Time is running out to protect the Mediterranean, says Oceana

Press Release Date: October 2, 2023

Location: Malta


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

Mediterranean countries must speed up designation of fisheries closures to protect deep-sea ecosystems

With four years remaining of their 10-year pledge to save Mediterranean fish stocks, fisheries ministers are gathering in Malta from 3-4 October to take stock of the progress made in delivering their commitments in the 2017 Malta MedFish4Ever Ministerial Declaration. Oceana’s analysis of the extent to which the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) has delivered on this pledge shows that out of 20 commitments assessed, only 7 have been achieved, 8 partially achieved,  3 are lacking any significant progress and, for 2, not enough information was available to make an assessment. The ocean conservation organization calls on ministers to take urgent action to rebuild Mediterranean fish stocks and restore ecosystems.

Since 2015, the Mediterranean has been one of the most overfished seas in the world. Currently, 73% of assessed Mediterranean fish stocks are fished outside biologically sustainable limits, and on average fishing pressure is twice the level considered sustainable. This is why, in 2017, Mediterranean fisheries ministers pledged to turn the situation around.

Vera Coelho, Deputy Vice President at Oceana in Europe, said: “Mediterranean fisheries ministers must do more than put nice words down on paper – they need to achieve the promised targets according to the timelines set to save our most overexploited sea. Priorities must be safeguarding fragile deep-sea ecosystems from the destruction caused by bottom trawling, by speeding up the creation of no-trawl areas; and creating a compliance mechanism – with dissuasive measures against countries who don’t do enough to fight illegal fishing.”

Oceana’s analysis reveals:

  • While progress has been made to create management plans for critically overfished species such as hake and deep-sea shrimp, only 35% of Mediterranean priority species are covered by a multi-annual management plan, whereas the target was to cover all of them by 2020. 
  • The GFCM was one of the first regional fisheries management organisations to ban transhipment at sea and to create joint fisheries inspection schemes, whereby countries engage in joint patrols at sea. However, the GFCM has not set up a system that would allow it to act against repeated non-compliance regarding illegal fishing activities; it has only added one vessel to its illegal vessel list since 2018; and too many GFCM countries’ fleets do not have vessel trackers onboard.
  • The GFCM has been too slow to protect essential fish habitats and to close areas to destructive fishing techniques such as bottom trawling. Excluding the prohibition to trawl below 1000 meters depth, fisheries restricted areas designated by the GFCM represent less than 1% of the Mediterranean Sea, whereas the target was to effectively protect at least 10% by 2020.

Alexandra Cousteau, Oceana Senior Advisor, said: “The Mediterranean deep-sea is still relatively unexplored, but what we do know is that we find there important community-forming habitats that are rich in biodiversity, like the unique cold-water coral at Cabliers Bank. Mediterranean fisheries ministers must create a fisheries restricted area around this reef to ensure its proper long-term protection from the impacts of bottom trawling.”

Video Protecting Cabliers

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