World Ocean Day – launch of the report “How Protected are Portuguese Marine Protected Areas?”

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On June 8th, another World Ocean Day was celebrated, something that at Sciaena we celebrate everyday working towards a more resilient and healthier ocean, trying to find a balance between human activities and conservation. Remembering this day also allows us to reach a wider audience to alert and press for more concrete action. This time, we launched a report on fishing activity in Portuguese Marine Protected Areas and on their effective management.

Although there are 71 designated MPAs, the total area they currently occupy is of only 9.8%. Therefore, Portugal did not achieve the goals that it was committed to achieving by 2020 (10% under the United Nations strategy for sustainable development; 14% under a national commitment made in 2016). We are now in 2021 and very far from fulfilling the goals and international commitments to which Portugal adhered, which have now increased to 30% by 2030.
In the report, we illustrate how the fishing effort in Portuguese MPAs is proceeding. To this end, in collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Seas at Risk, we used open access information from the Global Fishing Watch (GFW), using aggregated fishing effort aggregates available based on the Automatic Identification System ( AIS) satellite signals that allow tracking of large fishing vessels.

The results indicate that, even in areas designated and managed as MPAs, fishing effort appears to occur within or in their vicinity, suggesting that current MPA management plans should be revised.


But all is not lost. The acknowledgement of the importance of MPAs and the existing political will to make them work are very positive foundations. The Portuguese government now has to urgently adopt regulation that confirms these positive signals and also to allocate the necessary resources to make MPAs work on the waters under its jurisdiction. The much-anticipated publication of the regulation that will create the Portuguese MPA network will be a crucial moment for this.

We propose a series of recommendations that we believe should be taken into account in the context of that regulation, but also beyond:

– Regulate a MPA network composed by a set of representative and coherent MPAs, which work in an articulated way at different spatial scales.

– Ensure that the MPA network fulfils at least the targets set out in the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, by covering 30% of its seas, 10% of which fully protected, i.e., with no extractive activities allowed.

– Develop and implement management plans for these MPAs.

– Increase the human, financial and logistical resources available to efficiently manage and enforce MPAs.

– Present additional protection, regulation and management measures to the European Commission for the marine sites designated under Natura 2000 and for all the existent MPAs;

– Designate new areas of total protection, and develop management plans that clearly define the fishing gears that are allowed in areas with partial protection.

– Increase the monitoring and reporting requirements for vessels operating and passing through MPAs, including through Remote Electronic Monitoring tools, in order to strengthen the compliance and enforcement of the management measures that are in place.

– Conduct an impact assessment of the ongoing fishing activities in partially-protected MPAs.

– Adopt and improved MPA Governance Model that is less complex, fully transparent and which clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the different government institutions in the designation and management of MPAs.

– Increase the engagement of the communities and stakeholders surrounding MPAs through awareness raising and by developing participatory and co-management processes.

– Adapt and apply the previous recommendations to all the other activities that take place in MPAs besides fishing, such as tourism, shipping, aquaculture, etc.

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