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

The recovery of rare, threatened and important habitats and species in English waters is another step closer from today (Friday 22 March 2024). 

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

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 MMO said:    

“From today 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.’’  

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. 

To date adherence to existing MMO byelaws within MPAs has remained high, with as few as 17 potential infringements detected between June 2022 (when first MMO byelaws for four offshore MPAs came into effect) to the end of 2023. Infringements continue to be followed up in line with the MMO Compliance and Enforcement Strategy.  

Marine Minister Lord Benyon said:

“We are firmly committed to safeguarding our oceans and the precious habitats and species that depend on them and aim to have all necessary byelaws in place by the end of 2024.

“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.”

Natural England Chief Executive Marian Spain said:

“Today’s announcement is a vital step to protecting our oceans. We have worked closely with the Marine Management Organisation and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to provide conservation advice on the Byelaws coming into force today.  They will effectively safeguard a wealth of habitats and species on over 18,000km of seabed and support healthy, functioning marine ecosystems.”

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: View all Restrictions (

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