A good day for our seas! On the 24th of March 2021 a new law – The Nearshore Trawling Byelaw – was approved by the UK Government. It sounds rather dry, but it couldn’t be wetter! The law made it illegal to use bottom trawling fishing practices between Shoreham and Selsey… and our beautiful Sussex coast is already the better for it.
Bottom trawling is an incredibly destructive way of fishing which has been used extensively on our coast line since the 80’s. Huge fishing nets are weighed down with several tons of metal, and then dragged along the seafloor in order to catch crabs, lobsters and bottom feeding fish like plaice. Unfortunately, every other living thing, including sharks, starfish, kelp and seaweed – even the mud – is also caught in the nets, leaving our coast line a scarred, lifeless, wasteland. Seriously, it is one of the most destructive and all-consuming fishing practices out there; imagine a plough but 500 feet wide and with a net on the back, that’s what bottom trawling is.
On a happier note – the Sussex coastline is now protected from trawling. Even though it’s only been 4 months since the ban, already our coastlines are recovering, and in a big way! There have been sightings of dolphins, porpoise, seals and even Orcas off our Sussex coast, particularly around the wind farms which provide an excellent hunting habitat for these animals. If there’s loads of predators that means there are loads of prey too. Reports from local sports fishermen in the the area seem to back that up, one catching “plenty of bream” and sighting “immense shoals of small bass”. It seems the wind farm is not only great for hunting but great for prey too – providing an impassable safe haven for fish and crustaceans to live and increase in number, away from the nets of commercial fishing boats.
At the root of all these incredible wildlife recoveries is kelp – the largest of all the seaweeds – which essentially acts as the trees and the forests of our seas. Like coral reefs in the tropics, kelp forests provide a home and food for a huge number of sea creatures, which in turn feed larger animals such as dolphins, sharks and sea birds. When our coast lines were being trawled, kelp was the first thing to be ripped out by those huge, heavy nets – making it far easier to access all the highly valued commercial fish and lobster down there. It was kept from growing back by the continual razing of the sea bed, which kept it flat and lifeless. Not ideal for a 2.5m tall seaweed that needs something to hold on to! But now kelp is making a come-back, helped along by the wonderful volunteers at Sussex Wildlife Trust who are working with locals to re-wild kelp. Like re-planting a forest… but slightly colder and wetter!
Our local government is also doing a lot to keep our coast line, now a Marine Protected Area (MPA), safe from commercial bottom trawlers. Caroline Lucas and Operation Ocean Witness activists were seen sailing up to French industrial fishing vessel Lache this week. They caught the fishing vessel, brandished a banner reading “This is a Marine Protected Area” and asked them to stop fishing and leave, and they did, immediately! Nice to see some Green Party policy in action! Caroline Lucas said after the event: “This area off Brighton is supposed to be a Marine Protected Area. Yet it’s clear that the Government is turning a blind eye to hugely destructive industrial fishing which continues to take place there.” She went on to personally implore the Government to back up their pledge to safeguard more areas of land and sea for nature recovery and protection. This comes after Oceana revealed that 97% of UK MPAs were bottom trawled in 2019, and a further 68,000 hours of bottom trawling occurred in UK protected areas in 2020.
Well hopefully no more – with activists on the case, and local government on their side, it’s no wonder that the kelp and all the beautiful creatures it houses is making a recovery. I can’t wait to regularly see dolphins and porpoise off the coast of Brighton, as if our city wasn’t exciting enough already!
If you would like to get involved in the kelp re-wilding project or with monitoring ocean recovery, visit Sussex Wildlife Trusts website – they have loads of exciting volunteering opportunities and citizen science projects going on this summer, and all year round.