EU nature law could be gamechanger for marine biodiversity, but will be meaningless if fisheries not properly addressed – NGO reaction
Press Release Date: June 22, 2022
Today, the European Commission presented its legislative proposal on nature restoration, a new law with binding targets to restore degraded land and marine ecosystems across the EU. This is a major milestone to tackle the current biodiversity and climate crises and restore a healthy relationship between people and nature. We welcome the long-awaited publication of this proposal, which shows the European Commission’s commitment to its EU Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy.
The restoration law can be a gamechanger to turn the tide for endangered marine ecosystems and species, which are under increasing pressure in Europe. However, some flaws in the proposal need to be addressed – otherwise it is set to fail in the marine environment, say marine NGOs. The restoration law must particularly address the shortcomings in the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy, which so far has not succeeded in tackling the damaging impacts of fishing as required under EU environmental laws. NGOs urge EU co-legislators to ensure that fisheries, the biggest driver of biodiversity loss in our ocean1, are effectively managed to deliver ocean restoration targets.
Vera Coelho, Oceana’s Senior Director, Advocacy in Europe: “Everyone recognizes the current approach to manage fisheries for nature conservation is defective and absurdly long, as it can take several years per area and enables EU Member States to block the adoption of meaningful measures. The European Commission’s proposal fails to properly address the elephant in the room, by not tackling the largest hurdle to ocean restoration – fisheries”.
“Ocean restoration must be coupled with strict protection to be effective”, said Marc-Philip Buckhout, Marine Policy Officer, Seas At Risk, “Restoring degraded seagrass meadows play a vital role in both mitigating climate change and reversing biodiversity loss. However, there is no point restoring on the one hand, while bottom dredging through them and around them. We need to put in place strict protection measures to prevent these key areas from being destroyed by harmful human activities.”
John Condon, Wildlife and Habitats lawyer at ClientEarth: “If done right, this law is a win-win for nature and our fishing communities, because meaningful marine recovery also means replenishing our fish stocks for a more abundant ocean. The Council and the European Parliament have a duty to make that future possible by ensuring that destructive fishing for short-term gains does not jeopardise marine restoration and the viability of the fishing communities in the long run.”
The legislative proposal requires Member States to detail in their national restoration plans the fisheries measures they intend to adopt under the Common Fisheries Policy, but it fails to include a safeguard mechanism to overcome eventual deadlocks among Member States, in order to ensure marine restoration happens by 2030.
The proposal will now be negotiated by the Council and the European Parliament, and NGOs urge them to step up their ambition to live up to the environmental crises of restoring nature and the ocean. We call on both institutions to particularly tackle unsustainable fishing, which is incompatible with restoration and which the European Commission did not properly address in its proposal.
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Note to editors:
Marine NGOs signatories to this press release: Birdlife Europe and Central Asia, ClientEarth, Coastwatch, Danish Society for Nature Conservation, Deutsche Stiftung Meeresschutz, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Irish Wildlife Trust, Oceana, Sciaena, Sharkproject International, Seas at Risk, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and WWF.
What needs to improve:
We will be working with the Parliament and Council to improve the proposal in the co-decision process. Some key elements for effective marine restoration include:
- EU adopts a legally binding target to strictly protect at least 10% of its marine waters by 2030;
- EU ensures that restoration measures will not be undermined by destructive fishing practices, such as active bottom-contacting fishing gears;
- EU guarantees transparency in process and the outcome of the EU Member States’ national restoration plans, by ensuring involvement of all relevant stakeholders in the drafting and monitoring processes;
- By failing to overcome the risk of deadlock posed by the Common Fisheries Policy’s ineffective procedure for managing destructive offshore fishing impacts, the marine restoration targets risk being unimplementable and empty in practice. A safeguard mechanism should be added so that the Commission can intervene if Member States cannot agree to the measures required to achieve the restoration targets, in order for restoration to happen by 2030.
The proposed Nature Restoration Law was announced in 2020 under the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and is a central part of the EU Green Deal. It is the only legislative response focused on nature from the Von der Leyen Commission, and it aims at both reversing the biodiversity loss in Europe and achieving the Union’s climate mitigation and climate adaptation objectives. It sets a framework to ensure that ecosystems across the EU are on the path to recovery by 2030 and restored to good condition by 2050.
Under the Common Fisheries Policy, any change of fisheries rules in a given offshore marine area requires that all EU countries with a “direct management interest” in that area agree to a ‘joint recommendation’, which then has to be approved by the European Commission. This mechanism, set out under Articles 11 and 18 of the CFP Regulation No 1380/2013, is used for instance to manage fishing inside offshore marine protected areas. But it has been poorly implemented and largely failed to meet its objectives2. In 2020, the European Court of Auditors criticised this procedure for not being able to ensure timely protection from fishing for a large number of Natura 2000 MPAs3. The Nature Restoration Law foresees that these ineffective rules would be applied on any marine restoration measure outside the 12 nautical mile zone that possibly affects fisheries. If no mechanism is included in the law to overcome potential deadlock among Member States under the CFP rules, this will de facto translate into very little, or no marine restoration at all in those waters.
Read also the reaction from other environmental NGOs on the Nature Restoration Law.
 Kingma, I.,Walker, P. 2021. Was Article 11 of the CFP doomed to fail? Report produced by Ocean Future Collective for Oceana
 European Court of Auditors (2020). Marine Environment: EU Protection is Wide but Not Deep. European Court of Auditors Special Report 26/2020