European and national policy commitments require further integration of fisheries and environmental management. We measured fishery footprints and assessed trade-offs between landings value, habitat sensitivity, and beam trawling impacts in UK territorial waters in the southern and central North Sea where marine spatial planning is underway and a network of Marine Protected Areas has been proposed. For fleets (UK and non-UK) and years (2006–2010) considered, total trawled area included extensive ‘margins’ that always accounted for a smaller proportion of total fishing effort and value (proportions investigated were ≤10, 20, or 30%) than their proportional contribution to total habitat sensitivity and trawling impact. Interannual and fleet-related differences in the distribution and intensity of trawling activity, driven by location choice and fisheries regulations, had more influence on overall trawling impacts than the exclusion of beam trawlers from a proposed network of Marine Protected Areas. If reducing habitat impacts is adopted as an objective of fisheries or environmental management, then the direct management of fishing footprints, e.g. by defining fishing grounds that exclude existing margins, can disproportionately reduce trawling impacts per unit effort or value.