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European environmental organisations call for a ban on destructive fishing practices in Marine Protected Areas

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Just after the UK’s announcement to protect two areas of English waters by banning damaging fishing activities such as bottom trawling, it will be the European Parliament’s turn to show how much ambition it has to truly protect EU waters. During the first week of May in Strasbourg, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will have the opportunity to ensure that so-called EU Marine “Protected” Areas are truly protected by banning destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling.

Just when the latest IPCC report calls on policy makers to take immediate and structural action to limit global warming to 1.5°C, a coalition of NGOs is calling on MEPs to progress from words to actions.

The Initiative Report of Portuguese socialist MEP Mrs. Isabel Carvalhais “Toward a sustainable blue economy in the EU” [1] is a unique chance to ensure that "Marine Protected Areas" (MPAs) are not simply dotted lines on a map without protection. The vote of an initiative report is not legally binding, but it is a significant precursor to obtaining a ban on destructive activities in protected areas by sending a strong political signal in that direction.

As of now, the vast majority of "protected" marine areas are not protected at all. In fact, the extraction of resources or fishing with towed gears that scrape the seabed, such as bottom trawling or demersal seining, are allowed.

The European Court of Auditors signaled in 2020 that the way the EU Marine Protected Areas network had been implemented over the last 20 years failed to provide real protection for the marine environment.

Protecting the ocean from high-impact activities such as bottom trawling is an effective way to combat climate change. IPBES biodiversity experts warned that: "globally, disturbance of previously undisturbed marine sediment carbon through trawling was estimated to release the equivalent of 15 to 20% of atmospheric CO2 absorbed annually by the ocean“. [4]

The ocean is an essential ally in the fight we must lead against climate change.

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MPAs, when effectively protected, are a powerful tool for restoring marine ecosystems and preserving biodiversity. Fish biomass in marine reserves is on average 670% higher than in the surrounding unprotected waters.[5]

However, the ocean needs to be healthy to provide such essential ecosystem services. The ocean has no recovery chance if it is under the constant pressure of industrial fishing activities. The time has come for the Parliament to step up its ambition to curb decades of massive overfishing, habitat destruction and weak nature conservation policies.

The climate, marine biodiversity and humanity can’t wait.

The coalition of NGOs includes: BLOOM, Birdlife International, Environmental Justice Foundation, France Nature Environnement, Irish Wildlife Trust, MedReAct, Oceana, Ecologistas en Acción, Our Fish, Seas at Risk, The Transform Bottom Trawling Coalition.

References

[1] Own-initiative report 2021/2188(INI) by the Portuguese Socialist MEP Isabel Carvalhais: “Toward a sustainable blue economy in the EU: the role of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors ».

[2] Perry, Allison L., et al. "Extensive Use of Habitat-Damaging Fishing Gears Inside Habitat-Protecting Marine Protected Areas." Frontiers in Marine Science 9 (2022): 811926.

[3] Communication from the European Commission, 20 May 2020. “COM(2020) 380 final. EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. Bringing nature back into our lives”.

[4] https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2021-06/20210609_workshop_report_embargo_3pm_CEST_10_june_0.pdf

[5] Sala and Giakoumi (2017) No-take marine reserves are the most effective protected areas in the ocean. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsx059

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