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

The implementation of the byelaw comes days after new analysis from Oceana UK showed that the UK’s marine protected areas (MPAs) were exposed to over 33,000 hours of suspected bottom trawling in 2023.



Reef habitats are vulnerable to damage from bottom towed fishing and are home to important species such as pink sea fans, Ross worm reefs and fragile sponges. These species are essential for functioning marine ecosystems, supporting the wider food chain, including commercial fish stocks.

Michelle Willis Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) said: “the total area off our coast covered by MMO byelaws has increased to almost 18,000 square kilometres. These are now protecting important ecosystems in an area larger than Yorkshire and Kent combined. It marks a significant milestone and brings us another step closer in our ambitious programme to protect all 54 English offshore MPAs from fishing activity by the end of 2024.’’

Marine Minister Lord Benyon said: “The restrictions on bottom towed fishing gear in a further 13 Marine Protected Areas is an important step forward, and we will continue to collaborate with the industry and other sea users to make sure our network of sites is properly protected.”

“Important progress” but “not enough”

The implementation of the byelaw for these sites, follows a prior call for evidence and public consultation, confirmation from Government in early 2024 and a formal notification period which commenced on 1 February 2024.

At the time of the announcement of the consultation into restrictions at these 13 sites, Greenpeace said that ‘while steps to manage fishing in MPAs are welcome….. the government’s approach to reef protection doesn’t go far enough, as they’re not proposing site-wide bans and therefore don’t address the damage caused to the whole ecosystem’. Jean-Luc Solandt, at the Marine Conservation Society, said that the measures were “important progress” for some biodiversity but that “it is not enough”.

MMO byelaws

The measures and specific areas within the 13 MPAs protected by the new byelaw, can be viewed on the MMO website or via the Kingfisher maps operated by Seafish.

The MMO is responsible for making byelaws in English waters within 0-200 nautical miles (nm) to protect habitats and species from activities that may harm them. For the management of fishing activities, MMO leads on management between 6-200 nm, with the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) leading in the 0-6 nm area. Any MMO byelaw affecting fishing will apply to UK and non-UK vessels equally.

The 13 MPAs receiving new protection are:

  • Cape Bank
  • East of Haig Fras
  • Farnes East
  • Foreland
  • Haig Fras
  • Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton
  • Hartland Point to Tintagel
  • Goodwin Sands
  • Land’s End and Cape Bank
  • North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef
  • Offshore Brighton
  • South of Celtic Deep
  • Wight-Barfleur Reef

The full news release from the UK government can be read here.

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