marine protected areas (MPAs). MMO also manages marine licensable activities through our marine licensing system.

Update 22 March 2024

Bottom towed fishing gear prohibited over reef habitats in 13 marine protected areas

A new byelaw protecting an area of almost 4000 square km of our seas from damaging fishing activity is now in force. The byelaw prohibits the use of bottom towed gear in specific areas within 13 English offshore MPAs that contain valuable reef and rocky habitats.

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 England, MPAs are designated to protect specific habitats or species (also known as ‘features’) and have conservation objectives 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.

Protecting MPA species and habitats will contribute to healthier marine ecosystems, and the maintenance and restoration of valuable ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits we gain from having healthy ecosystems. For example, the maintenance of fish and shellfish populations enables the natural environment to provide stock for our seafood industry which then benefits society through provision of nutrition and employment.

We manage fishing in MPAs offshore of 6 nautical miles and manage marine non-licensable activities in MPAs inshore of 12 nautical miles. Our dedicated pages provide further information:

To ensure decisions on MPA management are informed by the best available evidence and a wide range of perspectives, we regularly request views from stakeholders and the public.

This is undertaken through a range of methods including calls for evidence on MMO assessments of the impacts of activities and formal consultations on proposed MMO management. Further information is available to help you understand the MMOs byelaw making process.

Consultations – managing fishing in MPAs

Latest updates

Our call for evidence to support the assessment of fishing in Stage 4 MPAs designated to protect highly mobile species - marine birds and harbour porpoise - is now closed.  

There are two MPAs designated to protect harbour porpoise in English offshore waters: 

  • Southern North Sea MPA; and 
  • Bristol Channel Approaches MPA. 

There are three MPAs designated to protect marine birds in English offshore waters: 

  • Outer Thames Estuary MPA; 
  • Greater Wash MPA; and 
  • Liverpool Bay MPA. 

MMO is considering the impacts of fishing in these MPAs outside of 6 nautical miles (nm). The call for evidence was split into sections for harbour porpoise and marine birds and includes questions on Stage 4 Fishing Gear MPA Impacts Evidence documents, pressures of interest and potential management options. The purpose of the call for evidence was to seek additional evidence and views from stakeholders on the information provided. The call for evidence ran from the 5 December 2023 to the 13 February 2024.  

The call for evidence documents are available on the Stage 4 consultation page.

Previous consultations

In 2023 we held a formal consultation for Stage 2 MPAs and a call for evidence for Stage 3 MPAs. These ran from 17 January 2023 to 28 March 2023. The Stage 2 consultation sought views on a proposed byelaw to manage bottom towed fishing gear in 13 MPAs.

Consultation documents are available on our Stage 2 consultation page. The Stage 3 call for evidence sought additional evidence and views on evidence and analysis of the impacts of fishing on seabed features in English MPAs. Call for evidence documents are available on our  Stage 3 consultation page.

Next steps

We will review the information received during the Stage 4 call for evidence to update and finalise the Stage 4 Fishing Gear MPA Impacts Evidence documents and inform our understanding of pressures of interest and potential management options. This will be used to inform draft site level assessments, and management options where required, for each of the Stage 4 MPAs.  

The information received during the Stage 3 call for evidence has been reviewed. Thank you to everyone who provided a response. Updates are being made to assessments, management documents and impacts evidence documents where appropriate. Where necessary, we will progress the implementation of management measures to ensure relevant MPAs are protected, whilst ensuring we deliver the appropriate levels of consultation with stakeholders. We will be sharing further updates as soon as possible.

Consultations - managing fishing in HPMAs

Following the designation of the first three highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) in England on 5 July 2023, MMO is proposing specific management measures that will support the recovery of these sites to a more natural state. The three HPMAs are Allonby Bay, North East of Farnes Deep and Dolphin Head.

As part of the byelaw making process marine stakeholders, partner organisations and fishers were asked to view and comment on the proposed management measures from 3 August to 14 September 2023.

This is engagement exercise is now closed and we will provide further updates on the next steps as soon as possible.

Consultations - marine non-licensable activities in MPAs

Marine non-licensable activities are those which do not require a marine licence and include a number of marine recreational activities. These include shore based activities such as bait collection and beach recreation as well as water based activities such as sailing and motor boating.

We manage marine non-licensable activities which take place within MPAs within 0-12 nautical miles. There is currently no live marine no marine non-licensable activity consultations.

You can find out more about the management of marine non-licensable activities in MPAs, including our voluntary no anchor zone in Studland Bay on our dedicated pages.

Published 13 March 2023