Dogger Bank: death by a thousand cuts?

A satellite image of Dogger Bank. Photo: NASA/Wikimedia
A satellite image of Dogger Bank. Photo: NASA/Wikimedia

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.

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How the fishing sector and environmental NGOs work together

A fishing boat on the North Sea, trailed by dozens of seabirds attracted by the fish caught. Photo: Sarahhoa/Flickr
A fishing boat on the North Sea, trailed by dozens of seabirds attracted by the fish caught. Photo: Sarahhoa/Flickr

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.

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