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Conservation success: Fishing for wild sturgeon and selling wild sturgeon products banned indefinitely in Romania

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Hot on the heels of the release of WWF’s sturgeon market survey last week that detailed the systemic poaching of critically endangered sturgeon along the Lower Danube, there is some fantastic conservation news from Romania.  Romania has taken a firm decision to indefinitely extend its 5-year temporary ban on fishing and selling of all 6 wild sturgeon species and wild sturgeon products. The decision was supported by scientific evidence gathered during WWF’s Life for Danube Sturgeon Project. The decision follows a long campaign by WWF and many other conservation organisations. Romania has now joined other countries in the region where sturgeon fishing has been permanently banned. Bulgaria remains the last country in the Black Sea Basin without a permanent ban in place, but it extended its temporary ban on sturgeon fishing in its Danube and Black Sea territory in January for another five years.

"Sturgeons are long-lived species and take decades to recover from their critical status. A fishing ban without the previous 5-year limitation is the right step forward" - Beate Striebel, WWFs Sturgeon Initiative Lead. 

According to the sturgeon market survey conducted by WWF in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine in 2016-2020, poaching and the illegal market for caviar and wild sturgeon meat are among the most serious threats to sturgeon survival in the Lower Danube basin. During the survey, meat and caviar samples were gathered from retailers, restaurants, markets, intermediaries, aquaculture facilities, from fishermen and from online offers. Although fishing and selling wild sturgeon (and products) are prohibited in all these countries, the market survey showed that poaching and illegal selling and buying of wild sturgeon and sturgeon products is widespread in the region. 

A very important condition of the bans in Bulgaria and Romania is the additional

requirement for fishermen to report sturgeon bycatch and release it immediately in the respective river basin, regardless of their state of health. Bycatch remains a large threat for sturgeon species in the Danube and the Black Sea but very little is known about the numbers of fish that are accidentally caught. This change is significant because it will enable more efficient enforcement and help us better understand the volume and circumstances of bycatch. The ban also completely prohibits the use of any fishing equipment specifically used for catching sturgeon, such as ohanas and karmaks

“Extending the ban indefinitely is an important step in sturgeon conservation. But it is not enough. An integrated and fair approach means working with fishing communities from communication, to involvement in conservation activities and alternative solutions to lost income, better law enforcement, proper research and monitoring, maintaining migration routes and last but not least, awareness of sturgeon products consumers in terms of their legality,” said Save Danube Sturgeons Life Natura Project WWF-Romania Coordinator Cristina Munteanu.

WWF Central and Eastern Europe (WWF-CEE) is currently involved in two sturgeon conservation projects tackling sturgeon poaching In Romania. The MEASURES

project aims to create ecological corridors by identifying key habitats and initiating protection measures along the Danube and its main tributaries. MEASURES has also released more than 9,000 baby sturgeon into the Danube.  Sturgeon are further helped through the SWIPE (Successful Wildlife Crime Prosecution in Europe) project, that aims to discourage and ultimately reduce wildlife crime by improving compliance with EU environmental law and increasing the number of successfully prosecuted offences.

WWF appreciates the increasingly strong commitment made by Romania and Bulgaria in taking crucial steps for the survival of sturgeons in the Green Heart of Europe.

European Commission

Sustainable fisheries: Commission takes stock of progress in the EU and launches consultation on fishing opportunities for 2022

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The Commission has adopted the Communication 'Towards more sustainable fishing in the EU: state of play and orientations for 2022'. In line with the European Green Deal objectives, EU fisheries are moving towards more sustainable, supporting the transition towards a healthy and environmentally friendly EU food system and underpinning sustainable sources of revenue for EU fishers, the communication shows. The sector's socio-economic performance remains good, despite the coronavirus crisis, also due to the swift support of the Commission.

The Communication calls for further efforts to protect marine resources, both through maintaining high levels of ambition within the EU and by striving to achieve the same high standard in the work with non-EU countries. Member states, Advisory Councils, the fishing industry, non-governmental organisations and interested citizens are invited to take part until 31 August in a public consultation and express their views on the fishing opportunities for 2022.

