NGOs call on fisheries ministers to take action to end illegal bottom trawling in Mediterranean

Ahead of MedFish4Ever conference NGOs have called on Mediterranean governments to end illegal bottom trawling

As fisheries ministers from across Europe gather in Malta today for the MedFish4Ever conference, NGOs have called on them to end the illegal bottom trawling that is driving destruction of protected areas in the Mediterranean.

NGOs want the strengthening of compliance and enforcement ahead of November’s General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) annual session in Croatia.

Several member organisations of the Med Sea Alliance, a coalition of non-government organisations working to improve the health and productivity of the Mediterranean Sea, said that “taking decisive action to end bottom trawling in the Mediterranean Sea in areas where it is already banned, and hence considered illegal, should be a top priority for GFCM members, who are together responsible for promoting sustainable fisheries and protecting marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean”.

“It is vital that fisheries ministers recognise that not only is illegal bottom trawling taking place in the Mediterranean, but this destructive practice is putting ecosystems and livelihoods at risk, and that many protection measures currently exist only ‘on paper’,” they said.

“Today, 73% of assessed Mediterranean fish stocks are fished outside biologically sustainable limits, with fishing pressure on average twice the level considered sustainable. Across the Mediterranean, governments must take urgent steps to end illegal bottom trawling by strengthening transparency, compliance, and the enforcement of fisheries management measures”.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other spatial fisheries closures are powerful tools for fish stock recovery and protecting sensitive habitats, they said. “While regulations prohibit trawling in some designated areas or periods, evidence demonstrates (see section on Med Sea Alliance Atlas below) that bottom trawling is occurring in areas where it is prohibited.”

Bottom Trawling

Bottom trawling is one of the most unselective and destructive forms of fishing, driving significant depletion of fish stocks, capturing high levels of bycatch, causing long-term damage to marine habitats, disturbing significant quantities of carbon stored in seabed sediments, contributing to coastal erosion, and threatening the livelihoods of small-scale fishers who rely on sustainable fish stocks for their income and community well-being.

Bottom trawling is the most widespread source of human-induced physical disturbance to the ecological integrity of global seabeds. Trawling can adversely affect habitat complexity, which in turn negatively impacts the biomass, diversity and abundance of marine species. The extent of habitat damage and the speed of recovery can vary significantly, ranging from a few days to decades, depending upon factors such as the habitat type.