Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

MPAs cover almost a quarter of UK waters and have a diverse range of conservation goals, including protecting fish, seabirds and habitats.

What are MPAs?

MPAs are geographical areas afforded greater protection than the surrounding waters. They are often designated primarily for nature conservation purposes, but can also be used as a fisheries management tool.

The primary objectives of marine nature conservation MPAs centre on the conservation and/or recovery of marine biodiversity. This may involve a focus on permanent geographic features, habitats and/or protection of particular species.

Management measures within MPAs vary. Some are highly restrictive ‘Highly Protected Marine Areas’, which are sometimes referred to as ‘No Take Zones’. In other areas multiple-uses of the marine environment are managed in relation to the area’s designated nature conservation objectives. The second approach is adopted within UK and European waters.

Dependent on the legislation, social and economic factors may also have a role in the designation and management of these MPAs.

Photo of a sunset at sea
MPAs are geographical areas afforded greater protection than the surrounding waters

Management of MPAs around the UK

Management measures for MPAs are designed to protect the nature conservation features where the MPA is designated.

In UK waters MPAs management measures are implemented by the following regulatory authorities:

  • England: IFCAs (from 0 to 6 nautical miles offshore) and Marine Management Organisation (from 6 to 200 nautical miles)
  • Scotland: Marine Scotland
  • Wales: Welsh Government
  • Northern Ireland: DAERA
  • Isle of Man: Isle of Man Government

Fishing restrictions in MPAs

In some MPAs there are restrictions on fishing in specified areas for fishery management purposes, for example to protect spawning fish. Not all MPAs have fishing restrictions.

Where fishing restrictions do exist they may apply only to:

  • Specified areas within an MPA
  • Certain sizes of vessels
  • Certain times of the year
  • Certain fishing gear types

For example, demersal fishing or scallop dredging may be prohibited in an MPA in which static gear fishing is allowed.

Our Kingfisher team provide information on gear restrictions in waters around the UK. Launched in November 2021, their free online service shows all UK fishing gear restrictions in one place. Restrictions can be viewed via an interactive map from the link below.

Screenshot showing map with details of fishing gear restriction on Kingfisher fishing restrictions website
The Kingfisher fishing gears restrictions website has maps of fishing gear restrictions in place around the UK

Guide to Marine Protected Areas

We have produced a guide with more in-depth information on MPAs in the context of conservation and fisheries management worldwide.

It includes information on:

  • Definitions of MPAs
  • Legislative and policy drivers for global and regional MPAs
  • Assessment and management of UK MPAs
  • Mapping of MPAs and management measures

You can download a copy of this guide from the link below.

This document is part of a series of guides looking at issues relating to sustainability and responsible sourcing. You can find other guides on our website from the links below:


For further information on MPAs please contact:

Bill Lart
Sustainability and Data Advisor
01472 252323
07876 035 729