Marine conservation group calls for seabed trawling ban
Marine life in proposed conservation zones off the Westcountry coast will only benefit if bottom-towed fishing gear is banned, environmentalists have said.
In December, the Government signed off on 15 aquatic reserves around the Devon and Cornwall coast – just a quarter of those put forward by the independent body Finding Sanctuary.
Among those in the first wave are Torbay and Skerries Bank, southeast of Start Point, off the South Devon coast.
But the Marine Conservation Society has put itself on a collision course with local fishermen by insisting that seabed trawling in the areas be banned and limitations imposed on moorings and potting.
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The society’s biodiversity policy officer Dr Jean-Luc Solandt said protection from seabed trawling would make the areas both richer for biodiversity and low-level fishing activities.
“Both Torbay and Skerries Bank are areas of the seabed that are surviving on borrowed time,” he said. “Both have parts that are threatened by bottom trawling and scallop dredging.
“Torbay’s extensive seagrass beds can be damaged by dredging and indiscriminate anchoring.”
The two areas could be designated as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) later this year following a public consultation currently being held by the Government.
Volunteers on the Marine Conservation Society’s Seasearch programme surveyed both last summer to gather fresh information on the current state of both habitats and species.
Divers found pockets of rare and vulnerable species which the society claimed would not recover from damage unless bottom-towed fishing gear, coastal development, mooring and potting were effectively managed.
Reefs, eelgrass beds, cuttlefish, crawfish and short-snouted seahorses are among the species which could be protected.
Dr Solandt said areas of seagrass would become more dense, productive, and become a more significant habitat for species like cuttlefish and other species on which to lay their eggs, if they were afforded greater protection.
The Skerries Bank, to the south west of Torbay, is made up of undulating sandbanks, and is home to mobile species such as rays, flatfish, sand stars, spider crab and hermit crabs.
However, Seasearch divers did not record any crawfish at Skerries Bank – the only species for which recovery is the conservation objective of the MCZ.
Dr Solandt said: “The Marine Conservation Society suggests a ‘no-take zone’ could be introduced within the site to recover some small areas of larger lobsters, or more specifically, a restriction on crawfish landings from the area – although we understand that local pot fishers generally put back any crawfish caught in pots, and we would encourage a continuation of this practice.
“At Lundy Island, off the North Devon coast, following ten years with a 3.3km² no-take zone, Seasearch divers saw a recovery of crawfish populations in 2012.
“Lobsters have also become larger inside the zone. Larger females produce more eggs, thus eventually resulting in greater numbers of new, baby lobsters exported to areas outside the zones.”