Supertrawlers are leaving fisherman 'at the brink' says activist
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And the Prime Minister has once again been urged to make good on his pledge to take back control of UK waters after Brexit, with one furious fisherman warning: “We can’t compete.” Neil Whitney, a local fisherman who operates in waters of the south coast of Britain, joined Greenpeace activists at sea in a protest against the Maartje Theodora, a German-flagged and Dutch-owned 140.8m long supertrawler which spent at least 243 hours fishing in UK protected areas in 2020.
They displayed a banner reading “This is a marine protected area” in front of the supertrawler and shadowed it out of the Offshore Brighton Marine Protected Area (MPA).
Mr Whitney said: “We’ve seen more of these big factory ships like the Maartje Theodora fishing in the Channel over the last 18 months than ever before.
“They can stay out fishing for weeks, catching hundreds of tonnes of fish. We local fishermen can’t compete.
“When we go out, there’s almost nothing left for us to catch.”
He explained: “We thought Brexit was a chance for our government to stop these huge factory ships but we’ve been let down by empty promises once again.
“That’s why I joined Greenpeace to protest at sea against the Maartje Theodora.
“We need our government to see that it’s not only environmentalists who want to protect our oceans and our Marine Protected Areas, but it’s also us fishermen as well. Without healthy oceans, we’ll all be out of business.”
Fishers will join Greenpeace next Wednesday in a flotilla sailing up the Thames to Parliament to demand greater protection from industrial fishing.
Supertrawler fishing times in UK protected areas increased by 1000 per cent between 2017 and 2020.
In the first six months of 2020, supertrawlers spent 5,590 hours fishing in UK MPAs.
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Speaking in January, Mr Johnson said the UK would be able to ban such vessels now it was free from EU rules and regulations – but nothing has happened so far.
Fiona Nicholls, an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “Working with our fishing communities all summer has made clear to us what needs to be done.
“Our government needs to deliver on its Brexit promise to ‘level up’ our coastal communities, get ocean protection done and ban the destructive industrial fishing which has devastated our fishing industry.”
She warned: “Supertrawlers like the Maartje Theodora provide no benefit to the UK’s fishing industry as none land in the UK or are UK owned.
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“Why does our Government continue to let them fish in UK protected areas when everyone, from the general public to fishermen and us environmentalists, wants to see them banned?
“The writing is on the wall, but our Government continues to turn a blind eye.”
Greenpeace’s declaration of emergency with fishing communities, issued at the weekend, calls for supertrawlers, fly-shooters and bottom trawlers to be banned from all offshore MPAs in the Channel, and for all pelagic trawlers over 55m and fly-shooters to be banned from the entire English Channel and Southern North Sea.
Supertrawlers should also be banned from all of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas, it argues.
The UK Government could ban supertrawlers and other industrial fishing vessels from UK MPAs via vessel licensing restrictions, provided for by the Fisheries Act 2020.
In 2014, Australia banned supertrawlers in excess of 130 metres in length from its waters in 2014.
Polling undertaken by YouGov on behalf of Greenpeace indicated more than 80 percent of the UK public believe supertrawlers should be banned from fishing in the UK’s Marine Protected Areas.
By contrast, just four percent believed they should be allowed to continue fishing inside them.
The survey suggested support for a supertrawler ban cuts across political divides, with equal support for a ban amongst Leavers and Remainers, and among Labour and Conservative voters.
A Defra spokesman said: “Protecting our vital fish stocks and those dependent on them is paramount which is why all EU vessels granted access to fish in UK waters must comply with UK rules and regulations, including those on sustainability.
“We have heard the concerns raised about fishing pressures in the English Channel and want to work with industry to tackle the issues. We have already stopped pulse trawling by EU and English-registered vessels in UK waters and now we have left the EU, the MMO is consulting on additional safeguards for our Marine Protected Areas.
“Any decisions on managing fisheries in future will be based on the best available evidence.”
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