Member States have an obligation to ensure that fishing activities do not adversely impact the environment, especially where marine Natura 2000 sites have been designated.
Nevertheless, establishing measures to minimise impacts on such sites has been a slow and tortuous process. Recently, we expressed our support for, what we believed at the time, a step forward in implementing fishing rules in the Dogger Bank, the North Sea’s largest sandbank in which three Member States – Germany, the Netherlands and the UK – have designated adjoining Natura 2000 areas.
Although NGOs still considered it the bare minimum, extensive stakeholder discussion initially resulted in measures that could have ensured the protection of about one-third of the whole sandbank from mobile bottom fishing gear and still allowed for fishing as a viable economic activity.
The proposal notably included a more ambitious 50% of the German Natura 2000 site to be fully protected from bottom gears.
However, a late compromise resulted in another bottom gear – seine fishing – being admitted to most of the proposed closures, bringing the total area protected down to a measly 5%. This is R.I.D.I.C.U.L.O.U.S.
Today marks World Oceans Day. The day we celebrate the beauty, the life and the amazing gift that is our oceans.
But these wonderful oceans, which do everything from mitigating climate change and regulating the earth’s temperature to providing food and other resources for marine species and humans, are under threat. So today we should think about how we can change human activities so that they have as little impact as possible on the marine environment. We need to think about oil pollution, eutrophication, plastic pollution, overfishing, mineral extraction and bycatch of several marine animals, all caused by human activities.
We’d like to focus on one component of the oceans that we see in the sky above them – seabirds. They range from the clumsy Atlantic Puffin and the Common Seagull at our ports, to the penguins who spend most of their time swimming in water and the majestic albatrosses – one of the longest living birds in the world.
The famous American writer Maya Angelou once said “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
Knowing better depends on better access to facts, to data. And when we’re talking about the marine environment, data from the fishing and aquaculture communities and their activities is the gold standard.
That is why it’s so disturbing that current EU regulations don’t foresee all of this data being collected.
For example, this means that that when a bird is accidentally caught, fishermen don’t need to report it. We can’t fix this problem if we don’t know where, when, and why seabirds are being caught and if we can’t fix the problem, seabird populations will continue to plummet.
11 March was a historic day for European seabirds. After years of dialogue, the European Commission has proposed a new legislation that will make it mandatory for all fishing vessels in the EU that incidentally catch seabirds to put in place measures to stop them from doing so.
Seabirds forage in areas of the ocean that are rich in fish, which are also targeted by commercial fishing vessels. This overlap can cause seabirds to be accidentally caught on hooks or entangled in nets meant for the fish. It is estimated that at least 200,000 seabirds are accidentally caught annually in EU waters. This includes species on the verge of extinction such as the Balearic Shearwater. However, until today the EU had not enacted any legally binding legislation for fishers to solve this problem. This proposed legislation is a game changer.
The good news: On 15 March, the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission finalised the negotiations on the multiannual plan for the management of the Baltic Sea cod, sprat and herring stocks – the so-called “Baltic Plan”. It is the first plan under the European Commission’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which aims to ensure that fishing are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.
The European Parliament managed to include measures to minimise the impacts of fishing on the marine environment, including reducing the accidental catching of seabirds, dolphins, and sea turtles, in the final agreement. These specific and important measures had not been included in the original proposal by the European Commission. The Baltic Sea is a well-known hotspot for bycatch of seabirds with about 76.000 seabirds (mainly marine diving ducks) drowning in fishing nets every year.