Foreign supertrawlers are still able to plunder the coasts off Britain despite Brexit because the government cannot work out how to ban them, a source says.
The insider admitted ministers cannot ‘exclude these boats altogether’ and are only able to control what form of fishing they do.
For example they can ban methods such as bottom trawling in Marine Protected Areas but will not rule on the size of the boat or its nets.
MPs and campaigners have branded it not good enough and are seeking ways to ban supertrawlers outright.
It comes after a report warned ships that use this form of fishing should be stopped from ‘bulldozing a national park’.
Supertrawlers will still be allowed to pillage the coasts off Britain despite Brexit because the government cannot ban them, a source has revealed. Pictured: The 390ft Dutch Frank Bonefaas
The insider admitted ministers cannot ‘exclude these boats altogether’ and are only able to control what form of fishing they do. Pictured: The Lithuanian FV Margiris in 2019
The Government source told the Telegraph: ‘Crucially, there is no formal definition of what a supertrawler is. In the media, it has come to be known as a vessel that is over 100m in length.
‘Supertrawlers are pelagic trawlers whose nets do not touch the seabed, so generally don’t cause damage to seabed features.’
It had been hoped that leaving the EU would see the last of the huge vessels, which campaigners claim cause environmental damage.
But ships such as the Margiris have since been spotted off the British coastline, despite it being banned from Australia amid claims it drained fish stocks.
Tory MP Henry Smith said: ‘My position is quite clear – I welcome the ban on electric pulse fishing but I think this is a great opportunity to ban supertrawlers which are incredibly damaging and it would be popular with British fishermen, the public at large and its something we need to do to protect our coastal waters.’
Oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK Chris Thorne added: ‘Failing to deliver a supertrawler ban in the UK’s protected areas would be a devastating blow to our coastal communities and to our oceans.’
This map of Great Britain and Ireland shows the extent of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone
Meanwhile a report warned this week supertrawlers that drag nets across the seabed in marine-protected areas should be stopped from ‘bulldozing a national park’.
‘Bottom trawling’, in which heavy nets are dragged across the seabed to collect fish and shellfish, destroys natural habitats and releases carbon.
And the pratice is taking place in nearly all the UK’s offshore protected areas that were created to conserve seabed habitats, the Marine Conservation Society said.
It is calling for a ban on bottom trawling in marine-protected areas to conserve and build up carbon stores as part of efforts to curb climate change, and to help habitats and wildlife recover.
Boris Johnson signalled last weekend he may ban ‘supertrawlers’ that ‘hoover’ up the contents of the seabed such as coral, sea anemones, fish and crustaceans.
Allowing bottom trawling to take place in protected sites is the equivalent of bulldozing national parks on land, the charity said.
A report by scientists at the MCS found that all but one of the offshore marine protected areas designated to protect the seabed experienced bottom trawling and dredging between 2015 and 2018.
During that time, sandbanks and reefs which were supposed to be protected saw at least 89,894 hours of fishing by vessels using gear that can damage the seabed.
The UK has a network of 358 marine-protected areas, including 70 offshore sites which are intended to protect the seabed, the report said.
But only 5 per cent of all UK marine-protected areas currently ban bottom trawling, and the practice is taking place in 98 per cent of the UK’s offshore protected areas designated to protect vital seabed habitats, the charity warned.
As well as destroying plant and marine life bottom trawling stops the natural process whereby carbon from plant and animal matter is locked up by deposited in the mud and sand at the bottom of the sea, allowing it potentially re-enter the atmosphere.
The release of carbon by bottom trawling across the UK continental shelf between 2016 and 2040 could cost up to £9billion to mitigate through cutting emissions in other areas of the economy.
Continued disturbance of the carbon stored in offshore marine protected areas alone could cost nearly £1billion over the next 25 years, the report estimates.
A ban on bottom trawling in protected sites has shown to be effective in the UK and around the world with a boost to wildlife, which spills over into nearby waters to increase fishing catches outside the conservation zones.
Carbon stores are left undisturbed, and are able to build back up as new life establishes itself on the seabed, the report said.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, principal specialist in marine-protected areas at the MCS, said: ‘While bottom trawling is still allowed we will continue to release more carbon from the seafloor and prevent complex carbon-storing habitats from recovering.
‘In order to battle the climate emergency there has to be limits on where fishing of this kind can take place.
And he said: ‘Without a ban on this form of fishing, these areas of our seas simply aren’t recovering and we’re missing a crucial opportunity to combat climate change and ensure there are indeed plenty more fish in the sea.’
Mr Thorne from Greenpeace UK said: ‘This is yet more evidence that the UK’s marine protected areas are not fit for purpose.
‘How can this Government allow destructive industrial bottom trawlers to rip up almost all of our protected areas of seabed, harming marine life and ecosystems and disturbing vital carbon stores, while still claiming to be a ‘global ocean champion’?
‘The time has come for the Government to stop hiding behind empty statements, and deliver on its Brexit promise to properly protect our seas.
‘A robust network of marine protected areas, where all destructive fishing like bottom trawling is banned, would make the UK a genuine world leader in marine protection and could also help us combat the climate emergency. Now is the time for the Government to deliver.’
On BBC’s Andrew Marr show last Sunday the PM said thanks to Brexit: ‘We will be able to ban these huge hoover trawlers that come in and hoover everything off the bottom of the sea’.
Super trawlers are typically defined as vessels over 100m in length and 25 of them fished in UK waters in 2019, according to Greenpeace.
A Defra spokesman said: ‘As an independent coastal state we can now review which vessels, including supertrawlers, can access and fish our waters.
‘The new licensing framework within the Fisheries Act will allow us to apply conditions to the activities of all fishing vessels in our waters – regardless of their nationality – and will need to abide by UK rules around sustainability and access to our ‘Blue Belt’ of protected waters.’