Science communication

2021.06.04

Positive for biodiversity if EU Parliament votes for limiting bottom trawling

In a new report from the ENVI Committee on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 there is support for increased protection for marine protected areas and other sensitive marine habitats, such as coastal areas. Restriction of damaging human activities such as bottom trawling is proposed. In a few days the report is set to be voted on in plenary.

Text: Marie Löf

A couple of days ago, the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) in the European Parliament released its report on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: Bringing nature back into our lives.

The report states, according to different sources that they cite, that EU actions have not led to sufficient protection of ecosystems and habitats, and that current marine protected areas (MPAs) provide only limited protection.

We agree with the problem picture that the report paints: Protection of marine habitats and biodiversity is a major challenge globally. In Europe, a high proportion of marine species and habitats show an unfavourable conservation status and the loss of marine biodiversity has not been halted, despite ambitious goals and legislation. EEA has issued warnings about the degradation of marine environments in EU and highlights the need for restoration and addressing negative human impact. 

In the marine environment, fishing is one of the key pressures, both through resource extraction and through the damage done to the seabed. European waters are some of the most intensively bottom-trawled areas in the world; there are a number of regions where more than half of the seabed is trawled each year, in extreme cases up to 99 percent of the seabed, with some hotspots trawled more than ten times per year. 

Thus, it is welcome that the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy report highlights bottom trawling as one of the pressures that needs to be addressed. It notes that bottom trawling is one of the most common types of fishing gear in the EU, and suggests several measures to protect marine biodiversity.

We agree with the report that the priority for protected areas must be environmental conservation and restoration and that no activity in these areas should undermine this goal. This entails that the Commission and the Member States should prohibit harmful human activity within MPAs, and the Commission should ensure that sensitivity of species and habitats to human pressures in all sea areas are addressed in national marine spatial plans.

Another important measure suggested in the report is to limit the use of bottom trawling in coastal areas, where necessary in order to protect coastal ecosystems. This should also be done in the Commissions upcoming action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems, to ensure the most sustainable and least damaging practices. The report also states that fishing zones should not be established where vulnerable marine ecosystems have been found to exist, and therefore, data needs to be continuously collected.

We highlight that it is important that limitations of damaging fisheries practices to protect coastal ecosystems will be considered in all coastal zones in marine areas in the EU. 

Further, the report calls on the Commission to produce a definition of super trawlers and to consider measures restricting their activities in EU waters, in particular prohibiting their activities in protected areas.

Many scientists have pointed out the lack of coordination between environmental and fisheries policy as a major obstacle for marine conservation in Europe. Thus, it is positive that the report stresses the need to achieve an integrated EU maritime policy framework that ensures consistency between marine biodiversity, climate policy and the CFP.  

The report has several points on improving the general management for MPAs, such as produce specific management plans, establishing clear conservation objectives and effective monitoring, surveillance and control measures, which is the responsibility of the Commission and the Member States. Also, new MPAs should be included in the Natura 2000 framework and promote ecological connectivity and ecological corridors.

The final report is set to be voted on in plenary in a few days. We hope that the European Parliament votes with a strong voice for marine biodiversity and protection of ecosystems, habitats and species.

Further reading:

Policy brief: Bottom trawling threatens European marine ecosystems

Report on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: Bringing nature back into our lives