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said:  “EU fisheries remain on course towards a still more sustainable use of the sea. And while the pandemic hit our fishing communities hard, it was confirmed that environmental sustainability is the key to economic resilience. The situation in some sea basins requires our particular attention, but also across all our sea basins more must be done to deliver the blue in the Green Deal. I count on everybody to play their full part.”

The 2021 Communication shows that in the North East Atlantic especially, sustainability was almost reached for the stocks managed under the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) - the maximum amount of fish that fishers can take out of the sea without compromising the regeneration and future productivity of the stock.

Healthy stocks further contributed to the sector's socio-economic performance, which thus stayed profitable despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fishing activities were hit hard by the sanitary crisis and landed value of fish is estimated to have decreased by 17% last year compared to 2019. The rapid support that the Commission provided to the sector, in particular through making €136 million of funds available under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, has helped in addressing the effects of the pandemic swiftly.

However, to ensure healthy fish stocks for future generations, efforts need to be pursued. In the Atlantic and Baltic Sea, the Commission will propose for next year to further maintain or reduce fishing mortality in line with maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for MSY-assessed stocks and to fully implement management plans that set MSY ranges of mortality. In the Mediterranean and Black Seas, although there has been a slight improvement, exploitation rates are still two times higher than sustainable levels. Strong efforts will therefore be aimed at further implementing the Western Mediterranean multiannual plan and measures adopted by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. Further improvements in the Adriatic will feature prominently in the 2022 fishing opportunities.

Member States also need to step up the enforcement and control of compliance with the landing obligation, in particular by using suitable modern control tools, such as remote electronic monitoring systems, which are the most effective and cost-efficient means to control the landing obligation at sea. The Commission will continue working with the European Parliament and Council to reach an agreement on the revised fisheries control system, which can facilitate the use of these tools. Besides, fishers are encouraged to further adopt the use of more innovative and selective gears. The European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) can help finance such investments.

In its relations with third countries, the Commission will pursue high levels of alignment on fishing opportunities and related measures with high sustainability standards. This will be key to ensuring sustainable exploitation of resources and to achieving a level playing field for the EU industry given the strong interlinkages between fleets in the waters concerned. As regards stocks shared with the UK, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) provides a strong basis for managing shared fish stocks sustainably, both in annual consultations on fishing opportunities and through the Specialised Committee on Fisheries.

Background

Every year, the Commission publishes a Communication outlining progress on the situation of fish stocks and launching a wide public consultation on the fixing of annual fishing opportunities for the following year. This Communication assesses the progress made towards sustainable fishing in the EU and reviews the balance between fishing capacity and fishing opportunities, the sector's socio-economic performance and the implementation of the landing obligation. It also sets out the rationale for the proposal on fishing opportunities for the following year.

Next steps

After the consultation, the Commission will in the autumn table its proposals for Fishing Opportunities Regulations for 2022 in the Atlantic, the North and Baltic Seas, as well as the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The proposals take into account the multi-annual plans and are based on scientific advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and other independent bodies, as well as the economic analysis provided by the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF).

The proposals will also incorporate adjustments resulting from the implementation of the landing obligation. Finally, the Council of Fisheries Ministers of the European Union will discuss the Commission's proposals and establish the allocation of fishing opportunities.

More information

Communication 'Towards more sustainable fishing in the EU: state of play and orientations for 2022'

Questions and Answers

Common fisheries policy (CFP)

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Brexit

EU and UK agreement on 2021 fishing limits: A promising sign of co-operation, but still falling short on the science says Oceana

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The EU and the UK have at last reached their first annual agreement concerning their shared fish populations, setting quotas for over 75 commercial fish stocks and adopting provisions for the exploitation of non-quota stocks in 2021. Oceana welcomes the willingness of both parties to co-operate but considers that some of the adopted measures fall short of ensuring the sustainable exploitation of common fish stocks.

“After lengthy and difficult negotiations, this first post-Brexit fisheries agreement is an important milestone, as only through cooperation can the EU and the UK address the management of their shared fish stocks” said Oceana Senior Director for Advocacy in Europe Vera Coelho. “But both parties are still repeating management errors of the past, such as setting some catch limits above scientific advice. If both parties want to lead on sustainable fisheries management internationally and help counter the climate and biodiversity emergencies, they must end overfishing immediately.”

