University research supports byelaw to protect inshore waters

Research by the University of Plymouth has informed new legislation which aims to protect 117 square miles of coastal seabed and allow for the regeneration of underwater seaweed forests.

The Nearshore Trawling Byelaw, developed by the Sussex Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority (IFCA), has been approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

It is the first fisheries byelaw to be based on an impact assessment of natural capital, and references research by the University – supported in part through the research developed for the Defra North Devon Marine Pioneer as part of the South West Partnership for Environment and Economic Prosperity (SWEEP) programme, and the evidence generated from the University’s long term Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area monitoring programme.

The new measures reflect an ecosystem approach toward fisheries management, recognising the importance of healthy marine habitats in supporting long term healthy commercial and recreational fisheries. They mean trawling is now prohibited throughout the year over large areas along the entire Sussex coast closest to the shore.

Dr Emma Sheehan, Associate Professor of Marine Ecology and lead of the Lyme Bay Project, said:

“It is fantastic to see that our research in Lyme Bay is being used to adopt the whole site approach in new sites as it will hugely benefit the wider marine ecosystem. As part of the new FISH INTEL project we are also looking forward to working with the Sussex IFCA to assess how the importance of this site to bass and pollack increases overtime.”


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Dr Emma Sheehan

Dr Emma Sheehan

The new measures allow essential habitats, such as kelp forests, to regenerate and it is hoped the protected area will enhance important fish feeding, breeding and nursery grounds, and result in improvements in biodiversity and carbon storage.

The understanding that ecosystems can renew and recover after trawling practices end is based firmly on evidence generated from the University’s ongoing research in Lyme Bay, where it has been demonstrated that such management measures enable species recovery, as well as social and economic benefits.

Furthermore, the results of the North Devon Marine Pioneer provided suggestions for assessing the condition of natural capital assets which could be adapted for use in Sussex.

These focus on the condition of habitats to produce ecosystem services and the understanding that a reduction in pressures, such as fishing, can increase the ecological and social value they provide.

The Sussex IFCA proposed an ecosystem-based management approach to support the sustainable management of marine resources, noting that the provision of ecosystem service benefits is linked to the contribution of the range of habitats present.

Dr Sian Rees, Associate Professor of Social-Ecological Systems and SWEEP Senior Impact Fellow, said:

“The natural capital approach allows us to focus a new lens on why marine ecosystems matter, not just to one sector but to society as a whole. Knowledge and decision support tools that can quantify and describe how our well-being is linked to the natural systems must now be used more widely to promote recovery of marine ecosystems.”


Read more about Dr Rees' work to advise on nationally and globally important environmental issues

Dr Sian Rees

Dr Sian Rees

The South West Partnership for Environment & Economic Prosperity (SWEEP)

SWEEP will bring together a diverse range of groups from academia, business and other sectors to look at how we enhance our natural capital, how we preserve and restore it, and maximise the economic return

Funder: NERC (2017-2022) | Co-I: Prof Martin Attrill

Learn more about the SWEEP project