Europe and Central Asia
6 Sep 2016

Human use of the sea from here to 2020

(c) J.M. Arcos
By Bruna Campos

European seas have, over the years, been tragically misused by humans. In particular, our oceans have suffered from human pressures such as the overexploitation (e.g. fish, seabirds, and mammals), seafloor damage, pollution (e.g. plastics, agricultural nutrient enrichment and oil contaminants), the spreading of non-native species, and climate change. For example, from 2007 to 2012, only 9% of the marine habitats[1] assessed were considered to be in 'favourable conservation status', 66% were considered to be in 'bad/inadequate' status, and 25% were categorised as having 'unknown' status. In recent years, the EU has worked hard to provide legal tools to counter this. And, in most cases, it has helped. However, there is still a large gap to fill – in particular, better implementation of EU laws at the local level with the right set of management measures are critically needed

Management of fisheries has been a good example of how these laws can help restore a failing system. The Common Fisheries Policy– the leviathan of fisheries management, has changed over time and accepted that the survival of the fishing sector depends on the overall sustainability of marine ecosystems. In 2013, the new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) made sustainability its pillar. But concrete details such as better implementation of the laws are necessary for a successful outcome. However, backlash, especially around the British referendum from the fishing industry, shows a lack of acceptance that things actually need to change to ensure a viable future for European seas. The industry keeps complaining about bureaucracy while refusing to see the need for sound management. Quotas, rules on gear, protected areas, and effective controls, are not a useless burden but vital for the future of our seas and for the future of our fishers.     

Furthermore, EU countries have also been reluctant to invest financially in marine data collection, mitigation of impacts, and control and enforcement of rules. In 2014, new funding for fisheries and maritime policies was adopted. A controversial fund in the past, subsidising the overcapacity of the EU’s fishing fleet, this new fund now offers the opportunity for Member States to finance projects that would support the delivery of public goods from European Seas.

In the next couple of years, the EU has the opportunity to reverse the long term decline in the health of our seas. This will require sound implementation of EU legislation including the new CFP. The challenge remains the same in British waters regardless of Brexit.


[1] Assessed under the Habitats Directive

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