Dogger Bank: death by a thousand cuts?

A satellite image of Dogger Bank. Photo: NASA/Wikimedia
A satellite image of Dogger Bank. Photo: NASA/Wikimedia

Member States have an obligation to ensure that fishing activities do not adversely impact the environment, especially where marine Natura 2000 sites have been designated.

Nevertheless, establishing measures to minimise impacts on such sites has been a slow and tortuous process. Recently, we expressed our support for, what we believed at the time, a step forward in implementing fishing rules in the Dogger Bank, the North Sea’s largest sandbank in which three Member States – Germany, the Netherlands and the UK – have designated adjoining Natura 2000 areas.

Although NGOs still considered it the bare minimum, extensive stakeholder discussion initially resulted in measures that could have ensured the protection of about one-third of the whole sandbank from mobile bottom fishing gear and still allowed for fishing as a viable economic activity.

The proposal notably included a more ambitious 50% of the German Natura 2000 site to be fully protected from bottom gears.

However, a late compromise resulted in another bottom gear – seine fishing – being admitted to most of the proposed closures, bringing the total area protected down to a measly 5%. This is R.I.D.I.C.U.L.O.U.S.

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Why protected areas matter

Zakynthos, Ionian Sea © Greek National Tourism Organisation

This summer when you visit the seaside you might come across a stretch of beach that’s off limits – a coastal ’marine protected area’. You might get annoyed when looking down at that empty glorious soft sand, and then have to turn back to that tourist packed, noise polluted beach…why would anyone do this to you? Don’t take it personally, an off limit beach isn’t there to offend, it serves a purpose. It’s a special place that has been set aside to protect a wild animal, plant, or habitat.

Just think, if you wouldn’t enjoy a beach jammed with tourists, what animal would? Take sea turtles, who burrow their eggs in the sand – tourists on the beach can only mean one thing: a mixture of scrambled eggs and sand. Even worse, sea turtles wouldn’t dare venture up onto a beach in the first place if they spotted people sprawled on towels, children running around, kites flying, and beach volleyball courts.

Obviously, an area that’s protected doesn’t mean you can’t go to another beach to sunbathe, take a dip and enjoy – it’s just that some of the coast needs to be shared with wild animals and plants that wouldn’t otherwise survive if people were around.

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