Brussels proposal to ban trawling in marine protected areas, reversed by MEPs

WWF: European Parliament reverses course on ambitions for marine conservation

The European Parliament’s major parties have turned on a Commission proposal that would have banned mobile bottom fisheries in marine protected areas (MPAs), a move that disappointed conservation NGOs.

The WWF said that instead of pushing for sustainable fisheries and the recovery of EU seas, MEPs had watered down plans for a transition to low-impact and fair fisheries.

Brussels originally wanted to restore marine ecosystems by addressing destructive fishing gear used to trawl for fish. Bottom trawling is a fishing method that involves dragging heavy nets along the seafloor to catch fish and other marine organisms, which scientists insist has a range of negative impacts on biodiversity and climate that make it incompatible with MPAs.

In a morning devoted to debating the EU’s fisheries strategy, in particular the proposals conveyed in the Commission’s fisheries package, MEPs, with 402 votes in favour to 95, said the EC should not force member states in banning the use of gear that are dragged along the seafloor within protected areas.

They said phasing out mobile bottom fishing in MPAs by 2030 was oversimplified. Only the Green group voted against.

Accounting for 25% of catches, a ban of mobile bottom fishing would have economic impact in many regions from the coast, hindering shellfish farming, the MEPs said. They also anticipate that closing zones to this practice can lead to conflicts and put pressure in other fishing areas.

But Dr Antonia Leroy, WWF head of ocean policy, said fishers and coastal communities were being hung out to dry. “Addressing decades of destructive fishing practices in parallel to the climate and nature crises requires cross-cutting and forward-thinking policymaking. It’s time for the EU to start working on an overarching ocean deal to set clear, joint objectives and protect the ocean from short-term politics. And there is no better time for this than the forthcoming elections.”

The WWF said European marine ecosystems are on the brink, too degraded to effectively fulfil their role as a source of oxygen, food, livelihoods and wellbeing. “The next five years will be decisive in reversing this decline. Regrettably, the reports adopted today are insufficient to meet this challenge,” said Leroy.


Other fisheries reports

MEPs also voted on reforming the common fisheries policy (CFP) with 371 votes in favour,  and for better traceability and a proper labelling system in a report on Common Market rules for acquaculture, with 415 votes in favour.

Forty years since the creation of the CFP and 10 after its last revision, the European Commission presented a “Pact for Fisheries and Oceans”.

But the WWF criticised MEPs’ vision on the CFP. “This report suggests that the best way to address the EU’s failure to achieve the CFP objectives – such as ending overfishing or minimising the practice of discarding unwanted catches – is to get rid of them altogether.

“The most striking example is, at a time when overfishing persists across the EU, the Parliament is calling for reconsideration of the ‘maximum sustainable yield’ target – the line in the sand for sustainable catches, beyond which a stock is considered overfished –  which should have been achieved for all EU stocks by 2020 under both the CFP and the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” Leroy said.

“At the heart of these blatant inconsistencies is persisting dissonance between EU marine policies and their lack of coherent implementation. Objectives for sustainable fisheries are not mutually exclusive from environmental and social ones, but rather two sides of the same coin. Players behind the most destructive fishing activities must no longer benefit from lack of alignment in EU policymaking.”

MEPs also called on the EU to establish an overarching legal framework for all blue policies to finally address the incoherence between nature, fisheries and climate laws.  WWF is calling for this to be an ambitious and comprehensive Ocean Deal.

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