Europe and Central Asia
15 Dec 2015

No deal to protect the seas, EU wrangles over details

EU Member State governments are still allowing 7% of fish to be overfished. Photo: BirdLife
By Bruna Campos

The sea is vital for Europeans and we take a lot from it, especially marine life. Therefore it is no wonder that managing European fishing has been a hot topic for debate in 2015, the same year by which the EU should have strived to end overfishing. The discussions in the corridors of European institutions started with the Baltic Sea (as explained at the beginning of this year). A consensus on how the Baltic fisheries will be managed would set the basis for all the other sea basins.

After different EU institutions adopted their positions this year, several steps were taken, such as a general agreement that the actions in the Baltic plan should also deliver on minimising the impact of fisheries on the wider environment, including seabirds (an ecosystem-based approach). However, negotiators could not agree on how to ensure that catch limits of fish would respect scientific advice.

For this specific point, we very much commend the European Parliament for fighting to really end overfishing, while the governments of certain Member States were still keen to continue business as usual. This is frustrating, knowing that this year, governments are still allowing 7% of fish to be overfished. While they have the chance to actually ensure this won’t happen anymore in management plans, governments still don’t seem to see the consequences of year on year overfishing (where since 2001 it has been on average 20%), including on the wider environment, such as seabirds.

Just recently we heard the news that the Atlantic Puffin is not as common as it used to be. For example in the Fair Isle, its population halved from 1986 - 2012. The main reason has been a decline in its food source: the sand eels. These small fish have been overfished, while also feeling the pressure of climate change.

What we gave to the sea this year

Fortunately, Europeans did do some good deeds this year. In July, BirdLife Europe spoke about how important Marine Protected Areas are – and sure enough, Portugal stepped up its game and designated Special Protected Areas in mainland Portugal. This is a special feat as they have been sitting on the list of areas to be designated since 2008. We certainly hope that more Member States will follow suit and complete the designation of the marine Natura 2000 network.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.