A recent paper on the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in northern Europe (“Elevated trawling inside protected areas undermines conservation outcomes in a global fishing hot spot”) reveals that industrial-scale fishing – primarily the use of bottom-trawl fishing – is widespread in so-called protected areas that were established specifically to safeguard highly biodiverse marine and coastal habitats across the North Sea. We welcome this important and timely piece of research. Unfortunately, a number of the press reports that covered this paper’s findings included sensationalist – and misleading – headlines that are potentially very damaging to the cause of marine conservation.
Through looking at levels of destructive trawling and the presence of sharks and rays in North Sea MPAs, the paper concludes that these sites are failing to restrict damaging fishing and, therefore, to help in the recovery of threatened species. A similar situation exists in Scotland where – of the 31 MPAs designated for nature conservation – only six wholly restrict bottom-trawl and dredge fishing. This paper raises an important issue that Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has grappled with across the areas where we work. It is clear that MPAs – as a tool for conserving marine biodiversity – will be effective only if they are well implemented and offer genuine, unambiguous protection for marine life.
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