Over 2.5 million hours of bottom trawling ploughed Europe’s ‘protected’ areas in 2020

Satellite data shows extensive destructive fishing continues, with most intensely trawled sites in Germany, the Netherlands, France and Denmark

Press Release Date: September 2, 2021



Emily Fairless, Communications Officer | email: efairless@oceana.org | tel.: +32 478 038 490

As the global nature conservation community gathers in Marseille for the IUCN World Conservation Congress, at which marine protection targets will be discussed, Oceana releases new data revealing how EU countries continue to allow destructive fishing in Europe’s supposedly ‘protected’ areas and calls on European leaders to ban the widespread  and destructive practice of bottom trawling. Oceana’s analysis found that over 2.5 million hours of bottom fishing occurred in 2020 inside areas designated to protect Europe’s most valuable and threatened marine species and habitats.

As country leaders proudly communicate their ocean protection efforts at international events, they often fail to mention the harmful fishing that is going on inside their marine ‘protected’ areas. We urge them to truly protect our marine environment by banning harmful activities, and in particular destructive fishing, from all marine protected areas said Vera Coelho, Oceana’s Senior Director, Advocacy in Europe.

Oceana analysed satellite tracking-data of fishing boats, based on Global Fishing Watch1, and focusing on European Natura 2000 sites. The analysis found that five German sites are within the top 10 most bottom-trawled sites in Europe, including the “Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park” with over 730,000 hours alone. The data reveals other intensely bottom-trawled sites including the French “Mers Celtiques – Talus du golfe de Gascogne” (117,574 hours), the Dutch “Noordzeekustzone” (117,683 hours) and ”Waddenzee” (110,451 hours), as well as the Danish “Skagens Gren og Skagerak” (49,092 hours).

Oceana’s analysis showed that about 75% of the bottom fishing activity is carried out by beam-trawling2, a particularly harmful fishing technique used to catch flat fish (such as sole or plaice), which consists of dragging heavy nets attached to a steel beam that holds the nets open on the seafloor.

2021 is a critical year for Nature and Ocean protection, as international discussions are taking place under the United Nations to adopt a new global framework to reverse biodiversity loss by mid-century. Negotiations are ongoing about a target to protect at least 30% of the planet (land and sea) by 2030, and leaders are expected to also discuss the issue at the IUCN Congress. An Oceana-led petition has already gathered almost 150,000 signatures urging the European Commission to act to ban bottom trawling in all EU MPAs in its upcoming Action Plan on the oceans expected in early 2022.


Top 10 most bottom-fished Natura 2000 sites in Europe (2020)

MPA name
EU country
Total 2020 bottom-fishing recorded in the MPA (hours)
Nationalpark Niedersächsisches Wattenmeer
732 775
Wattenmeer und angrenzende Küstengebiete
576 393
Sylter Außenriff
318 582
The Netherlands
117 683
Mers Celtiques – Talus du golfe de Gascogne
117 574
The Netherlands
110 451
Doggerbank (German part)
93 092
Skagens Gren og Skagerak
49 092
41 832

Map of fishing inside benthic Natura 2000 MPAs (bottom contacting gears) in 2020

Poster on the impacts of bottom trawling on the ocean and biodiversity

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Natura 2000 is the largest network of protected areas in the world and represents between 70 to 80% of the marine protected areas (MPAs) in EU Member States. Oceana analysed 1,928 European MPAs (all Natura 2000 sites) designated for habitat protection, in which bottom-fishing activities took place in 2020 (excluding fishing signals of less than 1 hour). In total 2,580,656 hours of bottom-fishing were recorded, inside 343 Natura 2000 sites in 20 EU Member States.

Fishing data is based on Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals from Global Fishing Watch (GFW), cross-referenced with the European Fleet Register. However, as some boats can turn their AIS off and vessels under 15m are not required to carry it in Europe, findings are likely to be an underestimate of fishing activity. The 2020 fishing activity was also affected by the COVID19 pandemic and therefore could be below normal levels.

Notes to editors:

1. Global Fishing Watch is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing ocean governance through increased transparency of human activity at sea

2. The rest of the fishing activity concerns the following gears: bottom pair trawls, bottom trawls, nephrop trawls, single boat bottom otter trawls, twin bottom otter trawls, twin trawls, mechanised dredges including suction dredges, and towed dredges.

This press release is also available in French and German.

Learn more:

Oceana visuals on the impacts of bottom trawling on the ocean, biodiversity and climate change

Oceana fishing data is available on request.