EU fisheries package: a thin green veneer over business as usual
Urgent action, less political compromise needed, says Oceana
Press Release Date: February 21, 2023
Emily Fairless, Communications Officer | email: firstname.lastname@example.org | tel.: +32 478 038 490
Brussels – Reacting to today’s release by the European Commission of its package of communications to protect fisheries and the ocean, Oceana considers it an attempt to put a thin green veneer over business as usual. In the midst of the growing climate and biodiversity crises – the biggest challenge of our generation, urgent action by EU Member states to fulfill their obligations and powerful enforcement by the Commission are needed.
Vera Coelho, Oceana’s senior director of advocacy in Europe, said: “The package provides a legacy opportunity for this Commission on ocean conservation. It clearly spells out what is working, what isn’t, and the scale of the problems facing our ocean and fisheries. Yet, in reality, it has little to show in terms of action. The Commission’s answer to the unwillingness of Member States to implement EU law and deliver on political commitments seems to be to just give them more time to dither.”
The package includes an action plan to protect and restore marine ecosystems for sustainable and resilient fisheries (Marine Action Plan), a communication on energy transition of the EU fisheries and aquaculture sector, and a communication on the functioning of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The content of these three documents defines the European Commission’s ocean ambition for the remainder of its mandate.
In the Marine Action Plan, Oceana welcomes the first mention by the Commission of moving away from bottom trawling – one of the most destructive fishing practices. However, there is a marked mismatch between this strong narrative and the weak actions proposed to tackle it. Banning bottom trawling in all EU marine protected areas (MPAs) should have been an immediate minimum requirement, as ‘protected’ should at the very least mean free from destructive fishing. But while urging Member States to act on some protected areas by 2024, the Commission’s timeline for a full phase-out of this practice in MPAs has now been delayed to 2030, meaning the Commission is effectively endorsing it in some protected areas until then. Moreover, outside protected areas, it proposes no strategic vision to transition away from this outdated and wasteful fishing practice, known to be incompatible with the EU’s climate and biodiversity commitments.
The Marine Action Plan recognizes the need to conduct further research about seabed carbon stores, but it fails to propose any precautionary management solutions to limit the impact of fishing on important blue carbon habitats, which are key to mitigate climate change. In its communication on energy transition, however, the Commission does recognize the need for the fishing sector to contribute to the wider EU climate objectives. Reducing fossil fuel consumption in the EU fishing fleet will not only reduce the overall environmental and climate impact of fishing activities, but will also address the economic vulnerability of the EU fleet and its high dependence on fossil fuels. With this communication, the Commission provides a necessary first framework with a vision and call to action to promote the energy transition of the EU fisheries and aquaculture sectors, but it still needs to agree on actual measures to be implemented with Member States and stakeholder groups.
On the functioning of the CFP, the main issue remains the deficient implementation by EU Member States. They have failed to meet their binding obligations to end the wasteful discarding of fish by 2019, recover and maintain all species above sustainable levels by 2020, and minimize or eliminate fisheries impacts on marine habitats and biodiversity. Indeed, recent audits by the Commission show that Member States have not adopted the necessary measures to ensure effective control and enforcement of the discard ban, and around 30% and 75% of the assessed fish stocks in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, respectively, are still subject to overfishing. Further, every winter thousands of dolphins continue to be unnecessarily caught in the Bay of Biscay, and bottom trawling still takes place in the vast majority of EU MPAs designated to protect the seabed . In its communication, the Commission acknowledges that the CFP is still fit for purpose, whilst remaining an unaccomplished mission, without presenting any breakthroughs to ensure a change in the status quo.
“Member States have had all the tools to meet their obligations for years. It is high time for the Commission to take real action, by opening new infringement procedures for Member State failures to implement the CFP and protect marine nature, and by placing the ocean much higher on the EU’s political and legislative agenda,“ added Vera Coelho.
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