EU Parliament vote results are mixed, but provide critical first steps in the right direction

This week Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted on destructive fishing practices within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and beyond. The vote was brought about by the Own-Initiative Report (1) of Portuguese MEP Mrs. Isabel Carvalhais, ‘Toward a sustainable blue economy in the EU’ (2).

While the report’s original call for “an EU ban on the use of bottom-trawling in all marine protected areas” (3) was diluted to an EU prohibition of “detrimental techniques in its strictly protected marine areas”(4)there was some positive language in relation to sustainable fisheries and MPAs that included:

  • Reducing the impact of bottom-trawling
  • Support for small scale fisheries
  • Mapping carbon-rich marine environments
  • Ban on extractive industrial activities in MPAs
  • Fish welfare considerations

As the vote was conducted through an initiative report, it is not legally binding but is a strong political signal for tackling the EU’s poorly protected MPAs, along with issues surrounding fisheries and marine biodiversity.

This signal from MEPs is timely, as the European Commission is due to publish its ‘Action Plan to Conserve Fisheries Resources and Protect Marine Ecosystems’ during the summer, followed by the EU Nature Restoration law.

Although the spatial area referenced by the report and motion was limited to ‘strictly protected marine areas, the amended text crucially broadens the scope of detrimental activity beyond bottom-trawling and incorporates all environmentally-damaging extractive activities, including deep-sea mining and drilling for fossil fuels.

This is critical to ensure that our marine environment, at least within strictly protected MPAs, is protected from not just one activity or industry, but from all harmful activities. No-take zones are the most effective form of MPA in protecting and restoring biodiversity (5), and this measure shows that for the first time the European Parliament supports making ‘strictly protected’ MPAs exactly that.

While the majority of MPAs are not included in this prohibition of detrimental activity, and this at least for now, does little to address the ‘paper parks’ (6) status (7) of the vast majority of EU MPAs, another crucial amendment in this week’s vote provides a step in the right direction regarding damaging activities outside of MPAs.

MEPs called on the EU to “urgently tackle the detrimental impacts” (8) of destructive and discriminatory practices including bottom-trawling, beyond MPAs, signalling again the political support for improving protections from certain activities across wider European seas.

Considering a 2018 study found that trawling activity is on average 1.4 times higher in EU MPAs than in non-protected areas (9), shining a light on the detrimental impacts of trawling is essential to realising sustainable fisheries management in EU waters, and to restoring marine biodiversity and conserving seabed sediment carbon stores.

To this end, MEPs also voted to map carbon-rich marine habitats in the EU, “to serve as a basis for designating such areas as strictly protected marine protected areas”(10). This amendment included reference to member states’ obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by calling for the protection and restoration of marine carbon sinks, as well as obligations under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to protect and restore seabed ecosystems.

These references are significant in terms of highlighting the role of our marine environment in tackling the twin climate and biodiversity emergencies. If we are to meet our national and international environmental and climate obligations, healthy and resilient seas must be a core focus. Even though the Paris Agreement calls on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from all industrial activities to be included in national GHG inventories, emissions from bottom-trawling are generally not included, which further distorts our already-poor climate action track record. This amendment is another important step toward meaningful climate action that will also benefit biodiversity in these areas.

The reaction to this week’s vote has certainly been mixed, and with good reason. However, given the dire state of the management of MPAs and fisheries in EU waters currently, the progress made this week provides a fundamental foundation for effective MPAs, and for ensuring sustainable fish stocks and ongoing carbon stores into the future.

 

References:

  1. An Own-initiative (INI) report is one of the working tools and political instruments of the European Parliament and it offers MEPs the opportunity to explore a diverse range of topics of interest. One of the aims of INI reports is to shape the early phase of the legislative cycle and shape the agenda of the European Union. The report is drawn up on issues that fall within the scope of a European Parliament Committee competence, and on which it has not been requested to give an opinion or has not been consulted.
  2.  Own-initiative report 2021/2188(INI) by the Portuguese Socialist MEP Isabel Carvalhais: “Toward a sustainable blue economy in the EU: the role of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors“. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/PECH-PR-697834_EN.pdf
  3. Report Isabel Carvalhais ‘A sustainable blue economy in the EU: the role of fisheries and aquaculture’ (2021/2188(INI)). A9-0089/2022. Amendment 116 – Motion for a resolution Paragraph 116.
  4. Report Isabel Carvalhais ‘A sustainable blue economy in the EU: the role of fisheries and aquaculture’ (2021/2188(INI)). A9-0089/2022. Amendment 116 – Motion for a resolution Paragraph 116 (Amendment)
  5. Sala, E. & Giakoumi, S. (2018) ‘No-take marine reserves are the most effective protected areas in the ocean’. https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsx059
  6. Paper parks are those areas which have been designated as MPAs, but despite this designation, remain poorly protected and are not effectively manage, and therefore provide little or no real protection to species and habitats.
  7. Perry, A.L., Blanco, J., Fournier, N., Garcia, S. & Marín, P. 2020. Unmanaged = Unprotected:Europe’s marine paper parks. Oceana, Brussels. https://europe.oceana.org/en/publications/reports/unmanaged-unprotected-europes-marine-paper-parks
  8. Report Isabel Carvalhais ‘A sustainable blue economy in the EU: the role of fisheries and aquaculture’ (2021/2188(INI)). A9-0089/2022. Amendment 115a – Motion for a resolution Paragraph 115a (new).
  9. Dureuil, M., Boerder, K., Burnett, K.A., Froese, R., & Worm, B. (2018) ‘Elevated trawling inside protected areas undermines conservation outcomes in a global fishing hot spot’. Science, 362(6421), 1403-1407. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aau0561
  10. Report Isabel Carvalhais ‘A sustainable blue economy in the EU: the role of fisheries and aquaculture’ (2021/2188(INI)). A9-0089/2022. Amendment 116a – Motion for a resolution Paragraph 116a (new).

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