Greenpeace plans 'boulder barrier' to disrupt fishing in Cornish marine protected area

Activists are planning to drop boulders into the sea off the Cornish coast to block industrial fishing vessels from trawling the seabed, which hosts catfish, cockles and corals.

Fishing is still allowed in the South West Deeps (East), a vast area 190km southwest of Cornwall, even though it has been designated a marine protected area, because the status doesn't automatically ban it.

The seabed is trawled by weighted nets, which tear up marine habitats, for an average of 5,000 hours a year, according to the Marine Conservation Society, and Greenpeace says it is one of the most heavily fished protected areas.

Greenpeace wants to build its third "underwater boulder barrier" to protect the area of 4,655 kilometres squared - larger than Cornwall itself - by plunging enormous rocks into the water, making it "off limits" to bottom trawling.

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The charity says celebrities including actor Simon Pegg are backing its calls to ban bottom trawling there, where giant fan mussels grow to almost half a metre in size.

"It's a no-brainer," said Simon Pegg. Properly protecting ocean conservation areas "won't only help wildlife recover, it will also help our local fishermen recover their livelihoods and bolster our coastal communities," he said.

His is one of many celebrities' names that Greenpeace plans to stencil onto the boulders.

Government promises that Brexit would be a "turning point" for UK fishing have turned out to be "empty words," the actor claimed.

"Massive industrial fishing vessels are catching everything in our seas, leaving our fishermen with nothing and making their jobs untenable," he added.

Conservationists want trawling banned in protected areas because it tears up delicate ecosystems such as seagrasses to catch species such as cod, squid and flatfish.

Greenpeace's ship Arctic Sunrise will set sail in the coming weeks to begin dropping boulders at South West Deeps, having previously dropped granite on to Dogger Bank in the North Sea and in the Offshore Brighton marine protected area.

UK Government agency the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) took Greenpeace to court for environmental breaches over the Dogger Bank barrier.

But the MMO dropped the case in February of this year after a judge invited it to reconsider, saying prosecution was not in the public interest.

"Both the MMO and Greenpeace are committed to improving the marine environment... the parties in this case should be allies, not antagonists," Newcastle Crown Court Judge Edward Bindloss commented.

In April, Environment Secretary George Eustice announced bottom trawling would be banned at four of the UK's 76 protected zones, including Dogger Bank, with a ban under consideration at 13 more.

Pat Venditti, Greenpeace UK's executive director, described the barrier as a "last resort".

"The future of the UK's oceans is hanging in the balance, and we're running out of time to save them from industrial fishing, habitat destruction and climate change," Mr Venditti said.

He added: "The next prime minister should ban industrial fishing in marine protected areas by tweaking commercial fishing licences, to show they mean business on protecting nature and supporting fishing communities."

Greenpeace's announcement coincides with the first day of the UN's Global Ocean Treaty Negotiations, which aims to agree a legal framework to protect international waters.

Sky News has contacted the environment department and the MMO with a request to comment.

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