Protection of the North Sea’s largest sandbank in question: WWF concerned about political drawback | WWF

Protection of the North Sea’s largest sandbank in question: WWF concerned about political drawback

Posted on 16 June 2016
Dead Man's Fingers (coral alcyonium)
© Wolf Wichmann
WWF expresses its deep concern over the lack of political commitment from North Sea countries to protect the Dogger Bank, the North Sea’s largest sandbank designated as a Natura 2000 area, from the highly destructive practice of bottom fishing. In talks between the banks’ neighbouring countries (the UK, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands) this week, it became clear that a mere 5% of the bank – the part situated in Germany - is proposed to be fully protected from mobile bottom fishing gear, as opposed to the 50% originally discussed during a year-long stakeholder process.

The Dogger Bank, the largest sandbank in the central North Sea, comprising approximately 25,000 km2 is in the waters of the UK, Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. The sandbank community is highly productive and supports a diverse range of marine wildlife, from the soft coral “dead man’s fingers” to the threatened thornback ray. The bank also serves as a hot spot and major feeding ground for seabirds, seals and small cetaceans such as harbour porpoises.
“We are disappointed with the recent political drawback that continues to put the Dogger Bank ecosystem at risk and does not comply with the EU Habitats Directive,” said Dr Samantha Burgess, Head of WWF’s European Marine Programme.“The governmental U-turn on protecting this unique ecosystem and its high biological diversity puts into question the Member States’ commitments to meet the EU target of effectively protecting 10% of Europe’s seas by 2020. With currently only 6% of EU seas designated, we are far from meeting this objective.”
Germany designated their part of the bank as marine protected area in 2007, followed by the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. These areas were subsequently included into the EU’s Natura 2000 network, leading to an obligation by these countries to restore the “favourable conservation status” of the sandbank and its biodiversity.
Since negotiations between Member States and stakeholders on reducing the fishing footprint on the Dogger Bank began in 2011, the level of ambition for protecting this area has decreased dramatically from 50% to 5%.
Member States will now have to jointly draft fisheries management recommendations to be presented to the European Commission. WWF calls on the Member States concerned and the European Commission to ensure that the Dogger Bank is managed with a comprehensive ecosystem based approach in line with the Common Fisheries Policy. 
“We need effectively managed and ecologically coherent marine protected areas instead of ‘paper parks’. Measures of effective protection must be fully implemented in our marine Natura 2000 sites to help restore the marine environment and achieve Good Environmental Status,“ said Samantha Burgess.

Note for editors:

2007 – Dogger Bank designated to be included in Natura 2000 network (Germany)
2010 – Dogger Bank designated to be included in Natura 2000 network (Netherlands)
2011 – Start of international stakeholder process to discuss fisheries management plan. Proposal for 50% protection and closure to any mobile bottom gear
2011 to 2016 - the Netherlands, Denmark and UK including their fishing sector put political pressure to reduce the closure areas to 33.8% for trawls and dredges, and exemptions for the use of Danish seines in the UK and Dutch sector of the bank
2013 – Dogger Bank designated to be included in Natura 2000 network (United Kingdom)
2016 – Final agreement by Member States will ban dredges and trawls in one third of the area but only recommends a full protection of 5% of the Dogger Bank from all mobile bottom gear.
2020 – EU seas to achieve Good Environmental Status according to Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) commitments; international Aichi Target & EU Biodiversity Strategy commit to have 10% of EU seas protected
The main threat to the Dogger Bank is mobile fishing gear towed over the seafloor, from bottom trawl and dredges to Danish seines, so called “flyshoot” fishing, a fishing technique that has high bycatch of threatened sharks and rays, coral and other seafloor species.
Dead Man's Fingers (coral alcyonium)
© Wolf Wichmann Enlarge
Proposed plans for the Doggerbank
© WWF Enlarge