The European Union plans to ban bottom-trawling in marine protected areas by 2030 but the fishing industry is resisting the measures
EU countries will be required to reduce the harmful impacts of fishing on sensitive species and their habitats, under a draft EU biodiversity plan seen by Euractiv.
The “EU Action Plan to protect and restore marine ecosystems for sustainable and resilient fisheries” is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2023 by the European Commission.
One of its flagship measures is to halt the destructive impacts of bottom trawling, a method of fishing that involves dragging heavy weighted nets across the sea floor in an effort to catch fish.
This fishing method stirs up greenhouse gases from the seabed, much of which escapes into the water and up into the atmosphere where it contributes to cliamte change.
A 2021 study found that six European Union countries were among the ten global nations with the largest bottom-trawling emissions inside their exclusive economic zone.
Under the draft plan, bottom trawling would be banned in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030 but would still be allowed outside of those.
Deep sea trawling at depths greater than 800 meters was already banned across the EU in 2016, albeit with some exceptions.
The action plan was first mentioned in the Commission’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 as a way to protect nature and reverse biodiversity loss.
It was initially expected in 2021 but was delayed several times after a public consultation revealed strong opposition from the fishing industry.
Europêche, an industry group, said in was “appalled” by the Commission’s assertion that bottom contacting fishing gear was the most damaging activity to the seabed.
The commission’s strategy said: “By its very nature, mobile bottom fishing is among the least selective fishing methods and produces disproportionate amounts of unwanted cash and discards”.
But the industry association said in a response to a public consultation: “Dragging a fishing net through the water column or along the seafloor can be unsustainable if done so irresponsibly. But with proper management and careful placement, trawling can be very sustainable”.
Still, the draft plan warns that the European fisheries sector faces “existential threats” posed by climate change and biodiversity loss. It underlines that only a healthy marine environment will guarantee a prosperous future for fisheries communities.
“Protecting and restoring Europe’s seas and oceans has become more essential than ever to counter the harmful impacts of the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution on our economies and societies, including the fishing sector and coastal communities,” the document reads.
As of today, only 12% of EU seas are designated as protected areas, and less than 1% are strictly protected, the document underlines.
This is way below the 30% protected, and 10% strictly protected, that the EU aims to achieve by 2030 as part of its biodiversity strategy for 2030.
The intention is also to address the shortcomings identified in the 2020 European Court of Auditors’ special report on the marine environment.
Many marine species and habitats are in poor state, the report underlined, concluding that European seas could not be considered as “healthy or clean” and that a high proportion of marine species and habitats assessments show “an unfavourable conservation status”, with fishing exerting the main pressure on marine ecosystems.
To address these issues, the action plan intends to act on four fronts:
- Improving fishing selectivity and reducing harmful impacts on sensitive species and their habitats;
- Minimising the impact of fishing – including bottom trawling – on sensitive habitats such as the seabed;
- Ensuring a fair and just transition in the fishing sector; and