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.
When I began working on marine policy twenty years ago, the atmosphere between fishermen and NGOs was hostile and confrontational.
It wasn’t just because the state of Europe’s fish stocks and the marine environment was much worse then, there was also hardly any dialogue with fishermen and the expectation was that they alone should change their ways, without outside assistance. Fishermen felt victimised. Pressured from all sides, including by the media, the fishermen responded by breaking the rules, which led to even more overfishing and a downward spiral of diminishing returns.
When we see how things have changed today – how BirdLife partners are working on deck with fishermen from the Mediterranean to the Baltic and Iceland to reduce seabird bycatch (the accidental killing of birds as they are caught during fishing) – we can see how far we have come.
1979 was a year to remember. It was when the first ever piece of EU nature legislation was adopted, the Wild Birds Directive. Then came the Habitats Directive in 1992, and together the “Nature Directives” were born, underpinning nature protection in Europe. 1979 was also the same year that the eminent fisheries biologist H.A. Cole asked…
“What is wrong with the conception of sea areas managed with particular objectives as priorities? … It has long been accepted that the use of land must be planned and its management controlled with human welfare as the dominant interest; why is it so difficult to accept this view when considering the sea?”
Last week (28 August), the European Union officially published its new Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP). This requires all EU Member States with marine and coastal waters to establish systems of MSP and produce one or more plans which effectively say how their seas should be used. Continue reading →