Crucial vote on the total closure of 10% of all fishing areas

Brussels, 21 May 2024
  • EBFA alerts on the socio-economic consequences and ask Member States to protect food sovereignty
  • EBFA calls for a postponement of the vote until a new European Parliament is elected and the new European Commission mandate is in place

Despite the upcoming European elections, a crucial vote for the future of fishing will take place in Brussels tomorrow. Member States will have to decide on the establishment of zones completely prohibited to fishing representing 10% of EU waters. A potential closure which would be ruled not to protect ecologically sensitive habitats, but to reach political targets. In this regard, the Commission is proposing a new objective which aims to place 10% of the EU’s seabed in ‘reference areas’ free from any human pressure in order to assess its natural variability. EBFA calls for a postponement of the vote given the lack of impact assessment for fishing activities, the upcoming revision of the Law setting these objectives and the current transitory political period.

An old EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) from 2008 aims to protect the marine environment and achieve good environmental status (GES) in all sea basins, measured according to different qualitative indicators (11 in total). One of the indicators refers to ‘the integrity of the seabed’. In the absence of pre-existing scientific recommendations of what could constitute a GES, numerous works and discussions have been led by the DG Environment of the European Commission for several years. However, scientific experts have not been able to clearly define parameters and indicators associated with this objective.

Against this scenario, the European Commission has proposed to Member States nothing less than to vote tomorrow on the total closure of 10% of all fishing zones, in order to constitute reserves and to be able to measure these parameters in zones used as reference areas. According to EBFA, the European Commission is therefore proposing a giant experiment with areas covering 10% of the EU maritime territory as a control sample to implement an EU Law that is ill-defined.

Iván López, chair of EBFA, stated: ‘Given the operational impossibility of achieving the objectives of this old Directive, the European Commission should have initiated a new debate with the European institutions instead of experimenting with policies. This is especially relevant given the fact that the Commission opened a consultation process at the end of 2021 to revise the Directive. Considering the absence of solid scientific support for this approach, this experiment cannot be called anything else but a shot in the dark.’

The sector also critizises inconsistencies with other fundamental environmental policies such as Natura 2000 or Nature Restoration Law, whose criteria and definition of an ecosystem in ‘good’ condition are different. In fact, there is no scientifically supported target for species richness and population sizes to measure the success of the MSFD. Thus, decisions seem to be driven purely on political arbitrariness.

EBFA argues that the proposal submitted to the vote does not allow any prioritization in the type of habitat to be protected, nor would it allow any fishing activities to be taken into account. The prohibition would therefore apply to all fishing gear operating in contact with the bottom, regardless of their characteristics and impacts which are nevertheless very different. The sector claims that, at a time when thousands of square kilometers are being designated for offshore wind farms, it is disproportionate to impose additional losses of fishing grounds without clear, data-driven ecological targets.

Additionally, EBFA criticises that no socio-economic impact assessment has been conducted, once again, despite being required by law and the undeniable impact the proposal will have on all fishing companies and the supply chain.

Iván López concluded: ‘The Commission is now proposing something that was at the heart of the EU political debate such as banning bottom fishing in 30% of our seas, an idea that was disregarded by the EU co-legislators: the Parliament and the Council of the EU. A Council that is currently blocking the Nature Restoration Law for not taking into account farmers and fishers views neither food production.’ Mr López continued: ‘In the context of the upcoming European Parliament elections, it is clear that the current push, including the proposed evaluation of the CFP, is politically motivated. These decisions should be made by the new Commission after the elections, based on a new political mandate and analysed by the new Parliament. To do it now, foregoing any democratic scrutiny by the Parliament and under the direction of an outgoing Commissioner that is a candidate for the next Parliament makes us fear that the only reason behind this is political and to set up a fierce debate against the new mandate provided by the European people after the elections.’


Press contact
Daniel Voces, Secretary of EBFA, +32 489 26 81 07

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