A recent fisheries audit by Oceana shows that only around 43% of fish stocks shared among the UK and the EU are known to be exploited at sustainable levels, whereas the rest of the stocks are either overfished or their exploitation status is unknown. Yet there are still examples in this new fisheries agreement where scientific advice is clearly not being followed, as is the case with cod in the West of Scotland, herring in the West of Ireland or whiting in the Irish Sea, perpetuating overfishing of these stocks.

The fisheries agreement for 2021, which is unprecedented in terms of the scope of the number of fish stocks covered, has been adopted under the principles and conditions established in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). The agreed management measures will replace the current provisional ones set by the EU and UK individually to ensure continuation of the fishing activity until the consultations are concluded and implemented in the respective national or EU law.

Background 

The politically motivated setting of catch limits higher than recommended by scientists brings short-term financial gains to a few and devastating impacts to the rest. Overfishing is destructive for the marine environment, depletes fish populations and weakens their resilience to climate change. It also undermines the long-term socio-economic sustainability of the fishing industry and coastal communities on both sides of the Channel. Indeed, Oceana’s UK Fisheries Audit showed that when catch limits are set at or below recommended sustainable levels, fish stocks rebound, demonstrating the positive impact to be gained by following scientific advice.

Oceana warns UK and EU must ‘walk the talk’ if new Brexit deal is to protect fish stocks

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Illegal fishing

Oceana urges bold action to ban bottom-trawling in Europe’s ‘protected’ areas

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Oceana is calling on MEPs to support a ban on bottom trawling, the most harmful and unselective fishing gear, in all EU marine protected areas (MPAs). The European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) will vote on its opinion on the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy on 27-28 May.

Marine Protection at Oceana in Europe Campaign Director Nicolas Fournier said: “Banning bottom-trawling inside protected areas is a no-brainer, especially as new data shows that in addition to being highly destructive, bottom-trawling also releases enormous amounts of carbon stored in the seabed. We urgently need actual protection for our ‘protected’ areas, and a transition to low-impact, low-carbon fisheries in Europe.”

Bottom-trawling is inherently incompatible with the concept of protected areas and the European Parliament must call on the European Commission and EU member states to prohibit it in order to deliver their ambitious ocean protection targets.

The EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy is critical for the EU to tackle the continuous biodiversity loss in European seas1, to deliver the ambition of the European Green Deal and to become a global champion regarding ocean protection. The Parliament has a unique opportunity to voice its opposition towards marine paper-parks to the European Commission, who is currently preparing its EU Action Plan on the ocean (due after the summer) and the upcoming Restoration Law (due at the end of the year).

Together with other environmental NGOs, Oceana launched on 20 May a petition calling on Commissioners Sinkevičius and Timmermans to propose an ambitious Action Plan that, as a first step, bans destructive fishing in all EU marine protected areas. The petition has been signed by over 100,000 people within days of its launch. 

Background

The EU seabed is the most bottom-trawled in the world - trawled more than five times the global average2. An area one third of Europe’s continent is impacted by trawling in European waters every year3. Bottom-towed gear is widely used in the EU, including inside MPAs, with some studies4 indicating a higher intensity of trawling inside than outside designated areas. Indeed, a recent Oceana study showed that destructive fishing, including bottom trawling, affects 86% of the area designated under Natura 2000 to protect marine habitats. 

To add to this, a separate study in Nature5 showed that each year bottom trawling releases enormous amounts of carbon (equivalent to that generated by the aviation industry) from the seabed back into the water column. Reducing the trawling footprint would safeguard the seabed’s carbon stores while increasing the ocean’s resilience to climate change.

Nets as tall as a three-story building and as wide as a football field scoop up the seabed everyday destroying everything in their path

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Sign the petition

Watch our video on bottom-trawling in European MPAs

NGO feedback on the Roadmap of the EU Action Plan 'NGO Shadow Action Plan: Realising the ambition of the EU Biodiversity Strategy in the ocean'

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