European Parliament calls for action on bottom fishing and true protection for EU’s marine protected areas

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Strasbourg – Today, in an important step for the protection of the ocean and the climate, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) adopted amendments which call on the European Union to prohibit extractive industrial activities – which include fishing practices like bottom trawling [1] – in all marine protected areas.

The plenary vote on the Own-Initiative Report of MEP Mrs. Isabel Carvalhais “Toward a sustainable blue economy in the EU” [2] gave the opportunity to address the pressing issue of destructive fishing in so-called marine “protected” areas and beyond.

In two key amendments, MEPs voted to call on the EU to urgently tackle the damage that bottom fishing causes to marine life and a stable climate and prohibit all environmentally damaging extractive industrial activities in marine protected areas (MPAs). Along with bottom trawling, this would include mining and drilling for fossil fuels according to international standards. 

The result reinforces the message sent by the European Parliament on the report by MEP Cesar Luena in 2020 on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 (2020/2273(INI)), which also called on the Commission and the Member States to prohibit harmful human activities in MPAs.

This is a strong political signal to the European Commission that marine protected areas must be truly protected by banning bottom trawling and all destructive industrial activities. Although a specific reference to bottom trawling was removed, MEPs also called on the EU to limit the use of detrimental fishing techniques – which includes bottom trawling – outside marine protected areas.

The European Parliament also voted to map and restore carbon-rich marine habitats, protecting them from activities that can disturb and release carbon stored in the seabed, like bottom trawling. This is another clear signal that the European Commission should make ambitious proposals in its draft budget, Action Plan to restore fisheries resources and protected marine ecosystems, and the EU Nature Restoration Law, which are due to be published before the summer.

Although not legally binding, the result is therefore politically very timely and is the first important step towards a legal prohibition of destructive fishing methods in EU MPAs. NGOs now call on the European Commission to swiftly take this baton from the European Parliament and produce a legislative proposal that finally ends Europe’s shameful record by banning destructive fisheries and industrial extractive activities in MPAs. It should also limit their use beyond MPAs, starting with the upcoming publication of the Action Plan on marine ecosystems and fisheries and of the Nature Restoration law expected before the summer.

[1] The IUCN defines “industrial fishing” as all fishing using trawling gear that is dragged or towed across the seafloor or through the water column, and fishing using purse seines and large longlines. WCC-2020-Res-055-EN

[2] Own-initiative report 2021/2188(INI) by the Portuguese Socialist MEP Isabel Carvalhais: “Toward a sustainable blue economy in the EU: the role of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors”.

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