The EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 has left some questions as to the standing of fisheries in the EU

“Fishers have been made responsible for everything” says Pierre Karleskind, Chair of the PECH Committee told last Thursdays meeting with Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius

The French MEP was talking at last Thursday’s PECH Committee meeting where the topic up for discussion was the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030; the new green deal that has been met by criticism from members of the PECH Committee and fishing organisations in Europe as it is believed the Commission has not gone far enough to give fishers the equal recognition equal with farmers and agriculture.

Marine Pollution

Pierre Karlseskind challenged the age-old misguided perspective that fishers are responsible for their own woes and the destruction of the seas and asked Commissioner Sinkevičius about farm pollution and other industrial pollutants citing that “80% of pollution in the sea comes from the land”.

In his reply Commissioner Sinkevičius said that “Pollutants respect no borders and can start on the land but end up in the sea and they all have to be addressed.”

Farmers are ‘Guardians of the Land’. Why are Fishers not ‘Guardians of the Sea’.

The new Biodiversity Strategy has called farmers “guardians of our land, farmers play a vital role in preserving biodiversity(Section 2.2.5)” EU biodiversity strategy 2020

As Irish Green MEP, Grace O’Sullivan pointed out to the Commissioner, there was the opportunity for the Commission to call fishers “guardians of the sea” and especially small scale fishers who’s impact is lower than large scale fisheries.

Commissioner Sinkevičius replied by saying that earlier in his speech he referred to fishermen and fisherwomen as being “Guardians of the Sea.”

The Common Fisheries Policy’s role in the Biodiversity Strategy

Commissioner Sinkevičius continued by saying that he believed the objectives of the Biodiversity Strategy could be achieved through the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). 

He said “I think the CFP contains a number of tools which are very suitable to achieve the goals of the biodiversity strategy, by full implementation of the MSY (Minimum Sustainable Yield) and the Landing Obligation. It would be premature to consider changes whilst we are still working on implementation and the CFP will definitely benefit the marine ecosystem.”

Highly Protected Marine Areas

Another issue that was raised at the meeting was the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). 

The Commission wants 30% of EU Waters to be devoted to MPAs with 10% being strictly High Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).

HPMAs would mean sea areas where no fishing could take place with either bottom-contact or static fishing gear.

The Biodiversity document says that “Enlarging protected areas is also an economic imperative. Studies on marine systems estimate that every euro invested in marine protected areas would generate a return of at least €3. 

Similarly, the Nature Fitness Check showed that the benefits of Natura 2000 are valued at between €200-300 billion per year. The investment needs of the network are expected to support as many as 500,000 additional jobs. 

For the good of our environment and our economy, and to support the EU’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, we need to protect more nature. 

EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030In this spirit, at least 30% of the land and 30% of the sea should be protected in the EU. This is a minimum of an extra 4% for land and 19% for sea areas as compared to today. The target is fully in line with what is being proposed as part of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. 

Within this, there should be specific focus on areas of very high biodiversity value or potential. These are the most vulnerable to climate change and should be granted special care in the form of strict protection. Today, only 3% of land and less than 1% of marine areas are strictly protected in the EU. We need to do better to protect these areas. 

In this spirit, at least one third of protected areas – representing 10% of EU land and 10% of EU sea – should be strictly protected.” 

On the issue of MPAs, PECH Chair, Karleskind said that the Biodiversity Strategy had “No cross-cutting views for EU fisheries” and MPAs, expressing concern that there was not enough structure within the document.

Trawling and Dredging – Your Days are Numbered

The days of bottom-trawling, beam-trawling, dredging, along with other bottom-contact mobile fishing-gear could be numbered as the Commission seeks the EU fleet to move towards environmentally friendly fishing methods which could range from static gillnets and longlines to fish traps.

The Commission wants these goals achieved by 2030 which gives traditional fishing methods less than biodiversity strategy 2030

2.2.6. Restoring the good environmental status of marine ecosystems 

Restored and properly protected marine ecosystems bring substantial health, social and economic benefits to coastal communities and the EU as a whole. 

The need for stronger action is all the more acute as marine and coastal ecosystem biodiversity loss is severely exacerbated by global warming.

Achieving good environmental status of marine ecosystems, including through strictly protected areas, must involve the restoration of carbon-rich ecosystems as well as important fish spawning and nursery areas. Some of today’s sea uses endanger food security, fishers’ livelihoods, and the fishery and seafood sectors. 

Marine resources must be harvested sustainably and there must be zero-tolerance for illegal practices. In this regard, the full implementation of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Birds and Habitats Directives is essential. 

The application of an ecosystem-based management approach under EU legislation will reduce the adverse impacts of fishing, extraction and other human activities, especially on sensitive species and seabed habitats. To support this, national maritime spatial plans, which Member States have to deliver in 2021, should aim at covering all maritime sectors and activities, as well as area-based conservation-management measures. 

The Commission will also propose a new action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems by 2021. 

Where necessary, measures will be introduced to limit the use of fishing gear most harmful to biodiversity, including on the seabed. It will also look at how to reconcile the use of bottom-contacting fishing gear with biodiversity goals, given it is now the most damaging activity to the seabed. This must be done in a fair and just way for all. 

The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund should also support the transition to more selective and less damaging fishing techniques. 

Healthy fish stocks are key to the long-term prosperity of fishermen and the health of our oceans and biodiversity. This makes it all the more important to maintain or reduce fishing mortality at or under Maximum Sustainable Yield levels. 

This will help achieve a healthy population age and size distribution for fish stocks. The by-catch of species threatened with extinction must also be eliminated or reduced to a level that allows full recovery. This should also be the case for those in bad conservation status or not in good environmental status. 

Furthermore, the by-catch of other species must be eliminated or, where this is not possible, minimised so as not to threaten their conservation status. 

To support this, data collection on by-catch for all sensitive species needs to be stepped up. 

In addition, fisheries-management measures must be established in all marine protected areas according to clearly defined conservation objectives and on the basis of the best available scientific advice.”

Benyon Review in UK 

Of course, none of these changes the Commission will implement in the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 will affect the British fleet but last Monday’s Benyon Review has recommended that the UK also set-up HPMAs within MPAs that already exist. eu biodiversity strategy 2030

Key recommendations from the Benyon Review include:

  • the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) within the existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to allow for the full protection and recovery of marine ecosystems
  • a “whole site approach” to protect all species and habitats within the HPMA boundaries
  • potential sites should be identified on the basis of ecological principles. Once these are met, the selection of sites should seek to minimise any negative effects on stakeholders. To do this, Government should agree the identification and regulation of these sites in partnership with sea users
  • ‘blue carbon’ habitats are identified for protection during the HPMA site selection process to help combat climate change

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) called the Review a “hammer blow for fishing communities” saying “The government-sponsored Benyon Review, and it’s all-out advocacy for banning fishing in a new set of areas referred to as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), comes as a hammer blow for fishing communities having to cope with the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainties of the Brexit negotiations. This is despite Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) already comprising 40% of the total area of English waters, with a swathe of 41 sites being designated only last year.”

EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 severly questioned by PECH Committee

by editor time to read: 9 min