Hands off! EU super trawler plundering UK waters is ‘shadowed’ through environmental zone

Fishing: Super trawler Margiris roams the English Channel

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But Greenpeace has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to do more, by banning such vessels from all marine protected areas (MPAs) in line with his pre-Brexit pledges. The environmental pressure group’s Operation Ocean Witness patrol boat kept tabs on the Willem van der Zwan as it passed through the Offshore Overfalls Marine Protected Area (MPA) off the Sussex coast.

The Willem has absolutely no place fishing in the UK’s protected areas

Fiona Nicholls

Greenpeace’s boat displayed a banner proclaiming “This is a marine protected area”.

Fiona Nicholls, a Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner, said: “Supertrawlers like the Willem van der Zwan spend thousands of hours each year fishing inside our protected areas at sea.

”They endanger the health of our oceans, remove unimaginably vast quantities of fish from the ecosystem, and destroy the livelihoods of local fishers all around the UK.”

She added: “The Willem has absolutely no place fishing in the UK’s protected areas.

“Despite our patrol boat being a fraction of the size of this giant supertrawler, we are resolute about protecting these waters.

“Our government needs to deliver on its Brexit commitment to level up ocean protection, and ban supertrawlers from all UK protected areas.

“This would make Britain a world leader in marine protection, but if our government refuses to turn its rhetoric into action, we will continue to do all we can to protect our oceans.”

At 142.5 metres in length, the Willem van der Zwan is one of the largest fishing vessels in the world, and has consistently fished in UK protected areas.

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In 2019, it spent 437 hours fishing in UK MPAs, 28 hours of which was spent fishing in the Offshore Overfalls protected area.

Supertrawlers are pelagic factory trawlers measuring in excess of 100 metres.

None of the supertrawlers seen fishing in the UK’s protected areas are UK owned – most either belong to companies in EU countries or Russia.

They are able to catch hundreds of tonnes of fish every day, and can stay at sea for long periods of time because of their onboard freezer processing facilities.

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Greenpeace argues that the intensity with which supertrawlers fish impacts the wider marine ecosystem, even though supertrawlers do not actually damage the seabed.

Supertrawler operations in the UK’s protected areas rose significantly every year between 2017 and 2019.

In 2017, they spent just 475 hours fishing in UK protected areas – but by 2019, that number had rocketed to 2963 hours, and with no legal enforcement in place, there is nothing to stop them.

Polling for Greenpeace by YouGov has found that 4 out of 5 UK adults want supertrawlers banned from UK protected areas.

In 2020, over 80 MPs from every political party wrote to the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, calling on him to ban supertrawlers from protected areas.

At the time one of them, Tory MP for North Thanet Roger Gale, told Express.co.uk: “We have this absurd situation where we have these protected zones around our coast but we are not protecting them from the predations of supertrawlers.

“It’s as simple as that – there is no point having protected zones if you don’t protect them.

“These things are huge, massive – they are hoovers.”

Speaking to Andrew Marr in January, Boris Johnson hinted at a possible ban, saying the UK “will be able to ban these huge hoover trawlers” after Brexit – but this has not happened thus far.

Speaking to Express.co.uk last month, a Defra spokeswoman said: “The UK is a global leader in the protection of our seas, with our ‘Blue Belt’ of Marine Protected Areas extending across 38 percent of UK waters.

“We are committed to achieving a healthy and sustainable marine environment. Now we have left the EU, the Marine Management Organisation is consulting on additional safeguards for four of our precious Marine Protected Areas, including banning activities that harm wildlife or damage habitats.”

Express.co.uk has contacted W. van der Zwan & Zn BV, the company which owns the ship, for comment.

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