The government agency charged to protect the marine environment has dropped their case against Greenpeace because of a protest designed to stop destructive fishing practices from UK coastal conservation areas.
The judge in the case rebuked Marine Management Organisation over the case and said that the licensing system, under which the case was brought, could better be used to protect marine environment defenders.
Greenpeace demanded that the government ban bottom trawling and other heavy industrialised fishing as a response to the ruling.
The government has designated marine protected areas (MPAs), which are intended to protect marine life in UK waterways by limiting fishing and allowing species recovery. As part of a larger commitment towards conservation, ministers have pledged to protect 30% UK’s ocean areas.
Some fishing is allowed, however, including bottom trawling. Experts have stated that this is extremely harmful to many species and can cause irreparable damage to the seabed. Bottom trawling is also a significant source to release carbon. The seabed serves as a valuable carbon-sink, but can be turned into a source of carbon if disturbed.
Greenpeace protesters dropped large stones on the seabed in the Dogger Bank marine protection area. This protected area is a crucial fishing area for bottom-trawlers. More were dropped in the Offshore Brighton MPA the year after. Although the large granite rocks are harmless to surface fishing and marine life, they become entangled in the nets of bottom fisherman, obstructing their practice.
Greenpeace was accused by the MMO of attempting to prosecute them, arguing that the licensing regime prohibited protesters from engaging in such actions. Edward Bindloss was the judge in the case and criticized the body.
He asked: The 2009 Act created a licensing regime to protect marine environment. Greenpeace also sought to protect marine environment. The MMO should be prosecuting the defendants’ actions in trying raise awareness about the perceived failures of governments in marine protection.
He said: One irony of this litigation, is that both Greenpeace and the MMO are committed to improving our marine environment.
In this case, the parties should be allies and not enemies. Given their shared purpose and goals, they should act in harmony. Greenpeace should support the licensing regime. The MMO should support the prevention and regulation of harmful deep sea fishing methods that impact important marine seabeds. It’s absurd that this litigation is even happening.
Monday morning saw the MMO decide not to provide evidence against Greenpeace. This resulted in not guilty verdicts being recorded.
John Sauven, Greenpeace’s outgoing executive director, was charged with the following: The MMOs role in protecting our marine ecosystems is vitally important in a climate emergency. Our action was to prevent destructive fishing from an area designated as protected by the MMO, but it is miserably failing its job. It is absurd for them to waste time and public money pursuing us for doing exactly what they want, as the judge stated.
He added that this was a clear signal to the environment minister to immediately take the necessary action to protect our oceans from industrial fisheries and to stop licensing destructive vessels and fishing methods in all UK MPAs.
In its submission, the MMO stated that it was very unusual and, taking note of all the circumstances, and taking particular notice of the depth and extent of the comments made by learned judges on the matter, decided that it was the best course of action to propose to not offer any evidence to the charges against the defendants.
Oceana, a conservation group representing the environment, argued that bottom trawling licenses in UK waters could be illegal last year.
While the government has made some initial steps towards curbing bottom-trawling in conservation areas (Greenpeace) they said that more work was needed.
A spokesperson for MMOs said:
The case’s law findings made it clear that Greenpeace had the authority to prosecute. They are expected to adhere to the marine licensing regime. Greenpeace has not been able to carry out any unlicensed activities since the inception of proceedings.
The MMO has withdrawn from the prosecution. We are confident that Greenpeace will support and adhere to the marine licensing rules in future, as per the comments of the learned judge.
We will continue to investigate any future unlicensed activities and will consider enforcement actions according to our published compliance strategy.
Guardian did not reach out to the MMO to inquire about the cost of the prosecution. However, the cost to taxpayers is likely at least to be in the tens or thousands of pounds.