A similar proposal was blocked by France and Italy at the European Union so it is hoped that the measure taken by the Spanish government will spark off a reaction in other European countries.
The new Ministerial Order, which establishes an Integral Fisheries Management Plan for the Mediterranean Sea, includes for the first time the protection of habitats of great importance in the Mediterranean against the impact of bottom trawling, purse-seining and drag nets.
Up until now, only the marine phanerogam Posidonia oceanica enjoyed this protection, but with the new ruling passed on 26 January, this protection will extend to other marine phanerogams such as Cymodocea nodosa, Zostera marina, Zostera nolti, etc.
Moreover, other sea-beds to be protected include those where coralligenous communities are found (a biological community of great importance which is home to corals, gorgonias, sea sponges, etc.) and maërl beds, or coralline algae formations.
“Since Oceana opened its office in Europe, one of its main demands has been the protection of these vulnerable habitats. We have put forward this request to the Fisheries Secretary General, the Ministers of the Environment and Fisheries, the coastal Autonomous Communities, and the European Union. We therefore welcome this decision from the government with great satisfaction”, said Xavier Pastor, Oceana’s director in Europe. “I hope this decisive step taken by the Spanish government is followed throughout the European Union, because the Mediterranean needs the support of every European country, without exception”, added the marine biologist and director of Oceana in Europe.
Maërl is the name given to define a community made up of calcareous red algae, normally comprising the species Lithothamnion corallioides and Phymatolithon calcareum, which give rise to a habitat of enormous productivity and marine importance in waters that range from barely 3-4 metres deep to more than 80 metres. The reefs they create house a multitude of species of flora and fauna, and are of tremendous importance to certain commercial species such as Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), pollack (Pollachius virens), white pollack (Pollachius pollachius) and plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), not forgetting a host of molluscs including the warty venus (Venus verrucosa), the razor clam (Ensis spp.) and the king scallop (Pecten maximus), and crustaceans such as the edible crab (Cancer pagurus) and shrimp (Palaemon serratus).
Coralligenous communities are characterised not only by the predominance of animal species with a calcareous structure, such as gorgonias, corals and false corals, as well as erect bryozoans and arborescent sponges, but are also places where a large number of algae can be found. They live on hard substrates such as rocky bottoms, underwater caves, canyons and escarpments, and form one of the most diverse and spectacular ecosystems in the Mediterranean.
During the course of this year, Oceana expects to be working on studies of coralligenous sea-beds and marine phanerogams in Spain and Italy in order to provide new data to be used in the effective protection of these ecosystems.
Another of Oceana’s demands which appears in the recently-approved ruling is the ban on “rockhopper” gear used by trawlers. This contraption, which consists of a device with huge cylinders, wheels or rollers at the front of the net, causes severe damage to reefs and rocky sea floors.
“We are confident that this step will be the start of a new way of managing fisheries and that these advances can be applied in other areas, such as the Cantabrian Sea and the Atlantic Ocean”, added Xavier Pastor.