Campaigners and fishers call for urgent measures to protect seas and communities in the South East

  • Video report from ITV News Meridian's Tom Savvides

Campaigners have joined anglers, fishers and businesses to call for urgent action to protect fishing communities and seas around the south and east coasts.

Greenpeace and the New Economics Foundation think tank have lined up with fishers to issue a statement declaring a "state of emergency" in the English Channel and southern North Sea due to industrial fishing pressure. Industrial methods of fishing have severely depleted fish populations and left local fishers with little to catch, Greenpeace said.

The statement calls on the Government to permanently ban industrial fishing such as supertrawlers, bottom trawling, and "fly shooters" from marine protected areas in the English Channel to help habitats and fish stocks recover.

The fishers and organisations also want pelagic trawlers, which fish in mid and surface water over 180ft (55m) and fly shooters, to be banned immediately from the entire English Channel and southern North Sea, due to the threat the industrial fishing methods pose to the livelihoods of local fishermen.

The statement calls for full assessment of the environmental and local economic impacts of both fishing methods in the Channel and the North Sea before any decisions about granting fishing licences are made.

  • Martin Yorwarth, Fisherman

It also urges additional measure to support fishermen operating between six and 12 nautical miles out to sea in the English Channel and southern North Sea due to the threat posed by large scallop and beam fishing.

Greenpeace warns that fly shooting is a highly-efficient industrial fishing method which catches large amounts of fish, threatening stocks and ocean habitats, and that, despite Brexit, EU-owned supertrawlers are spending thousands of hours fishing UK waters, including marine protected areas.

Measures to curb industrial fishing on the south and east coasts of England would boost catches for local fishers, revive coastal communities and help the seas and fish populations recover, the green group argues.

Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: "We've been at sea all summer, bearing witness to the destruction taking place in the English Channel and nearby waters."

"Fishing communities, anglers, charter skippers and environmental groups alike support these measures, which will be an important step towards fully protecting at least 30% of our oceans by 2030."

He said he hopes the Government will start to take steps towards delivering its promise of protecting 30% of the oceans - and if it does not, it will be clear it is siding with multinational fishing companies instead of local fishers.

Jerry Percy, director of the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association, said: "It's really quite simple - the small-scale coastal fleet that the Government has sworn to protect is now forced to watch their present and future livelihoods being destroyed in front of their eyes."

He added that EU-owned fly shooters have had all catch limits removed for theirtarget species, while midwater trawlers are reducing the resilience of stocks in the Channel to the impact of climate change, and threatening dolphin and porpoise populations.

Graham Doswell, a third-generation fisherman in Eastbourne, who has been fishing on the Sussex coast all his working life, said it has gradually got harder and harder in the past decade.

"I think, unless something really, really drastically is done, I think it's going to be difficult for everybody to carry on making a living."

Super trawler fisherman. Credit: ITV News Meridian

A Defra spokesperson said: "Protecting our vital fish stocks and those dependent on them is paramount, which is why all EU vessels granted access to fish in UK waters must comply with UK rules and regulations, including those on sustainability."

"We have heard the concerns raised about fishing pressures in the English Channel and want to work with industry to tackle the issues."

"We have already stopped pulse trawling by EU and English-registered vessels in UK waters and now we have left the EU, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is consulting on additional safeguards for our Marine Protected Areas.

"Any decisions on managing fisheries in future will be based on the best available evidence."

Groups signing up to the statement include the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association, Eastbourne Fisherman's Association, Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance, Thanet Fishing Association, Hastings Fishermen's Protection Society, businesses Pesky Fish and Sole of Discretion, and the Angling Trust.