ClientEarth has applauded a European Parliament decision to throw out fishing measures that risked vulnerable marine life and ecosystems in protected areas of the North Sea.
In a first for fisheries management, the Parliament recently rejected measures from the EU Commission that did not comply with the law and did little to conserve protected species and seafloor habitats under threat from fishing in seas off Belgium.
This followed the European Commission’s rubberstamping in March this year of inadequate recommendations from member states containing contentious fishing measures. These included experimenting with possibly damaging fishing activities in protected Natura 2000 areas, which is clearly illegal under the Birds and Habitats Directives (known together as the Nature Directives).
One measure included allowing ‘alternative seabed-impacting fishing gear’, which could have given the green light to the highly controversial practice of electric pulse fishing* inside a protected area.
The North Sea off Belgium has areas of very high ecological importance that are key for the conservation of European biodiversity. In these areas there are reef and sandbank habitats for species like the common scoter, common seal and the harbour porpoise.
ClientEarth wildlife lawyer Tatiana Lujan said: “This decision from the European Parliament is to be applauded. After inadequate recommendations from member states were rubberstamped by the Commission, it was a relief for parliament to throw them out and demand the Commission go back to the drawing board.
“We hope this sends a clear message to member states and the Commission to take habitat protection seriously, and to understand that these marine areas can only preserve biodiversity if they are managed in accordance with the law.
“Member States should not allow fishing, particularly on an industrial scale, in Natura 2000 marine sites unless they are certain that they will not have negative effects on the integrity of these sites.”
In February 2017, Belgium together with the Netherlands, France, United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark submitted to the Commission a joint recommendation with fisheries management measures for these North Sea sites.
The proposed measures allowed for all types of fishing activities to occur in the Natura 2000 sites, with the exception of some small management zones where certain fishing gear types were restricted. However, in those management zones damaging fishing activities like seine fishing were allowed as well as the alternative sea-bed impacting fishing gear.
While the member states followed the process set by the Common Fisheries Policy, the recommendation did not comply with its spirit, as this process is designed for implementing conservation measures in protected areas that can be negatively impacted by fishing. And the law is very clear in only allowing fishing activities in Natura 2000 sites if it is scientifically certain that they will not adversely affect the integrity of the site.
Despite all of these inadequacies, the EU Commission approved the recommendations.
In its decision yesterday the EU Parliament exposed various reasons why the measures did not comply with the law, including not offering effective protections for protected species, habitats and seafloor integrity; as well as relying on scientific data related to fishing activity from 2010-2012, which could be outdated.
*Electric pulse fishing is a technique using electricity to catch fish above the seabed.