EU member states will have to increase the number of protected marine areas in their seas to at least 30% by 2030 and prohibit more harmful fishing practices in these areas, a leaked draft European Commission document revealed on Monday.
Currently, only 12% of EU seas are designated as Marine Protected Areas (MAPs), and less than 1% are strictly protected, the document revealed.
The plan is part of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, which aims to put the bloc’s biodiversity and nature on the way to recovery by 2030.
The document pointed out that there are a number of species critically endangered due to current fishing practices and will therefore need special protection in order to not fall into extinction.
In particular, the Commission stresses that mobile bottom fishing, especially bottom trawling, is damaging to both marine life and their habitats.
Bottom trawling consists of dragging a fishing net along the sea floor, which results in a non-selective type of fishing and leads to a high amount of waste and destruction of marine habitats.
It can also impact ocean and sea sediments, which are increasingly being recognised as important carbon sinks, an essential tool in tackling climate change.
The power of “blue carbon” as a carbon sink has not been researched as much as on-land carbon sinks but is becoming increasingly important, the text said.
Bottom trawling reduces the capacity of marine ecosystems to store carbon and also heavily impacts seabed biodiversity.
The Commission’s action plan suggests timelines and detailed steps should be ready by July 2023 to ensure mobile bottom fishing is prohibited in at least 20% of each member states’ marine waters by 2030.
It also proposed that by 2030 bottom trawling should be not be allowed in all MAPs by 2030 at the latest, but could be allowed in other parts of the sea.
Member states should submit “pledges” for the designation of new MAPs so as to legally protect 30% of EU seas by 2030, and this should be done this year, although the exact month was not clarified.
The document said that funding should be available to support fishing communities in transition, and a larger share of EU funding should be allocated to the sector to innovate and adapt.
The European Court of Auditors had already pointed out there is insufficient funding for marine protection and fishing communities.
By July 2023, the Commission wants to have a roadmap that outlines the measures necessary to implement the action plan including timelines.
It also wants establish a new joint fisheries and environment expert group to support the Commission and member states in putting their plans into auction, with the aim to have the group’s first meeting in September.
By Rebecca Gualandi – firstname.lastname@example.org